“Unnatural and Horrid Physic”: Pharmaceutical Theater in Jonson and Webster
This chapter examines depictions of dangerous doctors and medicines in plays by Jonson and Webster. It argues that Jonson draws on popular fears of drugs and poisons when he identifies cosmetics and medicines with dangerous forms of political and theatrical manipulation in Sejanus, and that Webster uses a similar strategy in The White Devil to link the seductive powers of Vittoria and Brachiano with various chemicals and poisons. While these two plays offer a sinister image of theatrical deception, however, Volpone uses a similar vocabulary to construct a more complex and variable model of theater’s physiological effects. Ultimately, Jonson suggests that the power of the theater can be harnessed to improve or cure spectators as well as to harm them.
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