Caesar Hath the Falling Sickness: The Legibility of Early Modern Disability in Shakespearean Drama

Allison P. Hobgood


This essay investigates William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar as a disability narrative. In doing so, it reveals that “disabled” was an operational identity category in the early modern period and argues that the play’s treatment of epilepsy illustrates and confounds early modern articulations of disability as wondrous, monstrous, deviant, and pathological. It also suggests that Julius Caesar performs epilepsy as a disability that, in its veritable invisibility, undoes the disciplining of bodily variation these discourses each undertake. In its exploration of epilepsy, Julius Caesar interrogates the idea of early modern disability as a visible, physical phenomenon, instead positing a more complex notion of disability as less overt, decipherable, or legible. Ultimately, this essay introduces disability to Julius Caesar to complicate existing early modern scholarly engagement with difference and presents “Shakespearean” disability studies as a productive critical approach by which to both reanimate dialogue about Renaissance subjectivities and motivate a more politically invested classroom pedagogy.


Keywords: disability, Shakespeare, epilepsy, falling sickness, Julius Caesar, visibility, passing, ableism


disability; Shakespeare; epilepsy; falling sickness; Julius Caesar; visibility; passing; ableism

Full Text:



Copyright (c) 2009 Allison P. Hobgood

Volume 1 through Volume 20, no. 3 of Disability Studies Quarterly is archived on the Knowledge Bank site; Volume 20, no. 4 through the present can be found on this site under Archives.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact

ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)