This essay examines William Shakespeare's Othello as an example of early modern narrative prosthesis. Rather than look to visual markers of difference and abnormality upon which claims of narrative prosthesis frequently rely, the essay examines the way Othello presents such difference and abnormality as an inward aspect of the psychosomatic construction of the humoral self. Drawing upon classical, medieval, and early modern views that correlate a medical relationship between wine and the black bile of humoral melancholy, the essay engages Shakespeare's numerous representations of drunkenness, especially Hamlet's formulation (in the context of his uncle, Claudius) of the disease-model of drunkenness we today term alcoholism. The essay then turns to Othello to explore how Shakespeare's representation of Michael Cassio's alcoholic "infirmity" serves as both a characterological and narrative prosthetic model for Othello's propensity to jealous rage that Iago both manipulates and confounds.

The most valuable contribution Disability Studies has yet made in the field of narratology has been David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder's concept of the prosthetic narrative. The formulation is one in which aberration from the "norm" at the level of character serves as a catalyst for narratives that seek to account for that aberration. Drawing upon the children's tale of a conspicuously one-legged toy soldier entitled The Steadfast Tin Soldier, in which a child protagonist selects to engage a disabled soldier's tale over those of countless able-bodied soldiers, Mitchell and Snyder offer that

The very need for a story is called into being when something has gone amiss with the known world, and thus the language of a tale seeks to comprehend that which has stepped out of line. In this sense, stories compensate for an unknown or unnatural deviance that begs for an explanation. (Narrative Prosthesis 20)2

The prosthetic narrative thus involves the situatedness of the social world that fictions provide: "a narrative prosthesis evolves out of this specific recognition: a narrative issues to resolve or correct … a deviance marked as abnormal or improper in a social context" (20). In this way, Mitchell and Snyder suggest that the schematic of a prosthetic narrative structure is frequently four-part: "1. deviance is exposed to a reader; 2. narrative calls for the origin of deviance and formative consequences; 3. deviance is brought to center-stage; and 4. there is rehabilitation or an effort to fix the deviance in some manner, shape, or form" (22). There are two ways narratives grapple with such devices: since "Disability cannot be accommodated in the ranks of the norm(als), … there are two options for dealing with the difference that drives the story's plot: a disability is either left behind or punished for its lack of conformity" (23). This formulation has come to be known as the "cure or kill" phenomenon of difference as it engages such narratives.

While any number of early modern narratives present themselves as fruitful for such analysis, we face two immediate problems in doing so: the first is Lennard Davis's suggestion, among others, that disability fails to constitute a discrete identity category until the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries3 ; and the second, closely related, is the truism that the early modern English humoral theory of psycho-physiology implicitly presents a version of normalcy — that of a static, humoral equipoise — which is essentially and practically unattainable. For each of these concerns, humoralism thus comes to offer a sort of receding horizon of normalcy that is generally lacking in post-Cartesian concepts of the self. Disability, in this loose sense, is thus an implicitly ubiquitous feature of early modern English life, and in pursuing disability in early modern literature and culture we confront from the outset a rather different terrain for prosthetic narratives, at once less visibly overt than inward and covert, than that which Mitchell and Snyder propose.

One way we might engage this concept of prosthetic narrative in terms of otherness within a Shakespearean framework is to turn to Othello. Its engagement of explicit representations of aberration stems most generally in a visual sense from the way in which a majority Venetian culture handles its invited "others." Indeed, the play's representation of the Moorish Othello at the center of either a frustrated conventional marriage-plot or a successful conventional battle-plot, and the simultaneous overt racism and war heroics that ensue, suggests as much. What is not so apparent is the way we might treat such concepts as, in any sense, disability. While Othello and Desdemona's marriage frustrates Roderigo and Brabantio at the play's outset as one of deviance, and while Cassio and Desdemona's supposed relationship subsequently frustrates Othello as one of deviance, Iago complicates these views of deviance over the course of the play. As Brabantio and Roderigo's sense of Othello and Desdemona's deviancy is rooted in emotional spurs respectively involving explicitly racist and Petrarchan traditions, that is, Cassio and Othello's precipitancy to emotional extremes differs from theirs in that it involves a material, corporeal groundwork that Iago's rhetoric exploits.

Indeed, Iago's manipulation of Cassio's precipitancy to drunkenness and Othello's to jealous rage hinges upon humorological emotional reactions that he effects within them as what we might consider an environmental contaminant. Such contamination manifests in each case as what early modern medical theorists refer to as adustion: the sudden caloric escalations that shift the humors from formally "natural" to "unnatural" states.4 This essay will explore the way in which this proper medical concept of "unnaturalness" registers in an early modern disability framework, and specifically how Iago's insinuation at the somatic level utilizes the porousness of early modern concepts of the self to dominate Cassio and Othello by relying upon the age-old link between wine and heroic forms of humoral melancholy. Drawing on the humoralism through which the early modern medical field operates, I address questions involved with identifying the early modern distinction between what is "normal" and what is "disabled" — what is "natural" and what is "unnatural" — in terms of the prostheses that develop in the relationship between aspects of literary character and specific narrative forms.5

Wine and Melancholy in Early Modern Humoral Theory

Michael Cassio's propensity to drunkenness plays a central role in the tragedy of Othello. But to be clear: it is not drunkenness per se that is at issue in this essay. Cassio's drunkenness, after all, registers uniquely in that it is repeatedly identified as an alcoholic "infirmity" — the term is used three times in 2.3 alone: at 41, 127, and 140 — one that leads him to plead with Iago that "I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking. I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment" (2.3.33-36). As in early modern England generally, heavy drinking and drunkenness are, of course, pervasive in Shakespearean drama: from the ribald shenanigans of Sir John Falstaff (in the second Henriad and The Merry Wives of Windsor), to the dissipate enervation of Mark Antony (Antony and Cleopatra); from the besotted but successful, politically elite usurpers, Macbeth (Macbeth) and Claudius (Hamlet), to the drunken and commoner, would-be usurpers Stephano and Trinculo (The Tempest); from the early modern English contemporary lush, Christopher Sly (The Taming of the Shrew), to the classical backdrop that serves as the setting for the "heat … [of] Greekish wine" in Troilus and Cressida (5.1.1) — the excessive drinking of alcohol is ubiquitous in Shakespeare's plays. Significantly, Shakespeare's representations of alcohol and its effects correspond with medical theorizing on the topic from the period, which demonstrates that Shakespeare's investment in mimetic characterization hinges on his use of available discourses for such characterization. Although the manner by which alcohol affects early modern selves involves contemporary medical views that are unsurprisingly different than science and addiction specialists perceive the phenomenon today, the social effects of such drunkenness prove in many ways to be quite similar, as we shall see.

