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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: Early Modern Skin Disfigurements
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0813  Monday, 17 April 2000.

From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Apr 2000 14:10:40 -0500
Subject: 11.0667 Re: Early Modern Skin Disfigurements
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0667 Re: Early Modern Skin Disfigurements

Some poisons do indeed cause skin eruptions and changes.  Arsenic
poisoning, for instance, when advanced, produces keratosis, a thickening
and discoloration of the skin sometimes mistaken for leprosy ("most
lazar-like with vile and loathsome crust"), and often causes ulcerated
or quasi-gangrenous lesions ("a most instant tetter").  Arsenic being
one of the more venerable poisons, its symptoms must have been available
to early modern writers.  It is, of course, a fairly slow-acting poison,
especially in producing keratosis. In the case of Hamlet's father, I
suppose Shakespeare may have imagined a sort of hyper-arsenic, working
instantly to produce chronic symptoms. But I suspect diligent search
would turn up other sources for the description as well.

I know of no actual precedents for aural administration.


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