A fundamental questionBMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2948 (Published 10 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2948
- Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor
All’s Well That Ends Well is one of Shakespeare’s so called problem plays. Although normally considered a comedy, it is very nearly a tragedy, so nearly that its real genre is in doubt. Even the supposedly happy ending, which restores it to the realm of comedy, is equivocal and suspiciously perfunctory.
The play also has a medical problem. Indeed the whole plot turns on it; commentaries and introductions to various editions do not dwell on this problem much, but it is likely to preoccupy any doctor who sees or reads the play. It is the question of what kind of fistula, exactly, the king of France suffers from and how it was cured.
Helena is the daughter of a famous …