The principal caution these early modern treatises present with regard to alcohol and its effects centers upon its propensity to emotional rousing through sudden caloric escalations. The relationship of time, temperature, and the humors thus lies at the root of these matters: the etymologically related Latin concepts of tempus, temperatura, and temperamentum. From Aristotle onward, through Galen into Avicenna, and thus integrated into the texts of Renaissance theorists Marcilio Ficino (1489), Timothy Bright (1586), Philip Barrough (1596), Thomas Wright (1603), Thomas Walkington (1607) and, most importantly, Robert Burton (1621), the influence of caloric increases upon the humoral self became a central element in diagnosing a range of psycho-physio-theological troubles. True to form, Thomas Wright propounds, pithily enough, that "Animi mores corporis temperaturam sequuntur, the manners of the soule follow the temperature of the body."6 Within this context of the role caloric economies play in somatic health, adustion, the sudden scorching of the humors due to a range of possible causes either inwardly or externally derived, facilitates an implicitly volatile aspect to early modern humoral theory that is captured in humoral theorists' qualitative division of the humors by the terms "natural" and "unnatural."

According to early modern humoral theory, each humor in its natural state tends inherently toward a specific temperature — sanguinity and choler toward the hot, phlegm and melancholy toward the cool.7 If an individual's ideal temperature becomes altered in any way, shifting the humors out of their ostensible balance, then the individual's health and emotional bearing are understood to transform in a similar fashion. In particular, if a humor which, in its natural state, tends toward the cool (phlegm or melancholy), turns suddenly adust — producing an unnatural humor — then a terrific altering in the health and character of the affected individual results. The shift from natural to unnatural humoral forms, likewise, is understood to produce material, humoral excrements and crudities, as well as noxious vapors and fumes which, rising to the brain, transform individuals either by suddenly or progressively leading them into a variety of dangerous, affective states. The inward trauma of a scorched humor, accordingly, manifests outwardly through commensurately traumatic effects in that person's outward show of character.

The causes of such adustion center on the porous conceptualization of the self that early modern humoral theory propounded, which maintains that the environment poses stark hazards to health. This marked link between the macrocosm of the world and the microcosm of the human is one we see repeatedly in early modern medical texts.8 A range of such influences is involved here, such as the influences of sound, color, air, and alcohol. As John Sutton observes, "The state of the [Galenic] naturals, the humours and spirits, depended directly on the influences picked up, usually through the blood but also directly through the skin, from climate, environment, nutrition, and emotion" (39). Galen, for example, established early on the dangers certain forms of air can pose to corporeal health (41-2), and these cautions tend to center upon thermal elements. Early modern theorists pick up on this issue.9 Stephen Batman's translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus's De Proprietatibus Rerum (1582), a thirteenth-century encyclopedic compendium, for example, cites Hippocrates on the effects caloric volatility causes within humoral selves. He stresses the unique dangers that the suddenness of caloric increases poses to humoral bodies in that "sodayne chaunging of cold into heate, chaungeth and appayreth [wastes] bodyes: and that is, for that kinde suffereth not sodayne chaungings, as he sayth. Therefore ofte sodaine chaunging of time is cause of sicknesse" (7.4). Such attention to caloric economies within an environmental context (time apparently referring here to change of season) extends to the suddennesses alcohol poses to such volatile selves.

For Thomas Wright and many other early modern humoral theorists, alcohol's psychosomatic influence upon the thermal status of the self was thus understood within this paradigm to be especially dangerous and jarring to human health. While such authors frequently caution against ale or beer, often strong wine draws their more emphatic warnings.10 Barrough, for example, writing in The Method of Physic (1596), stresses the specific dangers wines pose to human health, for reasons that center upon the caloric. Indeed, Barrough even suggests that hot humors in and of themselves can cause drunkenness:

The causes and signes of drunkennesse are evident inough, chiefly hote wines, & strong drinks are causes thereof, for that they fill the braine with vapours, and that so much the more (as Galen sayd) if the braine be hote by nature: sometime also hote humours ascending to the head, do cause drunkenness…. (1.10)

Such descriptions are typical within humoral theory, and thus to read such treatises on wine's effects upon humoral selves is to view the wine we think we know as virtually unrecognizable. While early modern theorists generally agree that wine does have its place in a healthy diet for people of certain humoral dispositions, and even can be beneficial, it is helpful to ascertain specifically why and how such writers caution against its use by others.11

From Aristotle down though the early modern period, medical treatment of wine within the humoral paradigm is thus decidedly complex. As an imported item for the early modern English, wine's complexity stems from the array of ways in which it is freighted with significations simultaneously theological, political, moral, and medical: theologically, for example, due to its sacramental role in Catholic ritual; politically, from its derivation largely from the Catholic nations of Italy, France, and Spain; and both morally and medically, its tendency to abuse (as we shall see in the Elizabethan "Homily on Gluttony and Drunkenness"). For medical theorists, especially, wine serves as a special environmental case that poses a unique challenge in the salubrious regulation of the body by the early modern subject, especially due to red wine's ostensibly physical resemblance to blood and the humors.

One of the foundational texts of classical humoral theory, the Aristotelian Problem XXX, I, explicitly comments on the marked effects wines inflicted upon humoral selves, and these effects appear to have played a significant role in shaping subsequent literary and cultural traditions. In this treatise, the author maintains that "dark wine more than anything else makes men such as melancholics are" (22); however reductive, such a totalizing, materialist explanation for aberrant behavioral psychology typifies classical humoral theory.12 Aristotle suggests that this comparability obtains because the corporeal effects of both the black bile of the melancholy humor, acting from within, and of wine, acting from without, hinge on their relative potency as a function of the caloric, and that applied heat thus determines the unique "character" of the corporeal impact of either fluid within the body (21). Indeed, as Aristotle explains,

raw temperature itself determines the character (for heat and cold are the factors in our bodies most important for determining our character): like wine introduced in larger or smaller quantity into the body, it makes us persons of such and such a character …. (28-9)

The perceived homology between wine and the black bile of melancholy, formulated by this text and maintained down through the ages, is reflected in Helkiah Crooke's Mikrokosmographia (1616), for example, which observes that "Melancholy juyce" is "like unto the lees of Wine" (138).

