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Medicine Matters in Five Comedies of Shakespeare

From the Renaissance Context to a Reading of the Plays

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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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Note on the Chronology of the Comedies

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The only certainty regarding the five comedies here analyzed is that The Merry Wives of Windsor was the last to be composed. With regard to The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Taming of the Shrew, opinions vary with reference to their sequence, though there is some agreement, even if not unanimous, that The Comedy of Errors was the first to be written in order of time. In what follows a brief indication of some different proposals regarding the chronological order of the plays is provided.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson furnish the following sequence and dates: The Comedy of Errors: 1592–93, The Taming of the Shrew: 1593–94; The Two Gentlemen of Verona: 1594–95; Love’s Labour’s Lost: 1594–95; and The Merry Wives of Windsor: 1597–01.79 E. K. Chambers proposes, as sequence and time spans for the composition of the plays: The Comedy of Errors: 1590–94; The Taming of the Shrew: 1593–94; The Two Gentlemen of Verona: 1590–1596; Love Labour’s Lost: 1594–97; and The Merry Wives of Windsor: 1600–01. 80 Peter Alexander attributes to the comedies the order and the dates that follow: The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona all in the period 1584–92; Love Labour’s Lost in the period 1592–94; and The Merry Wives of Windsor in the period 1594–99.81 Marco Minkoff, who in the...

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