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Corpse Medication – The Collation

Corpse Medication – The Collation

2023-01-23 14:39:13

a visitor put up by Bradley Irish

Content material observe: medical cannibalism

Within the means of writing a book about disgust in Shakespeare’s world and works, I encountered plenty of revolting issues: the brutal mutilation of condemned criminals, the key dissection of human corpses in personal residences, the festering rot of infectious illnesses.  However I used to be maybe most fascinated (and made most queasy) to be taught in regards to the up to date follow that fashionable students name corpse medication: that’s, the early fashionable willingness to make use of the physique components of once-living individuals in pharmaceutical compounds that they each ready and sometimes ingested.  Whereas there may be some incredible scholarship on corpse medication in Shakespeare’s England—reminiscent of Louis Noble’s Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture and Richard Sugg’s Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians – the idea was fully new to me, and has been equally unfamiliar to many with whom I’ve shared my analysis.  However as Wendy Wall puts it, not solely does it appear to be “human stays visibly circulated within the early fashionable world’, however surviving paperwork like up to date recipe books and medicinal manuals really counsel ‘how customary it was to consider physique components within the kitchen” of early fashionable residences. Corpse medication, then, was a standard characteristic of Shakespeare’s world—and the historical past of this outstanding follow is abundantly recorded by the Folger’s holdings.

The Folger is residence to numerous early fashionable recipe books and medical manuals, lots of which have been extensively cataloged and transcribed.  Whenever you dive into these manuscripts, you could find numerous examples of human physique components being utilized within the numerous treatments which might be compiled.  “For a corn” on the foot, for instance, you may “rub the place affected with the bone of a lifeless man” (V.a.452, 86); to “stanch bleeding” of a wound, you may apply a compound containing “the Moss rising on lifeless mens sculls” (V.a.452, 406).  I personally discover that creepy sufficient—however what’s extra, many recipes name for the precise ingestion of corpse matter, a extra particular act that students have deemed medicinal cannibalism. We might look to at least one such “medication for the Flux,” which advises to “lett the sick man drink” a boiled substance containing “as a lot lifeless mans scull made into powder as a lot as yow can putt upon a six pence” (V.b.400, 54).  A “medecine for the blacke Iaunders” (i.e. jaundice) requires “halfe a spoonefull of the powder” from “the scull of a lifeless mann dryed fayre” (X.d.469, 38).  And “a Powder for the Mom” accommodates the grindings “of a mans Scull as a lot as at a tyme as will ly on a groate [a type of coin]” (V.a.21, 312). (Mom was one other identify for what early moderns referred to as hysteria.)

Folger V.b.400, 54

However corpse medication appears to have been most frequently utilized in treatments for numerous sorts of convulsions or seizures, signs of what Shakespeare describes as “the falling sickness” in Julius Caesar and as “epilepsy” in Othello.  Using human bones to deal with epilepsy goes again to the classical period, and the follow stayed routinely prescribed in early fashionable England.  For instance, one “receipt for the falling illness” makes use of “the powder of a lifeless mans scull” (V.a.452, 115); one other requires “the substance, or oyle that’s extracted from the cranium of a lifeless man” (V.a.21, 3); a 3rd asks for “a mans scull, un buried, one ounce” (V.b.366, 36); a fourth calls for “thirty grains of the Moss of a lifeless mans scull” (V.a.396, 41v). Some mixtures, in truth, referred to as for each “thirty grains of the Moss that grows on Lifeless mens sculls, And thirty Grains of the scull itself finely powderd (E.a.4, 255).

Folger V.b.366, 36 and 37

Many recipes for convulsions and seizures give extra particular directions about how the cranium needs to be ready.  “The Scull muste be fyled very fyne and overwhelmed very effectively in a morter” (V.a.388, 242), one tells us, whereas one other requires “the powder of mans cranium finely overwhelmed and searced” (V.a.361, 151r).  Margaret Baker reminds that the “lifeless mans head” ought to “hath binn washed very cleane in water & dryed in a window” (V.a.619, 102).  Katherine Brown recommends that we take “a mans cranium that hath bin lifeless however one yeare” and “bury it within the Aches behind the fier, and lett it burne vntill it bee white” (V.a.397, 41v).  And an nameless compiler warns that “the cranium… should be hung in a clear linen cloath earlier than the hearth, in order it could get however a reasonable drought, earlier than or not it’s pulveriz’d” (V.a.697, 47).