By means of this variability, black bile thus becomes understood as the material cause not only for a range of depressive psycho-physiological illnesses, but also for the series of outstanding qualities that comprise the heroic identity, as the material cause for heroic "greatness."13 Problem XXX,I explores how abnormality (in the context of excesses of black bile) can lead to genial forms of melancholy that comprise subjects perceived to be superior in heroic exploits, as well as in politics, poetry, and artistic endeavors, to those possessed of a presumably ideal balance of humoral equipoise. While such a concept surely complicates the humoral theory, it also frustrates concepts of, and definitions for, early modern disability. Indeed: if the abnormal can register as superior or ideal, what exactly does this concept of aberration do to categories that distinguish the "normal" from the "disabled"? And what role does the humoral variability caused by adustion play in such categorizing? The issue casts a long shadow, as the link forged between wine and humoral melancholy is not merely limited to classical texts.

Barrough, for example, stresses the specific dangers wines pose to one who suffers from melancholic diseases, warning "Let him altogether abstaine from wine" (1.6). In his chapter "De Insania Et Fvrore," Barrough writes of those who tend toward madness, "you must forbid them altogether the drinking of wine" (1.27). In "De Melancholia," as well, he prescribes for those affected: "let them eschue wine that is thicke and blacke …" (1.28). Such caution regarding these wines deemed "thicke" and "blacke" stems presumably from the material likeness they share with the perceived qualities of melancholy's black bile itself. Robert Burton, likewise, who identifies himself as "no wine drinker" (24), notably insists that hot wines are indeed most deleterious to subjects afflicted with melancholy.14 He cautions against: "All black wines, overhot, compound, strong thick drinks … and the like … all such made drinks are hurtful in this case, to such as are hot, or of a sanguine cholerick complexion, young, or inclined to head-melancholy. For many times the drinking of wine alone causeth [such diseases]" ( The medical tradition involving the relationship between wine and the melancholy humor deliberately highlights this correlation, synthesizing likeness between such corporeal influences to human health.

Among medical writers, the largest concern at issue in such discussions is wine's relationship within the context of volatility — the nexus of time, temperature, and the humors. Jarring influences caused by heat and the vapors of wines and other alcohols were understood to destabilize the humoral subject in ways that could be uniquely catastrophic.15 As John Sutton observes, the "Animal spirits were … susceptible to the spirits of wine, and the aerial spirits which carry melody, thus explaining physiological responses to alcohol and to music" (36). So while early modern English culture offers ample cautions relating to abuse,16 other cautions are more pointedly related to the disposition (age, character) of the drinker. Due to the innate heat associated with youthful males, for example, Walkington suggests that "a young man in the hot Meridian of his age ought to be abstemious" (49). While wine can while away cares and lead to creative literary ability (51-52), its tendency to abuse leads him to suggest that it is to be avoided by all of hot temperaments: "as for a Cholerick man to abstain from all salt, scorched dry meats, from mustard, and such like things, as will aggravate his malignant Humor, all hot drinks & enflaming Wines" (60). Shakespeare's representation of wine's effects upon humoral selves engages the issue in a range of ways, including a disability context.

Drunkenness and Alcoholic "Infirmity" in Shakespearean Drama

Indeed, Shakespeare's drunken dramatic characters confirm that thermal escalations play a central role in the way in which the early modern English conceived of drunkenness. These psycho-physiological effects include the flushing of the face and other caloric descriptors accompanying the drinking of alcohol. Such commonplaces are ubiquitous in Shakespeare's plays. In Antony and Cleopatra, for example, Charmian observes "I had rather heat my liver with drinking" (1.2.24); and indeed, such a description of drinking's inward effects can lead to outward ones, too: as Caesar observes, well in his cups, "You see, we have burnt our cheeks. Strong Enobarb / Is weaker than the wine" (2.7.122-23).17 In Henry 5, the French Constable contrasts the diets of the English and French soldiers, concluding of English valor: "Can sodden water, /A drench for sur'rein'd jades, their barley-broth, / Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat? / And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine, / Seem frosty?" (3.5.18-22). Twelfth Night's representation of the pervasive drunkenness of Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch thrives on such formulations (1.3.36, 1.5.130-33), as does Troilus and Cressida, in which Achilles vows of Hector, "I'll heat his blood with Greekish wine tonight, / Which with my scimitar I'll cool tomorrow" (5.1.1-2). In Coriolanus, too, Menenius refers to the drinking of "hot wine" (2.1.48). Other Shakespearean representations of drunkenness as a caloric environmental exchange are similarly straightforward: from the Porter's bawdy description of the various effects of drunkenness in Macbeth (2.3.28-36); to that of Christopher Sly's commoner's plea for "small ale" over "sack" in The Taming of the Shrew(Ind. 2.1-2); to Portia's analysis of the drunken German duke of Saxony's nephew, who Portia supposes would choose over her a "deep glass of Rhenish wine" (Merchant of Venice1.2.96), leading to her ultimatum: "I will do anything, Nerissa, ere I will be married to a spunge" (98-99). This final term brings us to Sir John Falstaff, who couples his famed drunkenness with its corresponding political implications, as a Shakespearean Lord of Misrule.

Falstaff's encomium to sack, for example, sweet white wine from Andalucia, Spain, engages contemporary medical theory to a marked degree, albeit comically. The passage centers upon the caloric as the causative element for a range of positive attributes: from intellectual wit to valor in battle. Falstaff conspicuously ignores the negatives, promoting sack as the cause of Prince Hal's martial prowess, and himself as a kind of progenitor of the future king. He suggests that:

A good sherris-sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and crudy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes; which, deliver'd o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood; which, before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes course from the inwards to the parts extreme: it illuminateth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of the little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this revenue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by the devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use. (2 Henry 4 4.3.96-116)

In contrast to the deleterious environmental effects associated with air, which move from the macro- to the microcosm, from environment to humoral self, wine's environmental influence extends frequently enough in a recursive, behavioral process from the macrocosm to the microcosm and back to the macrocosm. Indeed, this pattern is one we see, with overt political ramifications, throughout Shakespearean drama, especially as causative for drunken rebellion: in The Tempest, Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban, "red-hot with drinking" (4.1.171), finally locate Prospero but suffer such hangovers as to be utterly ineffective as usurpers; in As You Like It, Old Adam claims he owes his health to abstinence from alcohol: "I never did apply / Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood …" (2.3.48-49); and in Henry 5, King Henry famously makes great show to Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey in pardoning a drunken man who through "excess of wine" (2.2.42) had "rail'd against our person" (41). Falstaff's praise of sack, in other words, confirms his character. In this way, the alcoholic "infirmity" Cassio evokes, and demonstrates, is implicitly imbricated with political insurrection, as in Philip Sidney's representation of the drunken Phagonian revolt, for example, in the Old Arcadia. Each depicts rashness as drunkenly motivated, reworking the well-worn connection between the body and body politic; thus Iago had engineered the watch on the night of Cassio's demotion to be peopled by a "flock of drunkards" (2.3.59), one he had ensured to be "fluster'd with flowing cups" (58). Such politically pointed representations of drunkenness thus involve for Shakespeare deadly earnest representations of it in some as a disabling disease that should properly be termed alcoholism.

