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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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1. Undifferentiated Diagnoses in The Comedy of Errors: Reliance on Visual Evidence


1.  Undifferentiated Diagnoses in The Comedy of Errors: Reliance on Visual Evidence

A reading of The Comedy of Errors from a medical perspective documents the confusion deriving from a sequence of undifferentiated diagnoses. The play presents the equivocations resulting from a failure to recognize the need to utilize different diagnostic procedures, and shows how a univocal parameter of interpretation and explanation may falsify reality itself. The premise for the possibility of confusion is created by the presence of two sets of identical twins, a situation which produces a continual series of misidentifications, which, in turn, engender misunderstanding and bewilderment. Problems of identification and recognition are at the centre of the comedy and the play enacts the way in which assumptions, deductions and decisions regarding characters and events, when formulated on the basis of a single dominant feature and of only one procedural method, give rise to misinterpretations and distortions of facts. In the case of the play, the dominant option is that of sight, and the favoured course of conduct is reliance on the evidence of the eyes. There follows a privileging of the visual modality, to the detriment of other factors, and especially of the auditory dimension, given that the characters hear, but do not really listen, to what is being said. Considerations that would better respond to functional and consequential coherence, such as the words pronounced and the phrases used, the explanations furnished and the motivations provided, the contradictions evidenced and the consequences manifested, are sacrificed...

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