Current Institutional Affiliation
Literature, University of Georgia

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2017
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Literature, University of Georgia
Medical Practice, Medical Performance: Mountebanks in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England

In early modern England, the term "mountebank" appeared across an enormous spectrum of literary genres as a metaphor for deceit—for false scholarly pedants, corrupt priests, conniving politicians, and a range of other ill-doers. The term denoted, too, however, a real medical practitioner: one who mounted a stage or bank in order to sell medical wares to the public in squares and piazzas across Europe. Records of mountebank performances describe elaborate acrobatics, songs, and animal tricks used to lure an audience before attempting to sell concoctions or services—including tooth-pulling, urinalysis, and treatments for the pox—to the enraptured audience below. As a result of this unusual context for medical practice, the mountebank operates in European history as an ambivalent figure straddling the lines of medicine and theatrical performance, offering to simultaneously entertain and heal an audience of the poor and sick. My dissertation research seeks to de- and reconstruct the mountebank as a unique, hybrid practitioner who staged in the public eye both the hopes and fears of early modern medicine, especially during its rapid development across the seventeenth century. My research will also explore the interpretations of mountebanks within satires, ballads, plays, and other textual sources as mechanisms of comedy and tragedy, healing and bodily disruption. Thus, at contest in my dissertation project are the self-presentations and public judgments of mountebanks as either saviors or criminals—or an odd mix of both. In particular, each chapter of the dissertation will explore the conflicting representations of mountebanks with respect to already delicate medical concerns, including medicinal composition and distribution, the treatment of sexual disorders, processes of diagnosis, surgery and external medicine, and astrological medicine.