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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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2. Logorrhoeic Symptoms in Love’s Labour’s Lost: Indigestion of Words


2.  Logorrhoeic Symptoms in Love’s Labour’s Lost: Indigestion of Words

If The Comedy of Errors evidences the dangers of diagnoses based solely on the parameter of sight and suggests the need to integrate this with other modalities, among which the contribution of discourse, Love Labour’s Lost focuses attention on the use of speech. William C. Carroll points out that “it is a play radically concerned with the very nature of language – with its history, its potential, its proper use by the imagination”,120 and James L. Calderwood considers the comedy “an experiment in seeing how well language, spun into intricate, ornate, but static patterns, can substitute for the kinetic thrust of action in drama”.121 Besides a general concern with language, the play shows in particular the disorders inherent in certain excesses in the uses and functions of speech. Love’s Labour’s Lost may thus be read as documenting how linguistic exuberance and flamboyance can present symptoms of a pathology of the tongue, intending tongue as language.

The King of Navarre opens the comedy by talking about the edict he has recently emitted. The word “edict” collocates the decision in a context of rule and order in that, as the OED indicates, the term refers to “an ordinance or proclamation having the force of law; esp. the edicts of the Roman prætors, and subsequently of the emperors, and of the French monarchs”.122 The contents of the edict regard the institution of a little academy which,...

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