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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Did the Bard Have Syphilis?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0223  Thursday, 3 February 2005

From:           Jim Carroll <
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Date:           Wednesday, 02 Feb 2005 14:09:43 -0500
Subject: 16.0209 Did the Bard Have Syphilis?
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0209 Did the Bard Have Syphilis?

M Yawney <
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 >wrote on Monday, 31 Jan 2005 09:06:54
-0800 (PST) SHK 16.0194:

 >While it is possible that the complex language could be a symptom of
 >something pathological, it seems more likely that Shakespeare was simply
 >adopting the techniques the new generation of Jacobean dramatists. Ford
 >is probably provides the best examples of this new style (and his
 >clotted syntax makes WT and TNK look like Mother Goose).

It seems even more likely to me that Shakespeare style gradually grew
more "complex" (or just different) as he continually strived to be
creative, and that Ford and others tried to imitate Shakespeare. Does
anyone want to claim that Beethoven must have had syphilis because his
late quartets are more complex than his early ones?  Should we ascribe
schizophrenia, epilepsy or senility to James Joyce or William Faulkner
because their works exhibit a complex style?

That Shakespeare should be branded with syphilis should come as no
surprise, since Occam's razor is so rarely applied in Shakespeare
studies, but isn't it far more likely that Shakespeare died of something
like typhus, because there was a typhus epidemic in Stratford in 1616,
and that all you have to do to get it is to drink some tainted water or
food? And since venereal disease references/jokes are common in
Elizabethan plays (in what area of London were these plays held? What
else was on the audience's mind?), wouldn't it make more sense to leave
it out of Shakespeare's biography altogether, since we have no external
evidence for it whatsoever?

Jim Carroll

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