Moreover, the form of cranium mattered for falling illness—although there was some controversy on the correct process.  Many directions require the cranium of a very gendered corpse, however there was no consensus on how ought to this could relate to the affected person’s identification; one recipe, for instance, advises “the scull of a lifeless man, if or not it’s a person that hath it; and a lady if a lady” (V.a.452, 113), whereas one other says “for a Male, Take the Scull of a feminine…. And for a Feminine, the Scull of a male” (V.a.697, 47).  Extra usually, nonetheless, it was advisable that “the Scull of an individual strangled, or put to any violent demise, is a lot better than theirs who dye of any illness” (V.a.697, 47).

Folger V.a.697, 47

And whereas physique components have been surprisingly frequent within the early fashionable kitchen, they weren’t at all times readily available; one recipe for “Convulsion fitts” thus recommends the powder of “lifeless mans cranium (if it could be had)” (V.a.361, 161r).  There was nonetheless, at all times one possibility, not less than for individuals who might abdomen it: an nameless author’s directions for a “falling Sicknes” treatment begins by saying “take the cranium of a person that’s verrie Throughly Rotted  within the graue & with a hatchet or Chopping knife minimize out  nothing however the prime of the Cranium which is known as the Scalpe a hand breadth & beate it into verrie tremendous powder” (V.a.21, 239).  Most individuals, nonetheless, most likely most popular commerce to scavenging, so Catherine Bacon helpfully reminds that “lifeless mens cranium…you Might have on the Apothecaries” (V.a.621, 120).

As needs to be clear, using human skulls in treatments for falling illness was a major web site of corpse medication in early fashionable England.  However I’d be remiss to not point out one different up to date follow: the Renaissance use of mummia. Using so referred to as “mummy” originated in historical practices of using bituminous supplies in medical compounds—however as Karl H. Dannenfeldt explains, a sequence of mistranslations and misunderstandings within the medieval interval led to the early fashionable European behavior of constructing medication first from precise mummified Egyptian corpses, after which, from any form of corpses that have been obtainable.  Charred physique components bought as mummy have been thus featured in storefronts throughout Renaissance England; in 1565, the surgeon John Corridor noted that it was frequent “nowe amongst our Apothecaries” to characteristic of their retailers “the very flesh of mans physique, because it weare burned to a cole: for each complete armes and complete legges, haue been right here not rarly seene, being dryed as blacke as a cole.”  A treatment for “a vein that’s damaged” thus says to first “take mummy which is mans flesh which is to be ready by the Apothecaries” (V.a.621, 123).  Mummy can also be well-represented within the Folger recipe holdings, whether or not within the directions for a therapeutic “plaister” that requires “mummie half an oz.” (X.d.746, 1r), or in these for “A Secrett Quintessence” that requires “mummia one ounce” (V.a.456, 36r).

Lastly, it should be famous that up to date proof means that early fashionable topics had a really ambivalent angle towards corpse medication.  That is particularly indicated in a single recipe “to cease a flux,” which requires a part of “a Lifeless mans scull in Very tremendous powder”—however “let not,” the transcriber warns, “the celebration know to whom You give itt” (V.b.286, 89).  So it’s not merely that individuals who lived in Shakespeare’s age had a unique disgust threshold than many people do at the moment.  Whereas that is undoubtedly true to some extent, the very fact stays that some, or maybe many, people have been nonetheless considerably grossed out by corpse medication—and so they weren’t hesitant to complain in regards to the “lifeless our bodies [that] the Phisitians and Apothecaries doe towards our willes make vs to swallow.”

See Also

Whereas disgust appears to be a fairly ubiquitous characteristic of human psychology, the precise issues that set off disgust, and the diploma of disgust that such issues elicit, seem to change across time and place.  That corpse medication was an everyday characteristic, nonetheless reluctant, of early fashionable life is a incredible instance of the malleability of disgust.  Because the recipe books within the Folger clarify, a sick individual in Shakespeare’s England may find yourself encountering some medicines moderately revolting to many people residing at the moment!


Bradley J. Irish is an Affiliate Professor of English at Arizona State College. He’s the creator of Emotion within the Tudor Courtroom: Literature, Historical past, and Early Fashionable Feeling (Northwestern UP, 2018) and the forthcoming Shakespeare and Disgust: The Historical past and Science of Early Fashionable Revulsion (Bloomsbury, 2023). He’s at present writing a monograph on envy and jealousy in early fashionable literary tradition. 

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