A nature but infected: plague and embodied transformation in Timon of Athens

Chalk, Darryl ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5814-4678 (2009) A nature but infected: plague and embodied transformation in Timon of Athens. Early Modern Literary Studies: a journal of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature (19). 9.1-28.

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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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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: This publication is copyright. It may be reproduced in whole or in part for the purposes of study, research, or review, but is subject to the inclusion of an acknowledgment of the source.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Theatre (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Theatre (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2010 01:13
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2015 04:45
Uncontrolled Keywords: plague; Shakespeare; theatre; embodiment; Timon of Athens; contagion; transformation; antitheatrical; the passions; acting; stage; early modern; renaissance
Fields of Research (2008): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature
19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing > 190404 Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies
20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2004 Linguistics > 200405 Language in Culture and Society (Sociolinguistics)
Fields of Research (2020): 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470504 British and Irish literature
36 CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 3604 Performing arts > 360403 Drama, theatre and performance studies
47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4704 Linguistics > 470411 Sociolinguistics
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950105 The Performing Arts (incl. Theatre and Dance)
E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/6947

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