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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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4. Practitioners


4.  Practitioners

The medical professional

During the Renaissance, as already mentioned, surgery made important progress, yet the figure of the surgeon nonetheless remains, in this period of Western medicine, as it had been during the Middle Ages, a distinct, distant and in some ways secondary figure, as compared to that of the graduate doctor. From Medieval times onward, in fact, and for the entire Renaissance, the only person who could claim the title of doctor was someone who had followed a structured course of studies within a Universitas Studiorum, a course crowned by the attainment of a degree, and this means that the doctor was usually an intellectual coming from upper social classes, in some cases even with noble origins.55 University teaching in medicine was in Latin, and thus only those who could afford, both culturally and economically, the study and knowledge of this language and of philosophy, could succeed in attaining the prestigious title of doctor, and register in the college of physicians, that is to say, the congregation of persons possessing knowledge of physical nature and aspects of biological phenomena, including human ones. Not by chance is the term “physician” still today the English word used to indicate the doctor.

In the Renaissance period the exercise of the medical profession becomes more secular, gradually freeing itself from the sanitary-religious Western tradition, which had seen in the monk a point of reference for the entire community. The rise, in Europe, between the fifteenth...

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