The Medical Mind and Knowledge of “Shakespeare” — Part Two of Reason 39 Why the Real Author was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Defenders of the Stratfordian faith often try to “dumb down” the Shakespeare works, to avoid having to explain how he could have acquired such amazing knowledge:  “Well, see, he really didn’t know that much.  He wrote about stuff that anyone in England could have picked up, in the tavern or on the street, and of course he made mistakes…”   Such is the typical attempt to minimize the medical knowledge that Shakespeare displays with such precise, accurate details that — even so! — numerous books have been devoted to just this single topic of mental, physical and emotional health or illness.   If something is too large to be filled by the Stratford man’s pitifully small biography, it must be cut down to fit – even while “the miracle” of his “genius” is further inflated, to explain the inexplicable.

Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577)

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford requires no such adjustments to explain the knowledge displayed by “Shakespeare” in his works.  Oxford was tutored during childhood by Sir Thomas Smith, known for his great library and his interest in diseases, alchemy and therapeutic botanicals; at twelve he became a royal ward in the custody of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley and his father-in-law), whose library held some 200 books on alchemy and medical topics; and in his twenties Oxford lived next door to Bedlam Hospital, a source of firsthand knowledge about patients suffering from mental illness.

Edward de Vere’s life forms a picture that deepens, rather than cheapens, our perceptions of what is contained within the great plays and poems.  And because of the Oxfordian authorship theory, researchers are now continually finding new evidence that “Shakespeare” was even more brilliant than we have been able to know and appreciate.

Dr. Earl Showerman

Shakespeare’s Medical Knowledge: Illuminating the Authorship Question was the title of a talk last April by Earl Showerman, M.D., during the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference at Concordia University in Portland, OR.  His comprehensive lecture was supported by dozens of slides, with information such as that the plays contain “over 700 medical references to practically all the diseases and drugs” that were known by the year1600, along with “knowledge of anatomy, physiology, surgery, obstetrics, public health, aging, forensics, neurology and mental disorders,” not to mention “detailed knowledge of syphilis.”

Dr. Showerman, current president of the Shakespeare Fellowship, graduated from Harvard College and the University of Michigan Medical School before practicing emergency medicine in Oregon for more than three decades.  In the past several years he has carried out extraordinary research into Greek literary sources and allegorical elements in plays such as Hamlet (see essay here) and The Winter’s Tale (see essay here).  His findings have already shattered the notion that Shakespeare had “small Latin, and less Greek” – another example of how we are learning (over and over) that the “big lie” of the Stratford man as “Shakespeare” is invariably covering up much larger and more meaningful truths.

“Shakespeare and Medicine” by R.R. Simpson (1962)

Dr. Showerman quoted from Shakespeare and Medicine (1962) by R.R. Simpson, who reports that Shakespeare demonstrates “not only an astute knowledge of medical affairs, but also a keen sense of the correct use of that knowledge” – a sign that he was well-acquainted with the medical literature of his day.  Among many other works he cited The Medical Mind of Shakespeare (1986) by Aubrey Kail, who writes that the Bard’s plays “bear witness to profound knowledge of contemporary physiology and psychology” and that he “employed medical terms in a manner which would have been beyond the powers of any ordinary playwright or physician.”

“The Medical Mind of Shakespeare” by Aubrey Kail (1986)

In his lecture Dr. Showerman gave much credit to the work of another leading Oxfordian researcher, Frank M. Davis, M.D., co-founder of the Tallahassee Neurological Clinic.  In a paper on Shakespeare’s medical knowledge (and how he acquired it) published in 2000, Dr. Davis writes that during Shakespeare’s time “true medical literature, like medicine itself, was still in its infancy,” so he could not have absorbed much from reading what was available in English.  “The vast majority of medical works were published in Latin or Greek.”

Dr. Davis finds it “remarkable” that Shakespeare refers in three plays to the pia mater, the inner lining of the covering of the brain and spinal cord.

“Knowledge of this relatively obscure part of anatomy could only mean that Shakespeare had either studied anatomy or read medical literature …

“The Anatomie of the Bodie of Man” by Thomas Vicary (1490-1561)

“Even more striking to me as a neurosurgeon is his acquaintance with the relationship of the third ventricle with memory,” Dr. Davis adds, noting that a possible source was Thomas Vicary’s Anatomy of the Body of Man, published in 1548, which refers to the third ventricle as the ‘ventricle of memory’” – a phrase used in Love’s Labour’s Lost when the pedant Holfernes states that his various gifts of the mind “are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of the pia mater…” (4.2.70-71)

William Harvey (1578-1657)

And another example – that while the discovery of the circulation of blood has been assigned to William Harvey, there are indications that “Shakespeare” was aware of it long before Harvey’s announcement of it in 1616.  There are “at least nine significant references to the circulation or flowing of blood in Shakespeare’s plays,” Dr. Davis writes.

England was far behind the advances in medical technology taking place on the Continent.  Most of the great doctors and teachers were based at the University of Padua, then the center for medical learning; others studied there before returning to their hometowns to practice medicine.

University of Padua

And the Earl of Oxford, touring the cities of Europe during 1575 at age twenty-five, definitely visited Padua – at least once, probably twice.  “With the background in pharmacology gained from his years with Sir Thomas Smith,” writes Dr. Davis, “it seems unlikely that Oxford would visit Padua without attempting to discover the latest developments in ‘physic.’”

Fabricius (1537-1619)

Only the year before had the famous Renaissance doctor Fabricius discovered “the valves in veins responsible for keeping the blood flowing in one direction toward the heart,” Dr. Davis writes, noting that he was “the first to bring this important discovery to light.”  Even if Oxford hadn’t met with Fabricius in person “it is easy to imagine” that the great teacher’s 1574 discovery of those valves, along with other topics related to the circulation of the blood, “would have been an ongoing staple of conversation among the students and faculty at the time of Oxford’s visit the following year.”

Shakespeare and Medicine by Stephanie Hughes

Shakespeare and Medicine by Michael J. Cummings

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