Alternative Medicine: Contagion and Cure in Karel Čapek's The White Plague
Abstract

Abstract:

Though written amid an atmosphere of unprecedented medical advance in both diagnosis and therapeutics, Karel Čapek's The White Plague takes a starkly critical stance against overconfidence in medical science and its dubious ethical orbit. This article explores Čapek's censure of those who would privilege scientific interest in disease over the holistic plight of the sufferer. Provocatively, Čapek achieves this not only via the play's content, but also—prefiguring aspects of contemporary live art practice by several decades—by placing audience members in worrying proximity to abject ill bodies. Čapek proposes a sort of theatrical homeopathy, suggesting that limited exposure to the threat of disease might spur spectators toward empathy for those who suffer and promote a healthier, more compassionate society.