THE MEDICAL MIND OF SHAKESPEARE

BY AUBREY C, KAIL, WILLIAMS AND WILKINS, BALGOWLAH, NEW SOUTH WALES ; 1986.

†††††Every October, I begin to wonder what to get my doctor for Christmas.  Being a doctor myself, I receive professional
courtesy, which obligates me to bestow a suitable token of gratitude at the holiday season. Shall it be a membership in Harry and David's Fruit-of-the-Month Club, a twenty-pound tin of stale popcorn from the Popcorn Factory, five pounds of jumbo collosal gargantuan herculean natural pistachios, an assortment of Wolferman's large-holed English muffins, a ten-pound bar of Ghirardelli chocolate, a fruitcake from the Trappist monks with the density of molten lead?

†††††And so, when I received this book for review, I thought my problem for this year would be solved.  It is a beautifully
printed book, with clear brown type, wide margins, and thick shiny paper. It is full of lovely reproductions, medieval woodcuts and Renaissance paintings, many of them in bright colors. And it's big and heavy--just the thing for my doctor's coffee table at Christmas. .

         One problem: it's boring. The author, a physician from New South Wales, has compiled a simplistic collection of medical
allusions from Shakespeare. He performs a sterile medical dissection of the Bard's masterpieces, all the while remaining oblivious to the humanity, the brilliance and the poetry of the patient upon whom he operates.

†††††It turns out that Lady Macbeth is neurotic, a compulsive handwasher obsessed with guilt,  She says:

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?
                                         and
 
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
Imagine what a little bit of behavior therapy could have done for her.

†††††Her husband is also in a bad way.  He suffers from visual hallucinations:

Is this a dagger which I see before me...?
Off to bedlam with you, Macbeth. Perhaps you can plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

†††††In a brilliant analysis of Hamlet's soliloquys:

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
                 and
To be, or not to be--that is the question,
Dr. Kail concludes that the Dane is melancholy, clinically depressed, yea, verily, suicidal. That Shakespeare, he sure knew
his psychiatry.
††††
†††††All organ systems are covered. Julius Caesar was deaf:
Come, on my right hand, for this ear is deaf,
And tell me truly what thou think'st of him.


Gonzalo had arthritis:

My old bones ache,
And Romeo must have suffered from hyperventilation syndrome:
Juliet: How art thou out of breath, when thou hast breath
To say to me that thou art out of breath?
†††††My doctor doesn't need to read this book.  My doctor needs to read Shakespeare,

††††  To Dr. Kail, I say:

Doctor, your service for this time is ended;
Take your own way.
 (Cymbeline, I,v,4)
Or, in a kinder vein:
Let's purge this choler without letting bloodó
This we prescribe, though no physician:
Deep malice makes too deep incision.
Forget, forgive; conclude and be agreed:
Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.
 (Richard II, I, i, 153)

 

Dentist at work


 






A dentist at work. Dentistry was practiced by anyone who was brave enough to aquire the skills. Many quacks posed as tooth-drawers and displayed their technique in the street before audiences of passers-by. Engraving by Lucas van Leyden, 1523 (Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)
 
 


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