‘The history of this monster’: puppetry as intervention in disability stratification

Purcell-Gates, L (2014) ‘The history of this monster’: puppetry as intervention in disability stratification. In: International Federation of Theatre Research World Congress 'Theatre and Stratification', 26 July - 2 August 2014, University of Warwick, UK.


In the late 18th century George Didier, Baron Percy, surgeon-in-chief of the military hospital at Soultz-Haut-Rhin, wrote in his medical notes about the strange case of Tarrare: ‘The history of this monster is as curious as his habits disgusting.’ His terminology reveals a medical discourse that positioned non-normative bodies as ‘monstrous’. The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak, a chamber opera for puppets currently in development by Wattle & Daub Figure Theatre, explores the story of Tarrare, a late 18th century French polyphagist whose insatiable appetite for food and for increasingly bizarre objects, alongside his emaciated and distended physique, was showcased in street performances. These performances were followed by his recruitment by the French Revolutionary Army to swallow documents and smuggle them across enemy lines, his hospitalisation and unsuccessful—and increasingly unpleasant—attempts at cures, and his eventual early death and public autopsy. A public engagement project surrounding the piece focuses on the notion of the ‘monstrous body’, examining, through workshops and public talks, the notion of what constitutes corporeal monstrosity in the 18th century and today. Workshops have been developed in collaboration with disability scholars and specialists to engage with disabled and non-disabled participants around the idea of monstrosity, the ‘normative’ body, and stratified codes of power associated with both. This paper examines these workshops as attempts to intervene in an embodied form of what Lisa Delpit terms ‘discourse stacking’, in which those with normative and non-normative bodies are stratified within society; such stratification has implications for access to embodied codes of power. Key questions that are explored include: How does ‘monstrosity’ manifest today? In what ways can puppetry be used as a tool for critical examination of issues surrounding disability? Can puppetry engage with embodied codes of power in a way that allows these codes to be taken apart, examined, and strategically challenged?

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Performance and Disability Working Group

Divisions: Bath School of Music and Performing Arts
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2018 16:01
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:42
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/7801
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