Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2016: Famous Figures

A Christmas renaissance

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6603 (Published 14 December 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6603
  1. S Dholakia, surgical registrar1,
  2. P J Friend, professor of surgery1,
  3. L Maguire, professor of English2
  1. 1Nuffield Department of Surgical Science, Churchill Hospital, Oxford OX3 7LE, UK
  2. 2University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to: L Maguire laurie.maguire{at}magd.ox.ac.uk

Modern drama’s fascination with medicine has illustrious roots, find S Dholakia and colleagues

Which famous book covers uroscopy, amputation, hysteria, dementia, syphilis, midwifery, gout, poisons, homeopathy, fistulas, nursing, epidemics, death, toothache, sphygmology, constipation, dyscrasia, and astrology? A book that also includes written portraits of physicians, surgeons, and quacks and is itself therapeutic?

The answer is not a medical textbook but the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, an opportune moment to remember the contributions he and other Renaissance writers made to literature, and the influence that the era’s growing interest in medicine and surgery had on their writing.

Shakespeare’s interest in what we now call psychology is obvious. His plays investigate human emotions at key moments in life. The heroes and heroines in the comedies negotiate marriage; Henry IV has a problematic teenage son; Hamlet copes with bereavement; King Lear deals with empty nest syndrome …

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