Medicine and Shakespeare in the English Renaissance

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University of Delaware Press, 1992 - History - 404 pages
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What precisely does Falstaff mean when he speaks of "inland petty spirits" in his monologue on the advantages of alcohol (sack) in Henry IV Part 2? What does Lear mean when he exclaims, "hysterica passio . . . down, thou climbing sorrow"? What were the associations likely evoked by Parolles' reference to the artists "both of Galen and Paracelsus," when All's Well That Ends Well was first staged around 1604, and how did Shakespeare's audience respond to the play's story of the cure of the French king's fistula by a woman? Medicine and Shakespeare in the English Renaissance attempts to answer these and many other questions that episodes and passages in Shakespeare raise. Although designed for students of the literature, history, and thought of Elizabethan and Jacobean England, the book appeals to all who are fascinated by Shakespeare. Unlike enthusiastic treatments by doctors of Shakespeare's knowledge of medicine, it is the work of a scholar specializing in Elizabethan drama who, guided by medical historians, has ventured into an interdisciplinary field. Several chapters describe the background of various theoretical and practical aspects of medicine with which Shakespeare's educated contemporaries were familiar. How did they think about the body with its physiological processes and their relation to mind and soul? How were health and various diseases understood? How were the sick treated, where, and by what kinds of people? What were the chief methods of treatment and what was the rationale for them? What kinds of literature provided ordinary literate Elizabethan men and women with useful medical information? How much controversy was there in medical thought and practice? Yet the book's central focus remains on Shakespeare. While much of the background has its own interest, the exposition seldom continues for long without quotations from Shakespeare or a fellow poet or dramatist to illustrate a concept or detail, or that in the context invite explication. Episodes and longer speeches from several plays receive detailed attention, and the book concludes with reinterpretations of large parts of two plays, All's Well That Ends Well and King Lear. A useful feature is an index to the numerous Shakespearean passages.

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