A Production of USC SDA's 397/497 Curriculum



Karel Capek’s anti-fascist The White Plague is a 1937 satire of a country that is affected by a deadly disease as its government is preparing to go to war. This disease, which has symptoms similar to leprosy, only affects adults over the age of forty-five. A play written in response to the Spanish Civil war, White Plague remains extremely relevant today. Not only does it serve as a historical examination of the dangers of fascism, but also has significant relevance to the world we are living in today.


In the play, the country’s dictator, The Marshal, rather than focusing on finding a cure, is using the pandemic to start a war. In his attempt to minimize the spread of panic, he asks Dr. Sigelius, and the Medical Ministry to come up with a cure. Through their best attempts, the only result is a medication that will alleviate pain rather than cure the plague. Later in the play, the Marshal turns to Dr. Galen for an answer. Dr. Galen, who has found the cure to this leprosy-inducing plague, refuses to share it unless the government agrees to  put a halt to their war progression. He treats the poor, but denies treatment to the rich. Wealthy patients will only receive said cure after they vow to help convince the government to maintain peace. 


The ethical problem, for the audience to weigh, lies between Galen’s steadfast moral stand which will allow millions to die of a curable plague in order to prevent war.  The political and economic value of war for a country and its leaders, makes the answer not quite so cut and dried. As the play progresses, the conflict escalates, driving the country and its citizens to the brink.


The comparison between The White Plague and our country today writes itself as we explore the idea of propaganda and the intersection between science and politics. 


Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Image by BP Miller