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Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen

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Edited By Louis Fantasia

Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen is the third volume in the Peter Lang series, Playing Shakespeare’s Characters. As in the previous volumes, a broad range of contributors (actors, directors, scholars, educators, etc.) analyze the concepts of monarchy, leadership, melancholy and madness with not only references to Elizabethan and Jacobean studies, but also to Trump, Brexit, cross-gender and multi-cultural casting. What does it mean to “play the king” in the 21st century? What is the role of an “all-licensed” Fool in the age of spin? Who gets to represent the power dynamics in Shakespeare’s plays? This volume looks at the Henrys, Richards, Hamlets, Lears and various other dukes and monarchs and explores the ways in which men—and women—approach these portrayals of power and the lessons they hold for us today.

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9. A Hamlet Autopsy (Louis Fantasia)

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Louis Fantasia

Despite what we might consider as some of its more primitive aspects (such as bleeding, the use of leeches, ignorance of the circulatory or nervous systems, the failure to understand how germs transmit disease and the like), Elizabethan medical thought was a remarkably sophisticated, unified and holistic science that emphasized the tripartite balance of mind, body and soul as the key to health. Any imbalance in one of these three areas would manifest itself by disorders in the other two. Elizabethan doctors sought to cure not only the body, but also the mind and soul, of affliction and suffering. This was the distillation of medical thought from Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen, filtered through the new ideas of the Renaissance and conditioned by the teachings and dogmas of the Catholic Church.1

It was not until 1628, five years after the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio, that physician William Harvey published his near-heretical findings on the circulatory system. (Harvey delivered his first public anatomy lecture on April 17, 1616, five days before Shakespeare’s death). Prior to 1628, from the Greeks to the Renaissance, no one other than Harvey, would have believed that:

… there might not be A MOVEMENT, AS IT WERE, IN A CIRCLE. Now this I afterwards found to be true; and I finally saw that the blood, forced by the action of the left ventricle into the arteries, was distributed to the body at large, and its several parts, in...

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