My current research is divided between two projects, both of which explore the representation of disability in early modern England.
The first, emerging from my recently completed dissertation, examines the fear of fraudulent disability in both the literature and culture of early modern England. I trace how changes in social welfare policies motivated by the Reformation instituted a nascent system of disability compensation, and, with it, an increased concern that able-bodied persons would try to pass themselves off as impaired. Fears of feigned disability also shaped, and were shaped by, the theater. Over 30 plays—from standards like King Lear, Bartholomew Fair, and The Changeling to lesser- known works—feature characters that counterfeit blindness, deafness, paralysis, madness, and other impairments. I argue that the theater seized on and teased out fears of fraudulent disability, staging literary fantasies about the nonstandard body and creating social realities for people with disabilities. Early modern playwrights used these performances to debate the nature of disability: some plays use feigned ! impairment to quell the distribution of charity to people with disabilities, while other dramas challenge popular stereotypes and offer fresh solutions for engaging with physical difference. The disability-disguise was a handy tool in the early modern author’s bag of tricks, one that could be used to draw crowds, craft strategic thematic links, smooth out narrative flaws, and play with issues of theatricality, but, most of all, to assert ideas about the nonstandard body that are still influential today.
The second is an anthology of of English Renaissance drama (staged between 1580-1642) featuring disability and disability-related concerns as its primary methodological focus. By compiling and editing a range of non-canonical plays that feature the broad spectrum of disability performed on the Renaissance stage, my co-editors and I want to encourage readers, first, to explore the validity and necessity of disability as a component of early modern studies, and second, to consider early modern drama as an important participant in the cultural creation of disability.