Shakespeare’s medical knowledge

Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal:

Shakespeare_5Many books have over the years commented on Shakespeare’s knowledge of soldiering, sailing and navigation, the law, and so forth; and I have accumulated a small library of books, both British and American, written over the last century and a half, by doctors commenting on Shakespeare’s medical knowledge.

For the most part, these volumes are compilations of every conceivable medical reference in Shakespeare, arranged by play, by disease, or by relevant medical specialty. They include Ernest Jones’s famous—or perhaps “notorious” would be a better word—analysis of Hamlet’s Oedipus complex, and a much more recent volume on Shakespeare and neurobiology. The general tone is respectful astonishment at the accuracy of many of Shakespeare’s medical observations.

No medical author, as far as I know, has suggested as a consequence that Shakespeare must have had a medical training, though many have suggested that he might have picked up medical knowledge from his son-in-law, a university-trained physician. His name was Dr. John Hall: he held a degree from Cambridge and probably had studied on the continent as well. However, Hall settled in Stratford only in 1600 and married Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, in 1608. By then, of course, Shakespeare had written most of his plays and made most of his medical observations and allusions: Hall, therefore, could not have been the chief source of his medical knowledge.

More here.