School of Policy Studies

School of Policy Studies
School of Policy Studies

Queen's Contagion Cultures Lecture Series

September 22, 2020

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Shakespeare, Contagion and the Fluidity of Identity

Elizabeth Hanson
Professor, Department of English, Queen's University

As several scholars have noted in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Shakespeare had ample experience of contagion.  Repeated outbreaks of the plague determined when theatres could be open but also meant that he was, like all Londoners, acquainted with the devastating effects of endemic incurable illness.  However, it was another contagious disease syphilis, which appeared in Europe in the sixteenth century that seems to have particularly seized Shakespeare’s imagination and furnished a metaphor for the absence of firm boundaries between one person and another.  This talk will look at the way that syphilis functions as a metaphor for thinking about the fluidity of identity and the political implications of that fluidity, in two plays that also confound distinctions of genre: Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida.