Performing Disability and Theorizing Deformity

Katherine Schaap Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


William Shakespeare's Richard III has been the key text for thinking about disability in the early modern period. While critics have taken Richard's "deformed" body as legible and morally emblematic, this essay traces how Shakespeare's character resists specificity about his shape. Refusing to describe the expected hunchback in his famous opening speech, seducing Anne and suddenly producing a withered arm, Richard recruits his audience to observe his ever-changing deformations. This essay accounts for deformity as an unfixed, performative force that Richard uses to his political advantage, arguing that the play produces disability as indistinction. Bringing disability theory to bear on the spectacle of Richard's deformed body-and using Shakespeare's play to rethink early modern disability-I show how the play highlights the indeterminacy of deformity as a resource for theatrical statecraft.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-772
Number of pages16
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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