Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




English (MA)

First Advisor/Chairperson

David H. Wood


Attitudes toward people with physical or mental disabilities have varied throughout history. Each society collectively defines what is considered normal and abnormal, and those values change over time. Many cultural factors impact how much these views change, including the dominant social philosophies and religions of an era. In Early Modern England, the rise of large public theaters and an increasingly permissive society contributed to the development of plays becoming a powerful tool for swaying public opinion.

Using this new pulpit, Shakespeare and his contemporaries staged plays that often depicted disability and deformity in negative ways, including the implications that a character’s outward physical differences, like Richard III’s deformities, signaled an inner monstrosity. By touching the emotions of the audience with passionate and sometimes despicable characters, these playwrights were able to transform the generally positive views of the disabled, held by many playgoers of the era, into disgust and intolerance. Because these plays, primarily by Shakespeare, continue to be staged, the animus against the disabled, presented via the stage, continues to this day.

Access Type

Open Access