For such characters, caloric escalations brought on by alcohol severely affect character. When Mark Antony notes, for example, "Come, let's all take hands, / Till that the conquering wine hath steep'd our sense / In soft and delicate Lethe" (Antony and Cleopatra 2.7.106-08), Shakespeare undermines his ethos, indicting him as a triumvir of empire. Macbeth, as well, incorporates a notable amount of problematical drinking and references to it both literal and metaphorical: "Was the hope drunk," Lady Macbeth famously demands of her husband, "Wherein you dress'd yourself? Hath it slept since? / And wakes it now, to look so green and pale / At what it did so freely? From this time, / Such I account thy love" (1.7.35-39). This signification of Macbeth awaking "green and pale," consumed by a metaphorical hangover of anticipated guilt, is suggestive of Enobarbus's observation of the literally hungover Lepidus, who, after a night of heavy drinking in Antony and Cleopatra, too, "is troubled / With the green sickness" (3.2.5-6). Lady Macbeth's plan to murder Duncan, of course, involves relying upon the "drenched natures" (1.7.68) of Duncan's "spungy officers" (71), whom, "with wine and wassail [she will] so convince, / That memory, the warder of the brain, / Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason / A limbeck only" (64-67). While Macbeth himself drinks heavily throughout the play (2.3.95-96; 3.4.11-12; 3.4.86-89), Lady Macbeth, for her part, observes her own drunkenness at the time of the murder of Duncan ("That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold,/ What hath quench'd them hath given me fire!" [2.2.1-2]), and subsequently blames her husband's outbursts in the face of Banquo's ghost on his "strange infirmity," his "fit," and his "passion" (3.4.85, 54, 56).

In Hamlet, Claudius too is famous for his drunkenness, and in a remarkable passage where Hamlet ponders his uncle's infirmity, he explores the way that Claudius's weakness affects the state of Denmark as a whole. Hamlet observes that "The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse, / Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels; / And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down, / The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out / The triumph of his pledge" (1.4.8-12). Such, as he indicates to Horatio,

… is a custom
More honor'd in the breach than the observance.
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduc'd and tax'd of other nations:
They clip us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition, and indeed it takes
From our achievements, though perform'd at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.
So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As in their birth (wherein they are not guilty
Since nature cannot choose his origin),
By their o'ergrowth of some complexion
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit, that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners — that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect;
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,
His virtues else, be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo,
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of [ev'l]
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal. (15-38 emphasis added)

Here Hamlet settles on a number of possibilities upon which to assign blame for the "vicious mole," the particular fault," the "one defect" that leads to what he refers to as the status of "drunkard": birth (nature), complexion (humoral disposition), or habit (weakness of will). This list traces the contours of current views on humoralism as either deterministic or as self-fashioning, associated most often in the contrasting work of Gail Paster and Michael Schoenfeldt, respectively.18

The passage, too, thus goes to the heart of questions pertaining to alcoholism's status as a disability: should society pity the "drunkard" as the sufferer of a genetic disease? Alternatively, should society blame the individual for his or her weakness? Is it in fact within that person's scope of willpower to amend such a fault, or sin? According to Hamlet, it is this "stamp of one defect," that renders the individual corrupt and unable to control his or her drinking. In doing so, as Rebecca Lemon has shown, Hamlet offers a theory of heavy or habitual drinking that would appear to exonerate Claudius, condemning not him but his drunkenness as disease.19 We should observe, in this light, how Hamlet's words suggest that the contamination or corruption stands apart from the otherwise virtuous man, one who is granted "grace." This strikingly modern disease-model of drunkenness that Hamlet offers, as Lemon observes, is "one that locates the phenomenon of addiction in biology, particularly in issues of genetic predisposition or allergic response (arguments characteristic, for example, of certain neurobiological studies and some AA discourses)."19

These issues thus point from the early modern cultural moment simultaneously both forward to our current medical climate and back to the classical past: to Shakespeare's decision to evoke such representations, as disjunctive as they may at first appear, in the Greco-Roman context of classical heroism. In Henry 5, for example, Fluellen, that arbiter of precision, compares and contrasts his King Henry with Alexander the Great. In doing so, he notes that "If you mark Alexander's life well, Harry of Monmouth's life is come after it indifferent well, for there is figures in all things" (4.7.31-33). Indeed, observes Fluellen, the famously melancholic Alexander, "being in his ales and cups" (45-46), and "in his rages, and his furies, and his wraths, and his cholers, and his moods, and his displeasures, and his indignations, and also being a little intoxicates in his prains, did, in his ales and his angers, look you, kill his pest friend, Clytus" (32-39). While the reformed King Henry lacks such drunkenness, Fluellen compares his actions with Alexander's, pointing out that, nevertheless, "being in his right wits and his good judgment, [he] turn'd away the fat knight," Sir John Falstaff (46-48). In this wistful context, we might recall Falstaff's claim of drink's salubrious effects, and its convivial warmth, as he reflects on the youthful Hal in 2 Henry 4:

Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father, he hath, like lean, sterile and bare land, manured and husbanded and tilled with excellent endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant. If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack. (4.3.86-125)

While martial valor just might suffuse the reformed King Henry, the conviviality that drink had presumably once afforded him — along with his "humane principle" perhaps — is long gone. And Falstaff, of course, finds himself banished along with it.

Caloric Economies in Othello

This essay has been tracing the implicit volatility of drunken humoral selves in Shakespearean drama to demonstrate the ways in which inward markers of embodied aberration (such as those of alcoholic infirmity) register in early modern medical and social contexts. In doing so, I have been documenting that such latent aberrations, like their more obvious visual counterparts, confirm Mitchell and Snyder's proposal that a narrative prosthesis evolves "to resolve or correct … a deviance marked as abnormal or improper in a social context" (20).In this sense, Mitchell and Snyder's totalizing observation that narrative prosthesis thrives upon the "unnatural" can be seen as crucial to early modern narratives such as Othello:

The very need for a story is called into being when something has gone amiss with the known world, and thus the language of a tale seeks to comprehend that which has stepped out of line. In this sense, stories compensate for an unknown or unnatural deviance that begs for an explanation. (20 emphasis added)

The play's evocation of "unnatural deviance" in Cassio's propensity to drunkenness, after all, uncannily anticipates Othello's propensity to emotional volatility; in linking the two, Shakespeare portrays the disabling unnaturalness of both Cassio and Othello's humoral adustion and its overt political results in the play. In this sense, Mitchell and Snyder's suggestion that the schematic of a prosthetic narrative structure is frequently four-part is thus readily workable in the context of Othello in a number of ways. One way of engaging this template is that 1. Othello weds (deviance is exposed); 2. Othello proceeds to the Venetian council (origin of deviance explored); 3. Othello defends himself at the council (deviance brought to center-stage); and 4. the Venetian need for Othello's military might trumps Brabantio's rage (deviance is rehabilitated). But insofar as Iago proceeds to rely upon disabling humoral forms to break both Cassio and Othello, the clarity of this schema appears to weaken. Indeed, the palpable drama of difference staged in Othello perhaps paradoxically comes to center on an aberration best conceived as inward rather than outward. This link the play maintains between wine and the black bile of melancholy originates in the disease-model of drunkenness, and such forms of inward abnormalities serve as a complex part of classical humoral theory, as we have seen.

