Sunday, June 5, 2011


Perhaps serious consideration should be given as to whether or not William Shakspere of Stratford should be credited with the discovery of the circulation of the blood, rather than William Harvey. One medical practitioner ponders this question.



Extracts from a lecture at a stated meeting of the Detroit Medical and Library Association.

I wish to open up a comparatively new question--the circulation of the blood as found in the plays. With it I shall give you a little anatomical knowledge from the plays, for the author must have either dissected the human body or at least seen it done, and that he was perfectly familiar with the experiments and proofs of the circulation I think I can show to your satisfaction. For we find it scattered through all the thirty-six plays contained in this volume, and in so plain and elaborate a manner that I cannot believe but that I can show you he was either the original discoverer of the great anatomical and physiological truth or knew intimately the experiments and dissections upon which it is based.

Here I make an extraordinary statement which is, if William Shakespeare wrote the plays bearing his name, he discovered the circulation of the blood instead of Dr. William Harvey. And further, if Shakespeare wrote the plays, Harvey stole the discovery from Shakespeare. One of these statements must be correct if it is allowed for an instant that William Shakespeare wrote the plays, and I will now proceed to prove my statement. I must preface it with a short epitome of both Harvey and Shakespeare.

Dr. Harvey took his literary degree at Caius College, Cambridge, and his medical degree at the great school of medicine at Padua. He returned to London and was, in the year 1615, appointed Lumlian professor at Bartholomew Hospital. In the year 1616, about the latter part, he made his first discovery of the circulation, but did not make it public until the year 1619, when he published his first little monograph upon the subject, but it was not until the year 1628 that he became fully sure the world was ready for the announcement. In that year he published the work which makes him famous at the present day.

Master William Shakespeare finished writing, so his biographers tell us, in the year 1612, and although the works bearing his name were not published until 1623, and although they were double in amount, all of them having been rewritten, still, the gentlemen referred to say he did nothing after 1612. Master William, having finished his work, thought it best to depart from this vale of tears, and did so in April, 1616. Notice the last of his writing, done in 1612, and his death occurring in the April before Harvey makes his discovery.

If there is one word in the plays of the circulation, then there is a great discrepancy between Shakespeare and Harvey. For if Harvey did make it Shakespeare must have risen from his grave to write it in the 1623 edition. If, on the other hand, Shakespeare wrote it before his death, then Harvey must have stolen it. The first thought that arises is, get the early editions of the plays and see if it was in them. But here steps in a difficulty which we cannot overcome, namely, six of the plays never appeared except in the 1623 edition, and all the others are completely rewritten and enlarged to about double their original size. For instance, Richard Third’s whole opening speech, commencing "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York" is not found in any of the early editions of the plays. So of them all, they are so changed from the first printed copies that there is no use in citing them in any way, so that we are forced to abide by the 1623 edition and no other. This being the case, and as the 1623 is the only edition having all the so-called Shakespeare plays, we will use that as the basis of comparison.

Examine these quotations:

Coriolanus 1.1.126-139
"Your most grave belly was deliberate,
Not rash like his accusers and thus answered:
True is it, my incorporate friend, quoth he,
That I receive the general food at first
Which do you live upon; and fit it is;
Because I am the store-house and the shop
Of the whole body: but if you do remember,
I send it through the rivers of your blood,
Even to the court the heart--to th’ seat o’ th’ braine;
And, through the cranks and offices of man,
The strongest nerves, and small inferior veines,
From me receive that natural competencie
Whereby they live; and though that all at once,
You, my good friends (this says the belly) mark me."

Now please turn to Romeo and Juliette, 1.1.85 and read:

"With purple fountains issuing from your veins."

Then in this same play at 4.1.93-99:

"Take thou this viole, being then in bed,
And this distilling liquor drink thou of,
When presently through all thy veins shall run
A cold and drowsy humor, for no pulse
Shall keep his native progress but surcease;
No warmth nor breath shall testify thou livest;
The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade."

