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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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3. The Chameleon Syndrome in The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Mutation In Love

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3.  The Chameleon Syndrome in The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Mutation In Love

A minor motif evidenced in Love’s Labour’s Lost was the concept of love as a contagious disease. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a play on the problematic effects of love – to which the concept of friendship may be assimilated. John Wilders has observed that, besides conjugating love as friendship, the play presents many forms in which this emotion articulates itself: “loyalty, enslavement, infatuation, devotion, idealism, frustration and lust”.185 The play documents the experience and consequences of passion, underlining the state of instability that it can engender, and emphasizing, on the one hand, its intrinsically changeable and mutable character and, on the other, the way in which it can modify and transform those that fall under its sway– what has here been termed the chameleon syndrome. This issue is proposed in a predominantly light-hearted manner, but the action of the play provides evidence of how love may be productive of a state of disquiet (“dis-ease”) that generates disorder and contradictory behaviour, harmful to physical wellbeing and health.186 It is not casual that the play should culminate in a scene in which the possibility of tragedy presents itself, but in which, in the typical manner of comedy, all finally ends well.

Two aspects of the physical and mental “dis-ease” provoked by the amorous experience are focussed upon: its heart-wounding character and its metamorphic consequences. With regard to the first aspect, love in the...

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