In Othello, of course, Shakespeare pursues this line by stressing Iago's ability to read and compel a range of depressive masculinities: whether in Brabantio's racist paternalism, Roderigo's thwarted love interest, or Othello's dual heroics and jealousy. However, early modern humoral theory suggests that these diagnoses too must be seen as of a piece both with Cassio's "infirmity" at his wine and the depressive remorse that attends it. The nature of Cassio's complex relationship with wine unfolds in a crucial passage of Othello, 2.3, which highlights the significance of volatility upon this man described earlier in the play as one "rash and very sudden in choler" (2.1.266). Critical exploration of the passage21 has tended to center on Iago's apparent nationalistic concerns, in his drinking songs, largely ignoring the fundamental issues I have traced that shape this scene: contemporary views on the causes and effects of drunkenness itself. Relying on this tendency and Cassio's self-professed "poor and unhappy brains for drinking" (2.3.33-34) as the cause for a breach of civil peace, Iago remarks of him: "If I can fasten but one cup [of wine] upon him / With that which he hath drunk to-night already, / He'll be as full of quarrel and offense / As my young mistress' dog" (48-51). And Iago reads Cassio rightly: Cassio's drunken brawling and subsequent demotion serves as the spur to the narrative of the play's events even as it provides an humoral template for Othello's destruction.

Due to the tough justice Othello metes out in 2.3, a reeling Cassio is left to contemplate the effects of wine upon his life, to explore precisely what it has wrought upon him in one brief evening: "O thou invisible spirit of wine," he exclaims, "if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!" (281-83). He proceeds to denote the process of effects that led to his drunkenness: "To be now a sensible man, by and by a fool, and presently a beast! O strange! Every inordinate cup is unblest, and the ingredient is a devil" (305-08). Further, on Cassio's frank inability to recall precisely why it was he found himself fighting with Roderigo and Montano in the first place, he laments, "O [God], that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!" (289-93). Personifying wine with the terms "devil" and "enemy" embodies the ready influence — not only physiologically, but also morally and ethically — that misuse of this beverage was understood to impart to early modern subjects.22 That is, against the comic elements of drunkenness (his need to insist that "this is my right hand, and this is my left" [114-15]), Cassio's demonization of wine — and ethical ability to discern right from wrong — leads Iago to come to its defense, providing his usual dash of rational, relativistic, and wry, common sense: "Come, come, good wine is a familiar creature if it be well used. Exclaim no more against it" (309-10). By returning Cassio's focus to himself, to the reestablishment of his occupation and sense of honor, Iago thus both maps out and engages the precise pattern as a narrative prosthesis he will subsequently employ with Othello to wrest back his occupation, his honor, and his perceived injured merit.

The turbulent nature of wine's effects upon Cassio leads him into an unfortunate pattern of turbulent behaviors evidenced in his civil strife and fighting. But this turbulence, or volatility, is not limited to medical texts or concepts. The Elizabethan "Homily on Gluttony and Drunkenness" comments, for example, that "Wine drunken with excesse, maketh bitternesse of minde, and causeth brawling and strife."23 Of the anonymous drunkard, it notes:

hee knoweth not himselfe, hee stumbleth and stammereth in his speech, staggereth to and fro in his going, beholding nothing stedfastly with his staring eyes, beleeveth that the houre runneth round about him. It is evident that the minde is brought cleane out of frame by excessive drinking, so that whosoever is deceived by wine or strong drinke, becommeth as Solomon saith, a mocker or a madde man, so that hee can never be wise. (100)

This passage presents a number of features that touch incidentally on matters central to Othello, revolving around concern with civil disorder. In Cassio's own estimation, too, to be drunk is to "speak parrot! And squabble! swagger! swear! and discourse fustian with one's own shadow!" (2.3.279-81). Such a view, linking inward turmoil with outward, accords nicely, of course, with the other portrayals of drunkenness we have seen in Shakespeare and other early modern writing. Cassio's actions are manifested in the term Othello uses to name all who engage in such drunken insubordination, identifying them as a "foul rout" (210).

But this homily is concerned with more than mere issues of "brawling and strife." Indeed, this excerpt touches on alcohol's relationship to issues of self-knowledge, to the drunken subject's metamorphosis into a madman, from acts of stumbling, stammering, and staggering, to a focus on the eyesight, and, perhaps most interestingly, to a critical concern with subjective temporal experience. In this sense, the homily reads nearly like Othello in miniature, especially when read as a disability narrative. The specific lexicon through which Cassio discusses his drunkenness thus begs comparison with other forms of passion that boil up throughout the drama: even before Iago can work his worst, Cassio claims his previous drinks "have given [him] a rouse already" (2.3.64-65). This use of the term "rouse" complements the other uses of rousing in the play: not only in Othello's use of the word "rout," but also the various "rousings" of Brabantio and his kindred (1.1.68, 167, and 1.2.29) that Iago had instigated in the search for Othello at the outset of the play, in addition to that of Desdemona during Cassio's drunken dereliction of duty (2.3.250). In the character of the drunken, emotionally roused Cassio, then, we are presented with the principle of environmental infection within the disease model of drunkenness that Hamlet perceives in Claudius and his fellow Danes. And thus Cassio's behaviors, which demonstrate one roused to wrath by the sudden influx of heat, whatever the means, offer a model of emotional volatility that Iago applies to Othello in moving him to the murder of Desdemona.