Next turn to Love’s Labour Lost, 4.3.309-12:

"Why, universal plodding poisions up
The nimble spirits in the arteries:
As motion, and long during action, tires
The sinewy vigor of the traveler."

Now drop down the same column at 4.3.332-337 read:

"Lives not alone emured in the brain;
But with the motion of all elements,
Courses as swift as thought in every power;
And gives to every power a double power,
Above their functions and their offices.
It adds a precious seeing to the eye;"

Now see what's in Twelfth Night at 1.1.38-39:

"Liver, brain, and heart,
These sovereign thrones are all supplied and filled."

The same play at 3.2.58-60:

"If he were opened and you find so much blood in his liver
As will clog the foot of a flea, I will eat th’ rest of th’ anatomy."

Now turn to Henry the Sixth, part II, 3.2.160-168:

"See how the blood is settled in his face.
Oft have I seene a timely-parted ghost
Of ashy semblance, meagre, pale, and bloodless
Being all descended to the labouring heart
Who in the conflict that it holds with death
Attracts the same for aidance ’gainst the enemy
Which with the heart there cools and ne’re returneth
To blush and beautifie the cheek againe.
But see his face is blacke and full of blood."

Now read Henry the Fourth, part II, 4.3.108-110:

"The vitall commoners and inland pettie spirits
Muster me all to their capitaine, the heart, who great
And puft up with his retinue, doth any deed of courage."

The Winter’s Tale, 5.3.62-68:

Leontes. "Let be, let be would.
I were dead but that methinks alreadie
(What was he that did make it? See (my Lord)
would you not deeme it breathed and that those veines
Did verily beare blood?"
Polixenes. "Masterly done!
The very life seems warm upon her lip"
Leontes. "The fixture of her eye has motion in it,
As we are mock’d with art."

Finally, in The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.108, we find:

"A messenger with letters from the doctor, new come from Padua."

And just below it 4.1.112, read:

"My flesh, blood, bones and all
Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood."

Was Shakespeare an anatomist? Every portion of the human body known to his day is mentioned. Was he a student of physiology? Physiological functions are given in detail. Had he knowledge of materia medica? He speaks of many medicines. Was he a neurologist? It might be called his specialty, and I must confess I feel hardly competent to analyze his wonderful descriptions and delineations in this great field of our science. All the types of insanity are fully described. The sleep-walking dementia of Lady Macbeth is paralleled by the suicidal insanity of Ophelia. King Lear’s delirium is a good foil to Hamlet’s feigned madness. The tragical jealousy of Othello is a counterfoil to the comical jealousy of Master Ford. Richard the Third, Macbeth, Edmund, Malvolio, the different fools, Gonerill, Timon of Athens, and Titus Andronicus, will show types of either real or feigned madness, or mental instability. How did he give these medical observations to the world three hundred years ago. How did he know it? Where did he find it if not from the study of the insane?

* * *

If we consider that Francis Bacon could be the author of the plays, then our questions are easily answered:

"I have oft seene Dr. William Harvey, the new doctor from Padua, at Bartholomew Hospital, in the presence of the learned doctors, force a purple, distilling liquor through the veines of a dead body, and, after it had descended to the heart, liver, and lungs, the blood-coloured liquor returneth againe to the face which blacke and full of blood, or pale, meagre, and bloodless before, doth blush and beautifie, as if with life; you would think the body breathed; the very lippe is warme to look upon; but we are mock’d with art as there is no pulse gainst the finger and though the arteries seem full, yet no life is present. The legs, waist, arms, hands, brow, and limbs seem alive, but we can never ransome nature. The doctor was enrolled at Caius College."-Francis Bacon
William Harvey was a close friend of Bacon, as well as his private physician.
In addition, Francis Bacon in 1600 wrote to Queen Elizabeth that his mother was "much worn." Shortly afterwards she became violently insane and continued to do so, under the sole care of Francis Bacon, until her death in 1610.

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