Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



This thesis claims that Shakespeare exaggerated the characterization of two figures in Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence and the apothecary, to make a statement about the conditions of medical treatment in sixteenth century London. These two figures represent two very different approaches to healing, one that is informed with ancient holistic medical theory and one that is driven by economics, and this work attempts to explain the cultural conditions that warranted such a discrepancy in the play. I address these two medical figures in the contexts of the events of the text, of the contemporary medical profession, and of materialism in the profession and in the play. An analysis of these characters' actual counterparts in medical history and a subsequent analysis of the characters' roles in the play show how Shakespeare accurately mirrored and also departed from the history that he knew. This history includes an exploration of the relationship between the spiritual and the physical in ancient medicine, as well as how that relationship was incorporated during the Renaissance by professional physicians and lay healers. In addition, this project studies the history of medical theory in England in order to trace a departure between theory and practice. By placing these characters against their historical counterparts, this project concludes that Shakespeare was critical of the conditions under which people practiced medicine. He approved of the friar's spiritual medical theory and disapproved of the apothecary's detached materialism.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Susannah Monta