Lindsey Row-Heyveld (Univ. of Iowa Department of English)
Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, No 4 (2009)
This article examines various retellings of a single story to explore how conceptions of disability changed throughout the English Reformation. The tale of a false miracle feigned and revealed in the village of St. Alban’s during the reign of Henry VI was recounted by a number of authors: Thomas More, Richard Grafton, John Foxe, and, finally, William Shakespeare. More’s version imagines a disability that is shaped by an understanding of mutual exchange between disabled and able-bodied persons. The Reformation eliminated that exchange, and its loss is reflected in the other accounts of the false miracle of St. Alban’s where disability is imagined as increasingly dangerous, deceptive, and emasculating. I argue that Shakespeare, in particular, expands negative post-Reformation ideas about disability in 2 Henry VI, while simultaneously demonstrating the inability to contain disability in a period that anxiously struggled to define and regulate it.
In the midst of Shakespeare’s sprawling account of the life of Henry VI, a small, seemingly insignificant episode of religious and financial fraud occurs. A man interrupts the king and his retinue, claiming that, while worshiping at the local shrine of St. Alban, he has been miraculously healed of the blindness that has affected him since birth. But after the Duke of Gloucester questions him, it becomes clear that both the miracle and his illness have been feigned, staged for attention and money. The man and his wife are punished, and the king’s progress — and the rest of the drama — resumes.