Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Shakespearean Syphilis, The Libertine and the Ravages of a New World Disease on European Society

Here is an article that highlights the astute observations on syphilis in the many works of William Shakespeare. The article was published in Pharos, by the Alpha Omega Alpha society.

The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp, is about a 16th Century English nobleman (John Wilmot, The 2nd Earl of Rochester) who was notably afflicted by syphilis, among other ailments of debauchery.   

Both the works of Shakespeare and The Libertine document syphilitic manifestations in Europeans following the disease's introduction from the New World. These included gummas, alopecia, extremely painful osteitis, neuropathy and dementia.

Although we still see a lot of syphilis the cases are much less severe.  This is likely due to more rapid diagnosis and early, effective treatment.  Regardless, I have to suspect that reinfection (particularly in the brothels) and general poor health and nutrition likely played a significant role in disease progression. How could it not?      

History of medicine via literature and film! 


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