Department or Program



This project examines how the social and cultural effects brought about by disease are reflected in William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and Measure for Measure. The focus of my research concerns the conditions under which virginal and bawdy illnesses form and proceed to spread from person to person in Shakespeare. In no case does sickness ever affect only the individual; instead, systems as a whole can fall ill. Throughout both plays, there is an observed inability to understand disease – let alone cure it – on the part of those who are framed as leaders or healers. Analysis of sexual illness in either play further opens both texts to be critiqued for their depictions of violence against women, particularly sexualized violence and figurations of marriage as a carceral state. These fictional versions of Verona and Vienna are devastated by various physical plagues that give way to moral ones. Despite the present turmoil at the outset of either play, worlds in the midst of radical change are being depicted; this is due to how the proliferation of deadly disease exposes shortcomings in inequitable systems. Through close readings of the language and action in the plays, renegotiating issues of genre, and engagement with scholarly discourse on disease as a biological, but also a moral and social issue, I uncover a pattern of behaviors in these plays that exhibit how oppressive, misogynistic systems provide the perfect breeding ground for disease to fester.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Wright, Myra

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.