Here's a strange alteration: contagion and the mutable mind in Coriolanus

Chalk, Darryl (2014) Here's a strange alteration: contagion and the mutable mind in Coriolanus. In: Shakespeare's Renaissance/Renaissance Shakespeares: Proceedings of the Ninth World Shakespeare Congress. World Shakespeare Congress Proceedings. University of Delaware Press, Newark, DE. United States, pp. 68-76. ISBN 978-1-61149-460-0


There is a palpable unease in early modern culture about the effects of certain activities, environmental factors, and emotional states on the human mind. A temperate, moderated conjunction of body and mind, resolute against inordinate passions and inconstant atmospheric conditions, is repeatedly constructed in medical manuals as a buttress against susceptibility to the kinds of pathological humours, such as those carried by contagion or bad air, that cause illness and disease. This anxiety over the inconstant mind is only amplified in the period's hostile writings about the protean efficacy of acting on the minds and bodies of players and playgoers. In Th' Overthrow of Stage-Playes (1599), for example, John Rainolds contends that the 'iniquitie' of personation endangers the actors' 'minds' to 'infection' because 'diseases of the mind are gotten far sooner by counterfeiting, then are diseases of the body [and] the seeing whereof played but an hower, or two, might taint the spectators.' In their imagining of a pathological theatricality, anti-stage critics define the mind of the actor as both infected and infecting, vulnerable to contagion but also capable of transferring and reproducing this corruptive becoming in the body-mind of the spectator. In Shakespeare's Coriolanus, the protagonist's repeated refusals to perform are infused with antitheatrical disquiet; echoing Rainolds, he fears the adulteration of mind that dissembling might produce and veers between paranoia and choleric rage over his encounters with the onstage embodiment of the playgoing crowd, the plebians, the 'many-headed multitude', whose perceived mutability and 'stinking breaths' threaten the boundaries of Coriolanus' singular sense of selfhood. Consumed with a 'plaguy' air, Coriolanus' mind, like the actor's in the antitheatrical tract, becomes poisoned and simultaneously poisonous, a 'disease that must be cut away'. His strange alterations are the seed of contagion for the violence and destruction that pervades this play.

With such figurations in mind, this paper will suggest that Coriolanus engages not only with contemporary antitheatrical sentiment but also with emerging theories of the relationship between disease and the body-mind.

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: © 2014 by Rowman & Littlefield. Permanent restricted access to published version due to publisher copyright policy. Paper presented at: 9th World Shakespeare Congress, held in Prague in 17-22 July 2011.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication
Date Deposited: 24 Mar 2015 05:25
Last Modified: 08 May 2017 03:23
Uncontrolled Keywords: Shakespeare; Coriolanus; theatre and contagion; body-mind; early modern acting and the passions; representation of anger; antitheatrical sentiment
Fields of Research : 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature
20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2005 Literary Studies > 200526 Stylistics and Textual Analysis
19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing > 190402 Creative Writing (incl. Playwriting)
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture

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