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Medicine Matters in Five Comedies of Shakespeare

From the Renaissance Context to a Reading of the Plays


Luisa Camaiora and Andrea A. Conti

The book examines the presence of medicine matters in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and documents how the theme of medicine can acquire particular importance for the interpretation of the plays: namely, it matters. Andrea A. Conti provides information on certain aspects of the medical context of the Renaissance, effecting the essential connections with previous and subsequent periods and furnishing the necessary background for the understanding of the state of the art of medicine at the time. Luisa Camaiora presents a close reading of the comedies, and identifies for each a specific and dominant medical facet, then proposed as a structural key for the analysis of the plays. The medical motifs enucleated determine the critical perspective for the discussion of the dramatic characters and events and for the interpretation of the overall meaning and significance of the single works. Features and references related to the sphere of medicine, identified in the comedies, are also commented upon and examined in the context of this medical reading of the plays.

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3. Medical Interventions and Preparations


3.  Medical Interventions and Preparations


Three great obstacles have historically curbed the development of surgery: the problem of haemorrhages, the question of pain, and the risk of infections. In effect, the surgical armamentarium of the Hippocratic doctor was already, at the morphological and operative levels, quite ample; nonetheless, the impossibility of carrying out an efficient disinfection, not to mention an anti-sepsis, precluded the effectiveness and the diffusion of surgery.50 Some elements allow decisive progress in surgery in the Renaissance period, namely, the evolution in the knowledge of human anatomy thanks to Andreas Vesalius and other illustrious anatomists of the sixteenth century, and the improvement in operative techniques, in particular in amputations. Furthermore, in the Renaissance the first provisions, useful in the fight against bleeding, come into effect, and it is precisely in this period that one of the traditional obstacles to the development of the discipline, namely the occurrence of haemorrhages, begins to be overcome. In the fifteen hundreds in fact, ideas of the importance of measures of tamponage and of control of the loss of blood begin firmly to establish themselves. Though the medication of wounds and the ligature of blood vessels had for some time been proposed by Italian surgeons, it was Ambroise Paré (1510–1590), the founder of French surgery, who with authoritativeness and decision sustained the need for their more and more diffuse introduction into surgical practice.51 During the Piedmont war (in the first half of the sixteenth century) Paré was...

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