Hey Presto! Swift and the Quacks

by Hugh Ormsby-Lennon

Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2012

Hardback • 2011 • $100.00
ISBN: 978-1611490121

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In this book the author reveals how medicine shows, both ancient and modern, galvanized Jonathan Swift’s imagination and inspired his wittiest satiric voices. Swift dubbed these multifaceted traveling entertainments his Stage-itinerant or “Mountebank’s Stage.” In the course of arguing that the stage-itinerant formed an irresistible model for A Tale of a Tub, Ormsby-Lennon also surmises that the mountebank’s stage will disclose that missing link, long sought, which connects the twin objects of Swift’s ire: gross corruptions in both religion and learning. In the early modern medicine show, the quack doctor delivered a loquacious harangue, infused with magico-mysticism and pseudoscience, high-astounding promises, and boastful narcissism. To help him sell his panaceas and snake-oil, he employed a Merry Andrew and a motley troupe of performers. From their stages, many quacks also peddled their own books, almanacs, and other ephemera, providing Grub Street with many of its best-sellers. Hacks practiced, quite literally, as quacks. Merry Andrew and mountebank traded costumes, whiskers, and voices. Swift apes them all in the Tale.

About the Author
Hugh Ormsby-Lennon is professor of eighteenth-century studies at Villanova University.