The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in China and the West saw a wave of skeptical approaches to metaphysics, ethics, and the physical sciences, including a related interest in “playing devil’s advocate” for seemingly weak propositions. This article analyzes two works of musical theater from these geographically remote traditions to argue that use of historically problematic romances to explore the relationship of ethics, emotion, and reason resulted in novel depictions of attachment emotions as neither purely selfless “gut reactions” nor calculating facades. Scenes depicting lovers’ quarrels and morally flawed characters may paradoxically strike audiences as more authentically romantic because they dramatize an aspect of attachment emotions’ functioning recently elucidated by cognitive science, namely, that of “body budgeting” (allocation of energy resources by the brain). Monteverdi and Busenello’s Coronation of Poppaea and Hóng Shēng’s Palace of Lasting Life use contrastive poetic and musical styles to dramatize the debate-like quality inherent in such negotiations, further revealing a strong connection between the affective “ingredients” that make up socially mediated emotion states and the mechanisms by which music and prosody affect them.

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