The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0813 Monday, 17 April 2000.
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.