Lecture and Workshop Michael Schoenfeld

The Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (Lucas)

presents a guest lecture by

Michael Schoenfeldt

John Knott Professor of English, University of Michigan


Lessons from the Body:

Disability, Deformity, and Disease in Shakespeare

Wednesday 6 April, 16.15, Vossius Room, Leiden University Library

All welcome!


Who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord? (Exodus 4:11)

In this paper, I look at the ethical and aesthetic meanings that attach to the related phenomena of disease and disability in Shakespeare. Throughout his dramatic corpus, Shakespeare finds in non-standard bodies a wide range of signification and experience. This ranges from obvious episodes such as the epileptic body in Julius Caesar and the humpbacked monarch in Richard III to more subtle possibilities such as Hamlet’s debilitating depression, or King Lear’s confusing senility and clarifying madness. The Shakespearean stage is in fact suffused with disability; there are damaged bodies and traumatized minds everywhere. Shakespeare, moreover, likes to make us watch the agonizing process by which damage is inflicted on these bodies and minds. In King Lear, for example, Shakespeare famously stages the blinding of Gloucester even as he records the progressive madness of Lear. We also observe in this play the false madness of Edgar, adopted as a disguise to protect him from a mad social and political environment. Edgar’s beggarly disguise, moreover, brings up Renaissance culture’s frequently specious distinction between the meritorious and the undeserving poor. Indeed, concerns about the undeserving poor, and the financial burden they would place on the community, is what led indirectly to the development of a definition of disability.

Looking widely at the phenomena of disease and disability in Shakespeare, this paper will explore the curious cultural logic by which Richard III’s treachery can be read in his distorted body, and by which Gloucester’s blindness can be interpreted as a just punishment for adultery. I hope finally to show how the random and promiscuous suffering of the Shakespearean stage challenges its own efforts to interpret disability and disease in moral terms.

The Huizinga Institute is pleased to invite you to a



Early Modern Studies and the History of the Emotions

Thursday 7 April, 13.15–15.00

University of Leiden, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, Room 004

The emotions have been at the forefront of much recent work in the field of cultural history. Central to this work has been the idea that the ways in which emotions are experienced are powerfully shaped and mediated by cultural-historical contexts. During this workshop four scholars working in the field of early modern studies will reflect on current issues in the history of emotions. They will focus especially on the affective dimensions of early modern literary texts: on the role which literary representation plays in shaping the emotional regimes of its surrounding culture.

The workshop will begin with three 15-minute presentations:

  • Kristine Steenbergh (VU University), ‘Practising Compassion in the Early Modern English Theatre’
  • Kristine Johanson (University of Amsterdam), ‘Melancholy, Time, and the Anxiety of the Inactive Body’
  • Frans Willem Korsten (University of Leiden), ‘The Possible, the “What If” and the Virtual: Affect and Agency from Job to Abraham and Isaac’

The presentations will be followed by a response by

  • Michael Schoenfeldt (John Knott Professor of English, University of Michigan)

After Professor Schoenfeldt’s response, the floor will be open for further debate among the four presenters and the audience.

For further information about the workshop and guest lecture, please contact
Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen (University of Leiden) at j.van.dijkhuizen@hum.leidenuniv.nl.