Narrative Prosthesis in Othello

Recent scholarship on Othello has stressed, and rightly so, the role of its titular hero's racial otherness as a product of his "geohumoral" provenance, contrasting this otherness with Iago's and that which Italy as a whole signified to the early modern English. The work of Mary Floyd-Wilson, in particular, has afforded us a crucial reading of the play that was clearly lacking in previous scholarship.24 But what we still need is a way of grappling with Othello that preserves this geohumoral, racial otherness while acknowledging, even foregrounding, his humoral, heroic otherness. Such a diagnosis reflects not merely the range of characteristics found in contemporary medical treatises, but also centers on the tradition of the tragic, melancholy hero Shakespeare adapts from the classical tradition of Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, and Seneca, among others. To be sure, Othello's melancholic qualities read like a formal list of melancholic symptoms drawn from any standard classical or early modern medical text, including: bouts with epilepsy (twice he is "fall'n in an epilepsy" [4.1.50]), solitariness ("leave me but a little to myself," and "Leave me, Iago" [3.3.85, 3.3.240]), halting speech ("Pish! … Is't possible? Confess? Handkerchief? O devil!" [4.1.42-43 and 245-56]), and bizarre facial contortions (Desdemona notes he is "fatal … When his eyes roll so" [5.2.36-37] and asks, "why gnaw you so your nether lip?" [43]).25 In addition, Othello's designation, like Hamlet, as one of the "great ones" (3.3.273), having been singled out as "such a man" (4.1.77), and of so "great of heart" (5.2.361) as to have pursued a classically honorable suicide, positions him additionally in the long line of heroic types reaching back to antiquity.26

The trajectory of Othello's fall, from that of a self-sufficient ideal to the basest of men, a "monster and a beast" (4.1.62), is, of course, new neither to the Western tradition of tragedy as a whole nor to early modern tragedy in particular. In Othello, however, this path uncannily reflects Iago's shrewd manipulation of Cassio in the drama. The fears that early modern medical writers register regarding sudden caloric increases, after all, function transferably, or fungibly, with regard both to excesses of alcohol and to other methods of scorching the humors. In working Othello to the point where his emotional framework may be negatively affected by humoral heat, Iago repeatedly tests the status of his effect on raising Othello's passion with overt temporal ramifications: "I see this hath a little dashed your spirits," (3.3.215) he says, then tests him again, "But I do see y'are moved" (217), and yet again, "My lord, I see y'are moved," (224). Othello responds tersely, "Not a jot, not a jot" (215), and "No, not much moved" (224). But with the suddenness of revelation, however, Othello's creeping doubts reduce into a frenzy, and he finally bellows the words "O monstrous! monstrous!" (427), and "I'll tear her all to pieces!" (431). Iago offers knowingly in soliloquy that

Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons,
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But with a little act upon the blood
Burn like the mines of sulphur. (326-29)

With the application of this conceit "upon the blood," again, as an infective action, Iago thus constructs the conditions by which he can subsequently greet the erratic Othello with the words "I see, [Q sir,] you are eaten up with passion" (391). Othello's explosive bodily shift thus facilitates his unswerving jealousy, and with that shift comes a commensurate shift in his very being-in-time: "my bloody thoughts," he utters, "with violent pace, / Shall nev'r look back" (457-58). Iago, in contrast, observes he ought "Dull not device by coldness and delay" (3.2.388). Iago's words, in this sense, make an important correlation between temperature and time, equating coldness with delay, and, implicitly, heat with both urgency and action. This manipulation of the caloric suggests the means by which Iago's mastery of Othello, just as with Cassio, thrives upon the utilization of adustion to create usefully "unnatural" humors.

Thus it is that Shakespeare's Othello bears the glance of Mitchell and Snyder's theory that "stories compensate for an unknown or unnatural deviance that begs for an explanation" (2). The surprise that this prosthetic reading of Othello has uncovered is that this play that relies so heavily upon the ocular proof of visual difference and deviance centers equally upon the covert and the latent in its inward representations of difference and deviance. In this inward sense, at the humorological level, we observe confirmation of Katharine Eisaman Maus's claim that Othello is a play devoted to "making the invisible manifest."27 Toward this end, Mitchell and Snyder's contention that "a [prosthetic] narrative issues to resolve or correct … a deviance marked as abnormal or improper in a social context" (20) helps demonstrate that it is within this social context, after all, that the play demonstrates the link between affectivity and what Cassio identifies as the social drinking he prefers to avoid: the Venetian "courtesy" as a "custom of entertainment" (2.3.35-36). Mitchell and Snyder's views on the concluding moves by which narrative prostheses tend to resolve themselves are thus worth engaging in this light.

They argue that since "Disability cannot be accommodated in the ranks of the norm(als), … there are two options for dealing with the difference that drives the story's plot: a disability is either left behind or punished for its lack of conformity" (23). This cure or kill element is complicated in Shakespeare's play, however. Precisely who is cured at the end of the narrative? Precisely who is killed? The answers, in a sense, belie the questions. Shakespeare's play complicates the responses, in that where Cassio of course finishes the play triumphant, as governor of Cyprus, he remains "uncured" of his alcoholic infirmity; and that while Othello's suicide certainly registers as a "kill," it also serves as a problematically classical heroic assertion. Where alcoholism, in other words, in so many ways the most insidious of disabilities, comes to thrive in this play and, perhaps, in the real world, on its latent status, heroic melancholy ultimately maintains its characteristically overdetermined volatility to the end.

The latency of alcoholism thus shapes Othello via the historicized associations between wine and the black bile of melancholy. Cassio's propensity to drunkenness — insofar as it offers a humorological model of emotional rousing, of humoral adustion, at the level of both the individual and the state — ultimately serves as a model for Othello's sympathetic representation. This correlation is one that serves as a prosthesis for Othello, in that narratologically it presents a deviancy that propels the narrative motion of the play, while alluding to the means by which Othello will come unhinged. Such a historicized reading of how alcoholism signifies thus presents Othello in a sense anew, as a play in which deviancy is simultaneously an explicit and latent feature involving both racial difference and contemporary concepts of inward aberration: both the pre-Cartesian comprehension of psycho-physiology and the classical inheritance of the tradition of heroic melancholy that links black bile with wine.

Thus Othello as a play, and perhaps alcoholism itself, offers a complex engagement with disability theory. Where in their treatment of the story of the Tin Soldier, Mitchell and Snyder insist that "The journey and ultimate return home embody the cyclical nature of all narrative (and the story of disability in particular) — the identification of deficiency inaugurates the need for a story but then is quickly forgotten once the difference is established" (24), such appears to be precisely the case with Cassio. In this sense, Cassio's 4-fold prosthetic schema might run as follows: 1. Iago leads Cassio to drunkenness (deviance is exposed); 2.Cassio demonstrates his ongoing trouble with alcohol (origin of disease); 3. Iago uses Cassio's efforts to redeem himself as a narrative prosthetic to confound Othello (deviance is brought to center stage); and 4. Cassio rules Cyprus (deviance is cured or killed). Cassio's conclusive and concluding rule in Cyprus seems to demonstrate in this sense an ostensible triumph, however temporary, over a genetically determined adversity. We might note as well that Mitchell and Snyder suggest that "while stories rely on the potency of disability as a symbolic figure, they rarely take up disability as an experience of social or political dimensions" (16). But if we accept alcoholism as fulfilling the terms of a disability, as I think we should, then Shakespeare's play suggests that alcoholism can indeed fulfill a social and indeed political role in early modern culture. And presumably without Iago at his side, Cassio might retain a kind of sobriety. But that is the subject for another narrative.

