1 November 2012
Medical Diagnosis and Treatment During Shakespeare's Time
Renaissance is a French word meaning “rebirth” and during this time Europe was revived. Before this time, man had no ideas or thoughts as how to do anything to overcome most problems. But then, the Renaissance era was born. Man awakened from its deep coma it had been in and started to develop many ideas and how to implement them into their lives. As many started to get smarter, people stretched the horizons of what they could do and that impacted the fields of science, medical treatments, and medicine. The Renaissance era was the beginning of something newly discovered from the marvellous technology in the world of medicine and treatment.
In act five, scene 3 of Macbeth, Shakespeare references different medical treatments and medicines used. Macbeth says to the doctor, “What rhubarb, senna, or what purgative drug, Would scour these English hence? Hear'st thou of them?” (Shakespeare 184). Rhubarb and Senna are mostly similar with the same herbal effects. Rhubarb and Senna are mostly used for treating constipation with the laxatives it contains. They also contain many other uses such as helping women who are going through menopause, treat cholesterol, prevent cancer and can be made into a paste to put into wounds and scratches like an antibiotic (b4tea.com, 2009). The one downfall is that neither are recommended for long term use.
There were three types of doctors - a barber surgeon, a physician and an apothecary. Barbers were first known for cutting hair but also started to perform operations. They would leave their instruments dirty on the floor and walk around with blood stained clothes to show how proud they were of their work. Patients would die from loss of blood or infection from the unhygienic working practices (Young, sec. 5). Physicians were considered elite compared to a barber surgeon. They kept their work spaces much cleaner and generally studied writings of ancient Arab and Greek scholars. Physicians would likely use the effect of leaches to suck out the bad blood within you. Apothecary's used herbs, folk lore, and astrology to find cures. They based it on four bodily humors. Sanguine (warm and cheerful), Phlegmatic (cool and sluggish), Melancholic (gloomy and sad), and Bilious (ill-natured and quick tempered) (Young, sec. 3). The patient was required to have an equal balance of these four bodily humors within them. Apothecary's were known to have the widest selection of cures for their patients. Spiders, cobwebs, parts of hares, frogs and foxes were used as an antiseptic for patients. Apothecary's herbal remedies were based on long established histories of successful use (Young, sec. 3). However, visiting any of these three doctors would cost a small fortune and that led many people to trust quacks.
Quacks acted as a type of a salesman. They gave a great offer with a demonstration, and then moved to leave the people unhappy with an ineffective product. Quacks claimed their products were magical potions or pills as like a commercial gimmick would offer. If too may of their patients died, especially if they were rich or powerful, the quacks could be accused of witchcraft, tried and put to death (Young, sec. 2). Quacks were the most preferred doctor at the time because of the brutality of treatments and the expense of a real doctor.
Medicines and treatments changed drastically throughout the Renaissance. The church was a huge influence in Europe before the Renaissance. Melton stated that sickness was regarded as sent by God to punish wickedness and to try faith or sent