Monstrosity as Spectacle: the Two Inseparable Brothers’ European Tour of the 1630s and 1640s

Karen Jillings

Abstract


This article analyses the historical phenomenon of human exhibition by focusing on the celebrated case of the Italian gentleman Lazarus Colloredo, who during the 1630s and 1640s successfully toured Europe exploiting the multi-faceted interest generated by the parasitic twin protruding from his sternum.  This article draws on performance theory as well as the latest research on the exhibition of so-called human monstrosities both in the seventeenth century and during the Victorian era, in order to explain the differing audience responses to this form of entertainment.  For modern scholars the apparent attraction of human exhibition throughout history invites investigation into notions of performance and spectacle at different times, and the ways in which prevailing cultural forces shaped spectators’ interpretations of such acts.  Seventeenth-century audiences regarded Lazarus and his brother as awe-inspiring works of God and wonders of nature, whereas for those who visited British and American freak shows during their heyday in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the fascination with human oddities had become overwhelmingly medicalised.  Such performances offer instructive comparisons as well as notable contrasts with the early modern spectacle of monstrosity.


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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303