As a conclusion with some faint questions marks, I can't help but think of Stephen Greenblatt's recent biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World, in which he hypothesizes the central role alcoholism might possibly have played in Shakespeare's family life.28 Greenblatt envisions in his father John Shakespeare's sudden fall from grace in 1570s Stratford an air of quiet mystery that alcoholism seems to clarify. I have no idea how to respond to such a theory. I do think it is an intriguing one, given the pathos — the shame, the redemption — which Shakespeare invests into his version of Michael Cassio. That it is he who rules Cyprus at the play's end, too, given his theological preoccupation with his "elect" status in conversation with Iago (2.3.102-10), suggests a kind of success in spite of himself that we might expect here in the faulted, human representation Shakespeare offers of him. In significant ways, such an ending both evokes and repels the prosthetic narrative model figured by Mitchell and Snyder, and in doing so characterizes one way in which narrative prosthesis might be employed in a canonical early modern text. As for Lennard Davis, there does indeed seem to be an early modern category for the disabled drunkard in Jacobean England; and as for humoralism, it proves to be a remarkably supple explanatory system of health and emotion, not static at all but dynamic and even volatile. Within that system, disability means differently: but disability does mean.

Works Cited

  • Aristotle. Problem XXX,I. Saturn and Melancholy. Trans. and Ed. Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl. Liechtenstein: Klaus Reprint, 1979. Print.
  • Batman uppon Bartholome, his booke De Proprietatibus Rerum. Trans. Stephen Batman. London, 1582. Print.
  • Barrough, Philip. The Method of Physic. London, 1596. Print.
  • Bright, Timothy. A Treatise of Melancholie. London: Thomas Vautrollier,1586. Print.
  • Burton, Robert. The Anatomy of Melancholy. Oxford: Henry Cripps, 1628. Print.
  • Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be Read in Churches In the Time of Queen Elizabeth I (1547-1571). Mary Ellen Rickey and Thomas B. Stroup, Intro. Gainsville, Florida: Scholars' Facsimilies & Reprints, 1968. Print.
  • Crooke, Helkiah. Mikrokosmophagria a description of the body of man, together with the controversies and figures thereto belonging. London: W. Iaggard, 1616. Print.
  • Davis, Lennard J. Bending over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions. New York: New York UP, 2002. Print.
  • ---. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 1995. Print.
  • Fitzpatrick, Joan. Food in Shakepeare. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007. Print.
  • Floyd-Wilson, Mary. English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern England. Canbridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.
  • Floyd-Wilson, Mary and Garrett Sullivan, Jr.,eds. Environment and Embodiment in Early Modern England. New York: Palgrave, 2007. Print.
  • Galen. On Uneven Bad Temperament. Galen on Food and Diet. Ed. Mark Grant. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World. New York: Norton, 2004. Print.
  • Kezar, Dennis. "Shakespeare's Addictions" 30.1 (Autumn 2003) 31-62. Print.
  • Klibansky, Raymond, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl. Saturn and Melancholy. Liechtenstein: Klaus Reprint, 1979. Print.
  • Lemon, Rebecca. "Drunkenness in Hamlet." "Politics and Bodily Life in early Modern Drama." Shakespeare Association of America meeting. Dallas, TX. (unpublished). Print.
  • Light, George Evans. "All Hopped Up: Beer, Cultivated National Idenitity, and Anglo-Dutch Relations, 1524-1625." JX 2.2 (1998): 159-78. Print.
  • Martin, Lynn A. Alcohol, Sex, and Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001. Print.
  • Maus, Katharine Eisaman. Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995. Print.
  • Mitchell, David and Susan Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2001. Print.
  • ---. ""Narrative Prosthesis and the Materiality of Metaphor," The Disability Studies Reader, Lennard Davis, ed. Second edition (New York: Routledge, 2006): 205-16. Print.
  • Neely, Carol Thomas. Distracted Subjects: Madness and Gender in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004. Print.
  • Paster, Gail Kern. The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1993. Print.
  • ---. Humoring the Body. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2004. Print.
  • Radden, Jennifer. The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva. Ed. Jennifer Radden. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
  • Schleiner, Winfried. Melancholy, Genius, and Utopia in the Renaissance (Wiesbaden: In Kommission bei Otto Harrassowitz, 1991). Print.
  • Schiesari, Juliana. The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992. Print.
  • Scodel, Joshua. Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2002. Print.
  • Schoenfeldt, Michael. Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England: Physiology and Inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.
  • Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. Antony and Cleopatra. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. As You Like It. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. Coriolanus. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. Hamlet. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. Henry V. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. Macbeth. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. The Merchant of Venice. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. Othello. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. The Taming of the Shrew. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. The Tempest. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. Troilus and Cressida. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • ---. Twelfth Night. The Riverside Shakepeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
  • Sidney, Philip. The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The Old Arcadia). Ed. Katherine Duncan Jones. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
  • Smyth, Adam, ed. A Pleasing Sinne: Drink and Conviviality in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004. Print.
  • Sullivan, Garrett, Jr. and Mary Floyd-Wilson, eds. Renaissance Drama 35. (Northwestern UP, 2006). Print.
  • Sutton, John. Philosophy and Memory Traces: Descartes to Connectionism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.
  • Walkington, Thomas. Optick Glass of Humours. London, 1607. Print.
  • Wright, Thomas. The Passions of the Minde in Generall: a reprint based on the 1604 edition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971. Print.


