Boy Actors and Early Modern Disability Comedy in The Knight of the Burning Pestle and Epicœne

Jonson’s Epicœne and Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle depict able-bodied characters feigning disabilities such as dwarfism and muteness; they also acknowledge their performance—forcing the audience to witness a double-feigning that teases out the theatrical experience of disguise that playgoers otherwise accept. These comedies render bodies, by way of feigned disability, performative. But locales for disability also become fluid: the stage attempts to depict places for the disabled—Morose’s soundproof home in Epicœne and a “cave” housing syphilitics in The Knight of the Burning Pestle—without any physical reconstruction of the space. On the early modern stage, the lack of spatial reconstruction disregards how someone with a disabled body must navigate spaces framed around the able-bodied. Disabled identities and spaces manifest only through language. Audiences fail to see distinctions between the bare stage and minimal props used to distinguish them from spheres for the able-bodied.