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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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5. Institutions, Medical Progress and Health Care


5.  Institutions, Medical Progress and Health Care

Universities, medical study and progress

In the sixteenth century, the University of Padua, as has already been indicated, had many foreign students, attracted to Italy by the opportunity of receiving a practical training,59 in contrast to the teaching based exclusively on the theoretical study of texts. The cultural climate of ferment and vivacity of the Renaissance period could be breathed in the whole of Europe, and in Italy, in the university city of Padua, the master of clinical medicine, Giambattista Montano (1498–1551) was among the first doctors of the Western world to make the teaching of medicine leave the university lecture hall and to take the students to the hospital beds.

The sixteenth century was a golden period for the study of anatomy,60 and a meritorious Renaissance innovator was the French mathematician and physician Jean-François Fernel (1497–1558). Starting from the study of medicine and of physics (he was the author of the text “De proportionibus” when he was 31 years old), Fernel then moved on to the practice of medicine on the basis of his complete and detailed knowledge of the Galenic system, becoming archiater of Henry II (1556). His Galenic formulation is evident in his first medical work, “De naturali parte medicinae” of 1542, in which Fernel already presents himself as the author of new and original observations regarding anatomy, physiology and clinical medicine. With regard to his work “Medicina” in...

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