  1. Othello 2.3.58. All citations from the works of William Shakespeare are drawn from The Riverside Shakespeare, G. Blakemore Evans, ed. 2nd edition. While the textual situation for Othello is complex, I have followed The Riverside Shakespeare in adhering to the First Folio (1623) text of the play, and indicated use of the Quarto version (1622) by utilizing brackets and inclusion of the letter Q. Though there are numerous differences between the two versions of the play, only one instance impacts my citation in this analysis. This essay has benefitted significantly from circulation and feedback at the 2008 Shakespeare Association of America (SAA) seminar in Dallas, entitled "Shakespeare and the Politics of Bodily Life," co-chaired by David Glimp and Daniel Juan Gil. In addition, I want to thank especially for their feedback Allison Hobgood, Rebecca Lemon, Gina Bloom, Gail Kern Paster, Lindsey Row-Heyveld, and Lesley Larkin. Finally, I would also like to thank all of the participants in the 2009 SAA seminar, entitled "Disabled Shakespeare," which I co-chaired with Allison Hobgood in Washington, D.C.
    Return to Text
  2. See David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse 20; and Mitchell and Snyder, "Narrative Prosthesis and the Materiality of Metaphor," 205-16. All references to Mitchell and Snyder in this essay refer to Narrative Prosthesis.
    Return to Text
  3. See Lennard J. Davis, Bending Over Backwards 52-53, and Enforcing Normalcy 3.
    Return to Text
  4. While Robert Burton, in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1st edition: 1621), refers to these humoral states as either "natural" or "unnatural," Timothy Bright, in A A Treatise of Melancholie (1586), identifies them as either "kindly" or "unkindly." Since "kind" in late medieval and early modern English refers to "nature," these terms as used by Burton and Bright may be construed as synonymous. Avicenna formalized the significance of the caloric within humoral theory as it entered Europe, though the origins of its significance, as this essay will demonstrate, are promulgated in much earlier works by Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. Owing to the large number of editions of Burton's work, all quotations will be numbered as Burton himself divided his work: first, by Partition; second, by Section; third, by Member; and, fourth, by Subsection, except as noted.
    Return to Text
  5. For other scholarship on Iago's role as contaminator, see esp. Mary Floyd-Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race 150-57; and Dennis Kezar, "Shakespeare's Addictions," 31-62.
    Return to Text
  6. Thomas Wright, Passions of the Minde, 38.
    Return to Text
  7. Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl 10-11.
    Return to Text
  8. Two collections of essays address this issue in detail: Renaissance Drama 35 (2005), Garrett A. Sullivan Jr. and Mary Floyd-Wilson, eds.; and Environment and Embodiment, Mary Floyd-Wilson and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr., eds.
    Return to Text
  9. See Walkington, Optick Glass of Humours (1607): "the Infection of the Air, as in the extinguishing of some blazing Comet, the eructation of noysom Vapours from the bosom of the Earth, the disastrous constellation, or bad aspect of some malevolent Planet, the damping fumes, that the Sun elevates from bogs, and fennish grounds, the inflammation of the Air by the intense heat of the Sun … this infection causeth our Bodies first to be badly qualified, and tainted with a spice of Corruption, and so consequent our very Souls to be ill-affected" 28.
    Return to Text
  10. Note the nationalistic concerns at work here. On this issue of alcohol and nationalism, see George Evans Light, "All Hopped Up," 159-178. For a more thorough treatment related to the issue of alcohol and the symposiastic tradition, see Joshua Scodel, Excess and the Mean.
    Return to Text
  11. See Adam Smyth, ed., A Pleasing Sinne, on the healthful effects, both medically and culturally, alcohol is understood to effect in 17th century England.
    Return to Text
  12. The authorship of this treatise remains a contested issue. While Klibansky, Saxl, and Panofsky maintain that the text was written by Aritotelian adherent, Theophrastus (41), I have followed Juliana Schiesari in attributing the work to Aristotle. The text is translated in full in both Jennifer Radden, Nature of Melancholy, and Klibansky, Saxl, and Panofsky. For more on this text, see Winfried Schleiner, Melancholy, Genius, and Utopia, and Carol Thomas Neely, Distracted Subjects. All quotations in this paper are taken from Klibansky, Saxl, and Panofsky.
    Return to Text
  13. This connection was made through a conflation of the Platonic concept of "divine frenzy" and Aristotelian ideas relating to physical determinism; see Klibansky, Saxl, and Panofsky, esp. 38-42. This page number refers to the introductory essay entitled "Democritus to the Reader," with which Burton begins his second edition of the Anatomy (1628).
    Return to Text
  14. The following works deal with early modern representations of alcohol in varying degrees: Scodel; Lynn A. Martin, Alcohol, Sex, and Gender; Joan Fitzpatrick, Food in Shakespeare; and Smyth.
    Return to Text
  15. Such as Walkington's, that "For drinks, we must not like Bowzers carouse Bowl after Bowl to Bachus his Deity, like the Graecians, not use smaller Cups in the beginning of our Banquet, more large and capacious Bowls at the later end. We must not, like Lapithes, drink our selves horn-mad" (47). This final reference is to Ovid's treatment of the drunken Lapiths in the Metamorphoses.
    Return to Text
  16. A servant also noted earlier in the scene that "Lepidus is high-[color'd]" (4).
    Return to Text
  17. See Gail Kern Paster, Body Embarrassed and Humoring the Body; and Michael Schoenfeldt, Bodies and Selves.
    Return to Text
  18. I am indebted for this reading on Claudius's drunkenness to Rebecca Lemon, whose insightful paper, "Drunkenness in Hamlet," was presented at the 2008 SAA meeting in Dallas.
    Return to Text
  19. See Charles O'Brien, "New Developments in Addiction Treatment," Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 67.11 (2006): 1801-12; and Eric J. Nestler and Robert C. Malenka, "The Addicted Brain" Scientific American (March 2004). Both texts are quoted in Lemon.
    Return to Text
  20. See Light, esp. 159-63.
    Return to Text
  21. Not to mention nationality. As others have noted, Iago's rigid compartmentalizing typifies his ostensible view of the world. See Light regarding early modern perceptions of wine versus ale and beer, as well as regarding drunkenness itself as a foreign import for the early modern English, 160.
    Return to Text
  22. See Certain Sermons.
    Return to Text
  23. See Mary Floyd-Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race. On Othello in particular, see 132-60.
    Return to Text
  24. See Problem XXX, I, in which, citing Hippocrates on Heracles' "mad fit," Aristotle names epilepsy "the sacred disease," 18. Also see Burton, 3.3.2, where he notes that the man dominated by melancholy engages in "strange gestures of staring, frowning, grinning, rolling of [the] eyes, menacing, ghastly looks, broken pace, interrupt[ed], precipitate, half-turns. He will sometimes sigh, weep, sob for anger … swear and belie, slander any man, curse, threaten, brawl, scold, fight."
    Return to Text
  25. See Klibansky, Saxl, and Panofsky 17-42, who explore this tradition in detail. Also see Schiesari, 1-32.
    Return to Text
  26. See Katharine Eisaman Maus, Inwardness and Theater, 126-27.
    Return to Text
  27. See Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World, 67-79.
    Return to Text
Return to Top of Page

Copyright (c) 2009 David Houston Wood

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 libkbhelp@lists.osu.edu.

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