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6 - Bodies of Knowledge

Theatre and Medical Science

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2021

Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
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Summary

Chapter 6: This chapter discusses how, as scientific medicine gained ascendancy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, theatre became an important site for the examination of scientific medicine’s aspirations, achievements, limitations, and dangers. Early twentieth-century plays celebrated the pioneers of modern disease research and their accomplishments, while later twentieth- and early twenty-first century plays display a growing critique of scientific medicine and its conception of the body as an object of medical knowledge. David Feldshuh’s Miss Evers’ Boys considers the human and ethical stakes of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, and Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus addresses the historical objectification of anomalous bodies. Margaret Edson’s Wit, given extensive discussion here, explores the conflict between scientism and subjectivity in the context of the modern research hospital. The medium of theatre is central to these dramatic critiques; medical science may formulate the human body as an object of knowledge, but theatre’s bodies look back in the midst of their display.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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References

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Parks, Suzan-Lori. Venus. New York, 1997.Google Scholar
Pettit, Fiona. ‘The Afterlife of Freak Shows’. In Popular Exhibitions, Science and Showmanship, 1840–1910, ed. Kember, Joe, Plunkett, John, and Sullivan, Jill A.. London, 2012, 6178.Google Scholar
Rossiter, Kate. ‘Bearing Response-ability: Theatre, Ethics, and Medical Education’. Journal of Medical Humanities 33 (2012): 114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shepherd-Barr, Kirsten. ‘The Diagnostic Gaze: Nineteenth-Century Contexts for Medicine and Performance’. In Performance and the Medical Body, ed. Mermikides, Alex and Bouchard, Gianna. London, 2016, 3749.Google Scholar
Sundgaard, Arnold. Spirochete: A History. Federal Theatre Plays, ed. De Rohan, Pierre. New York, 1973, 190.Google Scholar
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