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A politics of the senses: the political role of theKing’s-Evil in Richard Wiseman’s Severall Chirurgicall Treatises

Abstract

Written by Richard Wiseman, sergeant-surgeon to King Charles II of England, ‘A Treatise on the King’s-Evil’ within his magnum opus Severall Chirurgicall Treatises (1676), acts as a proto-case series which explores the treatment and cure of 91 patients with the King’s-Evil. Working within the confines of the English monarch’s ability to cure the disease with their miraculous (or thaumaturgic) touch, Wiseman simultaneously elevates and extends the potential to heal to biomedicine. Wiseman’s work on the King’s-Evil provides an interesting window through which the political expediency of the monarch’s thaumaturgic touch may be explored. The dependence of the thaumaturgic touch on liturgy, theatricality and its inherent political economy in Restoration England allowed Wiseman to appropriate the traditionally monarchical role of healer as his own, by drawing attention to a medical ritual of healing that was as reliant, just as the theatrical ritual of monarchical thaumaturgy was, on symbolic binaries of healer–healed, head–body and touch–sight.

  • infectious diseases
  • metaphor
  • literature and medicine
  • physician narratives
  • medical humanities
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