Theater of Infection: Illness and Contagion in German Drama around 1800 Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Kent, Tayler
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • This dissertation studies the role that representations of disease and contagion played in establishing a vibrant discourse between drama and medicine on the German stage around 1800. Based on a survey of canonical and popular dramatic works from a variety of genres, this dissertation explores works that both contain depictions of illness and contagion and actively dialogue with the period's medical literature on infectious disease. Each chapter studies a seminal drama of a particular genre, both on its own terms and in relation to medical and dramaturgical writings of the period. Chapter 1 addresses issues of communication and contagion through an analysis of Heinrich von Kleist's dramatic fragment Robert Guiskard (1798/99). Chapter 2 undertakes a reading of Friedrich Schiller's Don Karlos (1787) against the backdrop of his medical dissertation on inflammatory fevers. Chapter 3 explores how contagion operates in popular literature by examining the relationship between contagion and melodrama in August von Kotzebue's 1797 drama La Peyrouse. This chapter also investigates the literary significance of Kotzebue's relationship with the renowned physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland. Chapter 4 explores configurations of gender and illness in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 1805 tragedy Stella by reading this text alongside the period's popular medical literature on lovesickness by physicians Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann and Melchior Adam Weikard. In reading these dramatic works alongside medical writings, this dissertation illustrates how playwrights during this time employed dramaturgical strategies that underscore the inherently contagious nature of the medium of theater, as well as creatively responded to and re-appropriated theories of contagion from the period's rapidly expanding popular and scientific discourses in the field of medicine. Far from being a mere metaphoric representation of a growing middle-class citizenry frustrated by a lack of political freedom, these dramatic portrayals of illness were often dialoguing with and reacting to actual medical discoveries and debates of the period, and in some cases they also gesture towards scientific developments in the realm of medicine that came much later in the nineteenth century.
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  • In Copyright
  • Downing, Eric
  • Langston, Richard
  • Hess, Jonathan
  • Koelb, Clayton
  • Trop, Gabriel
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2015
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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