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January 16, 2005

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Sharon

Have you seen the latest: since Shakespeare described syphilis so vividly and accurately in some of his plays he probably suffered from the disease himself? (This is being put forward by a medical rather than a historical researcher, from what I can make out.) There are several online sources publishing exactly the same piece about this claim, some with the title 'Shakespeare's writings indicate he may have had syphilis'. I'm slightly flabbergasted.

Jonathan Dresner

Literature as autobiography is indeed the most stifling heuristic possible. People were pretty well informed about syphilis in those days, actually....

But the discussion of financial records, etc does highlight something which I point out to my students: most great works of art were produced for money. Artists are professionals. Our 20th century fascination with "pure" artistry and vision aside, there are only rare exceptions to this. Shakespeare was immensely successful as a businessman: that doesn't mean that his works are any less important, but that they are properly contextualized.

silvergirl

I wonder if your students learned the bad habits of autobiographical interpretation in high school. I took a class rather inaccurately titled "College Composition" my senior year, where the final project was a research paper in which we were required to look at an author's life in relation to his biography. Come to think of it, I had to do a similar paper my freshman year of college as well. This is probably the sort of thing that kept me out of English departments until graduate school.

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