Physical Deformity on the Elizabethan Stage

Nicholas Udall, Thersytes (London: William Tysdale, 1562):

  Thersites.  When I consider my shoulders that so brode be
When the other partes of my bodye I do beholde
I verely thynke that none in chrystente
With me to medele dare be so bolde
O good lorde howe brode is my brest
And stronge with all for hole is my chest
He that should medle with me shall haue shrewde rest
Beholde you my handes, my legges and my feete
Euery parte is stronge proportionable and mete

John Lyly, Campaspe (London: Thomas Dawson for Thomas Cadman, 1584):

[Melip.] I came to Plato and to Aristotle, and to diuerse other none refusing to come, sauing an old obscure fellowe, who sitting in a tub turned towardes the sonne, read Greek to a young boy, him when I willed to appeare before Alexander, he answered, if Alexander would faine see me, let him come to me, if learne of mee, lette him come to me, whatsoe|uer it be, let him come to me: why, said I, he is a king, hee answered, why I am a Philosopher, why, but he is Alexander, I but I am Diogenes. I was halfe angry to see one so crooked in his shape, to be so crabbed in his sayinges. So going my way, I said thou shalt repent it, if thou commest not to Alexander: nay, smiling answered hee, Alexander may repent it, if he come not to Diogenes: vertue must be sought, not offered: and so turning himself to his cell, he grunted I know not what, like a pig vnder a tub. (1.3)

  Arist.  Thou hast reason to contemn the court, being both in bodye and minde too crooked for a courtier.
  Diog.  As good bee crooked, and endeuour to make my selfe straight from the court, as to bee straighte, and learne to be crooked at the court. (1.3)

John Lyly, Sapho and Phao (London: Thomas Cadman, 1584):

[Venus]  What doth Vulcan all day but endeuour to be as crabbed in maners, as he is crooked in body? (1.1)

George Peele, The Araygnement of Paris (London: Henrie Marsh, 1584):

  Ven.  Shepherdes abde, let Colins corps bee wittnes of the paine
That Thestilis endures in loue, a plague for her dysdaine.
Beholde the organ of our wrathe, this rusty churle is hee,
She dotes on his yllfauored face, so muche accurst is shee.
She singeth an old songe called the woing of Colman.
A foule croked Churle enters & Thestilis a faire lasse wooeth him. he crabedly refuzeth her, and goethe out of place. (3.5)
Vulcan following one of Dianas Nymphs.
  Vul.  Why nymphe, what need ye run so fast? what though but black I be?
I haue more preetie knackes to please, then euerie eye doth see·
And though I goe not so vpright, and though I am a smith,
To make me gratious you may haue some other thinge therewith. (4.1)

The True Tragedie of Richard the Third (London: Thomas Creede, 1594):

  Poe.  What maner of man was this Richard Duke of Gloster?
  Tru.  A man ill shaped, crooked backed, lame armed, withal,
Valiantly minded, but tyrannous in authoritie. (A4)

William Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI (1590-91), in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

[Glou.]  Why, love forswore me in my mother’s womb;
And for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe,
To shrink mine arm up like a wither’d shrub,
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size,
To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp
That carries no impression like the dam.
And am I then a man to be belov’d?
O monstrous fault, to harbor such a thought!
Then since this earth affords no joy to me
But to command, to check, to o’erbear such
As are of better person than myself,
I’ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,
And whiles I live, t’ account this world but hell,
Until my misshap’d trunk that bears this head
Be round impaled with a glorious crown. (3.2.153-71) 

Thomas Nash, Summers Last Will and Testament (London: Simon Stafford for Walter Burre, 1600):

To make the gods merry, the coelestiall clowne Vulcan tun'de his polt foote, to the measures of Apolloes Lute, and daunst a limping Gallyard in Ioues starrie hall. To make you merry that are the Gods of Art, and guides vnto heauen, a number of rude Vulcans, vnweldy speakers, hammer-headed clownes (for so it pleaseth them in modestie to name themselues) haue set their deformities to view, as it were in a daunce here before you. (“The Epilogue”)

Thomas Heywood, The First and Second Partes of King Edward the Fourth (London: F. K. for Humfrey Lownes and Iohn Oxenbridge, 1600):

[Glo.]  I am a true stampt villaine as euer liude.

Ben Jonson, Cynthias Reuels (London: R. Read for Walter Burre, 1601):

[3.]  Mercurie, he, (in the nature of a Coniurer) rayses vp Echo: who weepes ouer her Loue, or Daffodill Narcissus, a little; sings; cursses the Spring wherein the pretty foolish Gentleman melted himselfe away: and ther's an end of her---Now, I am to enforme you, that Cupid, and Mercury do both become Pages: Cupid attends on Philautia, or Selfe-loue, a Courtier Lady: Mercury followes Hedon the voluptuous Courtier; one that rankes himselfe euen with Anaides, or the impudent Gallant, (and, that's my part:) a Fellow that keepes Laughter the daughter of Folly (a wenche in Boyes attire) to wayte on him---These, in the Court, meete with Amorphus, or the Deformed, a Trauailer that hath drunke of the Fountaine, and there tels the wonders of the Water. (Praeludium)

[Mer.]  He that is with him is Amorphus, A Traueller, One so made out of the mixture and shreds of formes, that himselfe is truely deformed: Hee walkes most commonlye with a Cloue or Picktoothe in his mouth, Hee's the very Minte of Compliment; All his behauiours are printed, his face is another volume of Essayes; and his beard an Aristarchus. He speakes all creame, skimd, & more affected then a dozen of waiting women; Hee's his owne promooter in euery place: The wife of the Ordinary giues him his diet to maintaine her table in discourse, which (indeed) is a meere Tiranny ouer her other guests: for he will vsurp all the talke: Ten Cunstables are not so tedious. He is no great shifter; once a yeare his Apparell is ready to reuolt; He doth vse much to arbitrate quarrells, and fights himselfe exceeding well (out at a window.) He will lie cheaper then any Begger, and lowder then most Clockes. (2.3)

Ben Jonson, Richard Crookback (1602) [lost play]

William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (1601), in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

  Ther.  The plague of Greece upon thee, thou mongrel beef-witted lord!
  Ajax.  Speak then, thou vinewedst leaven, speak: I will beat thee into handsomeness. (2.1.124-25)