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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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The first part of this book presents a brief survey of diverse medical matters during the Renaissance, matters retained to be a useful background to the medical references and allusions identified in the comedies of Shakespeare. The topics dealt with are treated in a general way, employing only the necessary minimum of medical technicalities, so as to result readily accessible to a reader with no specific competence in the field of medicine. The Renaissance is a period that extends, in Europe, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, in accordance with the different cultural histories of the various countries, and the English Renaissance is traditionally collocated from the late fifteenth to the early seventeenth centuries. Given that William Shakespeare was born in the sixteenth and lived into the seventeenth century (1564–1616), the medical matters here addressed focus particularly on the English Renaissance. The first section of the book furnishes a broad perspective regarding the medical knowledge of the Renaissance, and provides information concerning some of the medical concepts circulating at the time. It traces a picture of the state of the art of medicine during the period in question, functional for the perception of the medical climate then prevailing. Furthermore, when retained needful and expedient for the presentation of medicine in the Renaissance, the various sections provide links and connections with the Classical periods of Greece and Rome and with the Middle Ages, as also some indications of the development, in the following centuries, and even in...

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