Chalk, Darryl (2009) A nature but infected: plague and embodied transformation in Timon of Athens. Early Modern Literary Studies, Special Issue 19: Embodying Shakespeare . 9.1-28.
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Official URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-19/chalplag.html
In The Theatre and Its Double, Antonin Artaud argues that there is little difference between the process of roleplaying and the infection of the plague: “The state of the victim who dies without material destruction, with all the stigmata of an absolute and almost abstract disease upon him, is identical with the state of the actor entirely penetrated by feelings that do not benefit or even relate to his real condition.” Artaud’s formulation of acting, a “palpable communication” capable of infecting both performer and spectator alike, recalls the frequent correlations between theatre and plague in the work of antitheatrical pamphleteers like Gosson, Rainolds and Prynne. In the context of such correlations, this paper considers the significance of the protagonist’s extreme transformation from philanthropy to misanthropy in Timon of Athens. Timon’s metamorphosis divides the play into two seemingly irreconcilable halves and often leads critics to dismiss it as fragmentary, psychologically incoherent, and thus more than likely incomplete. Yet this radical emotional shift is not merely psychological. It is also physical, repeatedly rendered in the language of the play as an external manifestation of changes happening inside Timon’s body. Through an examination of the embodiment of Timon’s transformation in relation to the play’s preoccupation with theatricality and disease, this paper argues that not only is the change entirely consistent with early modern medical understandings of the body’s impact on the passions but that Timon of Athens deliberately stages antitheatrical fears about the plague of acting even as it parodically dismantles them.
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