Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Physicians and the Bard …

… The Shakespeareologists | City Journal. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In addition to relaying in his plays many of the superstitions of his time, Shakespeare (who, as far as we know, had no medical training, though like everyone else in those times of heightened mortality, he must have had a lot of experience of disease) made many shrewd and accurate medical observations. One has only to compare them with the observations in Cures Both Empiricall and Historicall Performed upon Very Eminent Persons in Desperate Diseases, the book by his son-in-law, the university-trained physician John Hall, to realize that the medical education of the day was not necessarily an advantage in the art of seeing what was before one’s eyes. Hall’s book was a farrago of nonsense, as well as of disgusting medicaments, and whatever Hall had learned at university bore little relation to any reality external to the medical theorizing through which he then saw his patients. Unlike Hall, Shakespeare (as Dryden put it) “wanted not the spectacles of books to read Nature.” In other words, some kinds of education can be an obstacle to understanding: not, perhaps, an unfamiliar phenomenon even today.

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