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

Edited book (chapter)


Chalk, Darryl. 2014. "Here's a strange alteration: contagion and the mutable mind in Coriolanus." Prochazka, Martin, Dobson, Michael, Hofele, Andreas and Scolnicov, Hanna (ed.) Shakespeare's Renaissance/Renaissance Shakespeares: Proceedings of the Ninth World Shakespeare Congress. Newark, United States. University of Delaware Press. pp. 68-76
Chapter Title

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

Book Chapter CategoryEdited book (chapter)
ERA Publisher ID3612
Book TitleShakespeare's Renaissance/Renaissance Shakespeares: Proceedings of the Ninth World Shakespeare Congress
Authors
AuthorChalk, Darryl
EditorsProchazka, Martin, Dobson, Michael, Hofele, Andreas and Scolnicov, Hanna
Page Range68-76
SeriesWorld Shakespeare Congress Proceedings
Chapter Number7
Number of Pages9
Year2014
PublisherUniversity of Delaware Press
Place of PublicationNewark, United States
ISBN9781611494600
9781611494617
Web Address (URL)http://www.shakespeare2011.net
Abstract

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.

KeywordsShakespeare; Coriolanus; theatre and contagion; body-mind; early modern acting and the passions; representation of anger; antitheatrical sentiment
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020470504. British and Irish literature
470530. Stylistics and textual analysis
360201. Creative writing (incl. scriptwriting)
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Byline AffiliationsSchool of Arts and Communication
Event9th World Shakespeare Congress 2011: Renaissance Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Renaissances
Journal TitleProceedings of the 9th World Shakespeare Congress
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Event Details
9th World Shakespeare Congress 2011: Renaissance Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Renaissances
Renaissance Shakespeare: Shakespeare Renaissances
Event Date
17 to end of 22 Jul 2011
Event Location
Prague, Czech Republic
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