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Anatomizing the social body: representing the plague in London, 1665 Monteyne, Joseph R.

Abstract

This thesis will analyze the motivations behind a broadsheet produced in response to the outbreak of bubonic plague in the City of London in 1665. This form of representation utilized visual, textual, and statistical elements in 'anatomizing’ the spaces of the City during the outbreak, and the social processes brought into play by the presence of the disease in the urban centre. I argue that this broadsheet attempted to create an ordered and unproblematic rendering of the disease's effects on the City and the social body out of the disorder wrought by the epidemic. With the construction through its representational framework of the disease as a phenomenon that is cyclical and natural, the print does the same for the means established by civic and royal government to counter the sickness and preserve order in the City. In other words, in this manifestation of Restoration print culture intended for a potentially large and unknown audience, harsh social policies enacted to police the spaces of the City and quarantine those infected were represented as inevitable and effective in returning London to a state of health. In so doing, the broadsheet also effaced any notion of social conflict and crisis over the latter issues that was invariably a part of epidemic plague's presence in the social body of early modern London. To represent the City and the social body under the grip of the disease in this way, discourses being reformulated in the Restoration context, such as 'political arithmetic', or statistical knowledge, were mobilized along with the construction of a visual narrative that applied closure over the event of the plague. Though it sought to create a picture of order out of the disorder of the plague, the broadsheet is laced with internal contradictions, and when viewed in relation to other textual and visual representations, this history of the plague in the City of London in 1665 reveals what it sought to obfuscate — social tensions between the sick and the healthy, those quarantined and those free to move about the City, between those who fled and those who stayed, and the real or imagined breakdown of order in the urban centre.

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