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Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England$
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Tanya Pollard

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199270835

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199270835.001.0001

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“Polluted with Counterfeit Colours”: Cosmetic Theater

“Polluted with Counterfeit Colours”: Cosmetic Theater

(p.81) 3 “Polluted with Counterfeit Colours”: Cosmetic Theater
Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England

Tanya Pollard (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines how depictions of poisonous cosmetics express early modern anxieties about the dangerous powers of seductive spectacles, with an emphasis on the theater. Understood in the early modern period as medicinal or restorative for women, cosmetics, based on substances such as mercury and arsenic, betrayed expectations by proving corrosive and harmful to their wearers. Taking as its starting point a fatal face-painting scene in The Devil’s Charter by Barnabe Barnes, the chapter explores representations of poisonous face-paints in plays, anti-cosmetic treatises, medical writings, and anti-theatrical diatribes. It goes on to demonstrate how this association worked to identify the theater as a seductive poison. Ultimately, it shows that the depictions of women suffering from poisonous face-paint offer a disturbingly literal image of the vulnerability of the body to the invasive force of spectacle.

Keywords:   seduction, Barnabe Barnes, Devil’s Charter, poison, mercury, arsenic

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