Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Curious Case of Dr. Caius - Merry Wives of Windsor

The curious case of Dr. Caius

The following is paraphrased from N.B. Cockburn’s The Bacon-Shakespeare Question, chapter 17.

   In the play The Merry Wives of Windsor the character called Dr. Caius, who is a comic French doctor.

    There had been a real life Dr. Caius – John Caius (1510 – 1573). In 1539 John Caius left England for Padua where he studied medicine and in 1541 took his M.D. in the University of Padua. He traveled widely in Italy, Germany and France. In 1544 he returned to England. He was appointed one of the physicians to King Edward VI. He retained that appointment under Queen Mary and on the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1558 became chief royal physician till she dismissed him in 1568 for Catholicism. His eminence as a physician was almost unequalled and he was 9 times President of the College of Physicians. In January 1559 he became Master of Caius College, Cambridge, which college he helped to found.

     This Dr. Caius was not well liked and had difficulty maintaining his authority. He reacted strongly against those he was troubled with, expelling students from the school, involving them in lawsuits, and incarcerating them in the stocks.

      Dr. Caius in Shake-Speare’s play was probably intended as a skit on the vogue of foreign doctors. The name almost surely was borrowed from the real Dr. Caius. Though he was English, not French, he is said to have aped continental manners on his return to England. Caius was not a common name, nor even French; and no one has suggested anywhere else Shake-Speare could have got the name. The Queen at least should have found the character amusing, since Caius had been her own doctor. Legend has it that she commanded Shake-Speare to write a play in 14 days showing Falstaff in love. But there is no evidence that Queen Elizabeth ever met Will Shakspere of Stratford.

     It is not only the name of Dr. Caius that Shake-Speare seems to have borrowed. Just as Caius was aggressive towards his religious opponents, so the Dr. Caius of the play rages against Sir Hugh Evans, a minister of the reformed Church, and challenges him to a duel. Another quirk of the real Dr. Caius was that he detested Welshmen, with the consequence that the original statutes of Caius College founded by him expressly exclude that race from the privileges of Fellowship. In the play Sir Hugh Evans is a Welshman.

     Unlike Will Shakspere of Stratford, Francis Bacon is likely to have known of Dr. Caius from an early age. Bacon’s mother, Anne Cooke, had been governess to the young King Edward VI, and her father Sir Anthony Cooke was his tutor. At this time Dr. Caius was one of the royal physicians. Bacon as a boy probably met him since Bacon’s father Sir Nicholas was Queen Elizabeth’s Lord keeper. When Bacon went to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1573, the year of Dr. Caius’s death, he no doubt heard much gossip about his eccentric character and conduct. Will Shakspere at this time was only 9 years old. Plus Shakspere would not likely have known of the doctor’s continental manners, his religion, his aggressiveness or his aversion to Welshmen. And not likely to have had him so much in mind as to borrow his name for a comic French doctor some 28 years after his death.

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