Volume 2, Issue 2, Fall 2013
Rethinking Corruption: Natural Knowledge and the New World in Joseph Hall’s Mundus Alter et Idem
One of the most humorous and visceral early modern satires, Joseph Hall’s Mundus Alter et Idem (1606?), parodied the corruption of the social and political order of sixteenth-century Europe, depicted in the new world of Terra Australis Incognita. Hall’s dystopia has traditionally been understood as a satire upon humanity’s moral perversion, and is often placed alongside other early modern parodies, such as Erasmus’ Praise of Folly. While this scholarship has added much to our understanding of Hall’s Mundus, this article argues that Hall’s anxieties about corruption in the Mundus stem from his Protestant theological conception of the fundamental corruption of human reason. I argue that this anxiety about humanity’s cognitive abilities underlies Hall’s skepticism about travel. He doubted the veracity of travelers’ testimony, as well as the reliability and usefulness of the natural knowledge that could be discovered in the New World.