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Plagued by kindness: contagious sympathy in Shakespearean drama
  1. Eric Langley
  1. Department of English, UCL, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Eric Langley, Royal Holloway, University of London Egham, Surrey, TW20 0EX UK; eflangley{at}


This article considers Shakespeare's metaphors of transmission, contagion and infection in the light of period plague tracts, medical treatises and plague time literature. The author demonstrates how period conceptions of disease are predicated upon a notion of sympathetic transference and, consequently, how kindness, likeness and communication between characters in Shakespearean drama are complicated and fraught with period specific anxiety. This article situates Shakespearean literary texts within a precise historical and medical moment, considering how scientific conceptions contaminate dramatic text.

  • Shakespeare
  • plague
  • contagion
  • Othello
  • sympathy
  • English literature

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.