Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Shakespeare’s Writings Indicate He May Have Had Syphilis

Date:
January 11, 2005
Source:
Infectious Diseases Society Of America
Summary:
Shakespeare’s name usually inspires thoughts of kings, fairies, lovers, wars and poetic genius--not syphilis. However, some passages in his plays and sonnets indicate that the Bard may have suffered from one or more venereal infections, according to an article in the Feb. 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, now available online.

Shakespeare’s name usually inspires thoughts of kings, fairies, lovers, wars and poetic genius--not syphilis. However, some passages in his plays and sonnets indicate that the Bard may have suffered from one or more venereal infections, according to an article in the Feb. 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, now available online.

Related Articles


Although syphilis is relatively uncommon now, it was rampant five centuries ago, transmitted from country to country by sailors, soldiers and merchants. Symptoms of syphilis can include genital lesions; rashes on the torso, palms, and soles of the feet; neurological problems; and destroyed facial tissue. Shakespeare alluded to sexually transmitted disease (STD) symptoms--and treatments--in several of his plays and poems, including Troilus and Cressida, As You Like It, and Sonnets.

Mentions of the “pox,” the “malady of France,” the “infinite malady,” and the “hoar leprosy” in his writings seem to indicate that the Bard knew--perhaps from personal experience--how torturous venereal disease could be. “Shakespeare’s knowledge of syphilis is clinically precise,” said John Ross, MD, author of the study. A line in Sonnet 154, “Love’s fire heats water,” apparently refers to an STD causing burning urination.

In Shakespeare’s time, one of the treatments for syphilis, inhalation of mercury vapor, was worse than the disease. Dr. Ross suggests that Shakespeare’s tremulous signature on his will, his social withdrawal in later years, and even his baldness might all be due to a mild degree of mercury vapor poisoning.

However, it doesn’t seem likely that Shakespeare’s death at 52 years of age was due to an STD. In fact, the alternative Elizabethan practice of using very hot baths to treat syphilitic people “would have been at least somewhat effective and perhaps highly effective,” according to Dr. Ross, of Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, because high, fever-causing temperatures can kill the organisms that cause syphilis. (There is a reference to a “seething bath” curing “strange maladies” in Sonnet 153.) Shakespeare was also an actor, and he appeared in plays until at least 1603, said Dr. Ross. “It’s unlikely that he would have been performing if he had been suffering from the ravages of tertiary syphilis.” Nor did the Bard exhibit the mental problems toward the end of his life that would indicate severe mercury poisoning, judging from the quality of his writing, so any mercury treatment he received was probably limited.

Were Shakespeare’s remains to be examined today, evidence of infection might be obtained by examining the shinbones for the damage typical of an advanced case of syphilis or by testing for elevated levels of mercury that could indicate STD treatment. Until then, “it’s something that can’t be proven or disproven,” Dr. Ross said, but Shakespeare’s own warning on his gravestone (“Blessed be the man that spares these stones,/And cursed be he that moves my bones”) might give pause to those who would try to find out.

###

Founded in 1979, Clinical Infectious Diseases publishes clinical articles twice monthly in a variety of areas of infectious disease, and is one of the most highly regarded journals in this specialty. It is published under the auspices of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). Based in Alexandria, Virginia, IDSA is a professional society representing about 8,000 physicians and scientists who specialize in infectious diseases. For more information, visit http://www.idsociety.org.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Infectious Diseases Society Of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Infectious Diseases Society Of America. "Shakespeare’s Writings Indicate He May Have Had Syphilis." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050111091800.htm>.
Infectious Diseases Society Of America. (2005, January 11). Shakespeare’s Writings Indicate He May Have Had Syphilis. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050111091800.htm
Infectious Diseases Society Of America. "Shakespeare’s Writings Indicate He May Have Had Syphilis." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050111091800.htm (accessed April 21, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Humanoid Robot Can Recognise and Interact With People

Humanoid Robot Can Recognise and Interact With People

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Apr. 20, 2015) An ultra-realistic humanoid robot called &apos;Han&apos; recognises and interprets people&apos;s facial expressions and can even hold simple conversations. Developers Hanson Robotics hope androids like Han could have uses in hospitality and health care industries where face-to-face communication is vital. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Labour Party Warns Britain's Health Service 'on Life Support'

Labour Party Warns Britain's Health Service 'on Life Support'

AFP (Apr. 20, 2015) Britain&apos;s opposition Labour Party Monday claimed the National Health Service (NHS) was &apos;on life support&apos; as it turned its attention to the state-run service, which is a key issue for the UK&apos;s May 7 general election. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone Students Back to School After Long Ebola Closure

Sierra Leone Students Back to School After Long Ebola Closure

Reuters - News Video Online (Apr. 20, 2015) After an eight-month break, children in Sierra Leone return to school for the first time since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak. Nathan Frandino reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Teen E-Cigarette Use Triples, Government Debates Regulations

Teen E-Cigarette Use Triples, Government Debates Regulations

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2015) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in 2014, 13.4 percent of high school students reported smoking an e-cigarette within 30 days. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins