.. ing mercury salves consisted of the same principle, but the metal was kept in continuous close contact with the skin. Treatment by fumigation was the least effective method and the most grueling. The patient was placed in a closed compartment, with only their head sticking out. A fire was then set underneath the cabinet, raising the temperature and causing the mercury to vaporize.
This method was not popular for long since it was such a painstaking ordeal and did not treat the disease effectively. These four processes were all intended to accomplish the same goal; to increase the amount of saliva. It was believed that saliva carried away the venereal poison. Three pints of saliva a day was considered a good prognosis. In the cases when the patient would not produce the required amount of saliva, more mercury was used.
It has been recorded that up to sixteen pounds of mercury was given in a single course of treatment (Brown, 12). The story of Ulrich von Hutten, a German poet, is crucial to further understand how grueling and torturous this treatment was. He was the first sufferer of syphilis to rebel in print against the method of using mercury. Hutten had six treatments in eight years. He received the mercury topically.
He was kept in bed in a hot room, dressed in very heavy clothing to produce sweating. He was kept in this room, not able to leave, for twenty to thirty days at a time. Hutten explains that his jaws, tongue, lips, and palate became ulcerated, his gums swelled, his teeth loosened and fell out (Brown, 14). He says that the cure, or apparent cure, was so hard to suffer he wanted to die instead. The syphilis came back, despite all treatments Other possibly cures that were experimented with were guaiacum wood, China Root, and sarsaparilla.
All were proven to be ineffective against syphilis. As expected, with no cure for syphilis charlatans cheated many patients with promises of quick, permanent cures. After collecting their fees, doctors would disappear before relapses and side effects from toxic dosages set in. In Measure for Measure references to venereal diseases, in particular syphilis, appear as early as the second scene. It is a reoccurring image that can not be overlooked.
Lucio speaks most of the references to venereal disease. The fact that Lucio is the one who makes the references to syphilis is very important. Lucio translated means light or truth, therefore what he says is true and should be taken seriously. Shakespeare must have felt that the epidemic of syphilis was important or he would have another character in the play make the references. In Act I Scene 2 the First Gentleman responds to Lucio saying: And thou the velvet. Thou art good velvet,/ thourt a three-piled piece, I warrant thee (29 30).
This quote shows a common symptom of syphilis in the form of rectal sores. Lucio responds to the First Gentlemen saying : . . .I will, out of thine own confessions, learn to begin/ thy health, but whilst I live forget to drink after thee (34 35). Lucio is implying that he will not drink out of the same cup top avoid infection. This shows that Fracastors theory that the disease is spread through germs was accepted, and was considered to be true. The next reference of syphilis in Act 1 Scene 2 occurs when Lucio states thy bones are hollow (50).
It is known today that syphilis does not cause bones to become brittle. However, at the time hollow or brittle bones was a symptom of syphilis. It was due to the mercury treatments that caused this condition. The next reference to venereal disease occurs in the very next line when the First Gentleman says How now, which of/ your hips has the most profound sciatica? (52 53). An ache in the sciatic vein in the hip was commonly associated with venereal disease.
Pompey delivers the last reference to syphilis found in Act 1 Scene 2. He is talking with Mistress Overdone and states You have worn your eyes almost out in the service, you will be considered (90- 91). This quote could be interpreted in two ways. The word eye was commonly used as slang to describe female genitalia. In that instance Pompey is saying that Mistress Overdone has ruined her genitalia because of her profession.
Pompey states worn your eyes almost out. This image can be associated with blindness, another common symptom of syphilis. Either way the passage suggests that Mistress Overdone has a venereal disease. Another reference to syphilis occurs in Act 2 Scene1. It occurs when Pompey is speaking to Froth.
He states that such a one and such a one were past cure of the/ thing you wot of, unless they kept very good diet, as I told/ you- (101- 103). The thing you wot of is a euphemism for syphilis. What is interesting about this quotation is that Pompey suggests that if Froth keeps a good diet that he can be cured of syphilis. This theory of maintaining or curing syphilis by eating right goes back to Fracastors belief that if one maintains a healthy diet, avoiding fish and wine, he/she has a better chance to recover from syphilis. This belief was first given in his poem, and shows that Shakespeare must have seen truth in it.
In Act 3 Scene 1 a very important reference to venereal disease occurs in a discussion between Lucio and Pompey. This reference provides evidence supporting the theme of consumption and venereal disease in Measure for Measure. LUCIO How doth my dear morsel thy mistress? Procures she still, ha? POMPEY Troth, sir, she has eaten up all her beef, and she is herself in the tub (307 309). Lucio refers to the mistress as a morsel, something that is eaten and consumed. Pompey takes this image of consuming or eating further when he says has eaten all her beef.
The image of men consuming women through sexual means occurs many times throughout the play. The reference to venereal disease may not be as apparent as others but should not be missed. The tub refers to a sweating tub that was used to treat syphilis. The sweating tub was used to administer mercury through fumigation, which was discussed earlier. Though it was not one of the most popular ways of treating syphilis, obviously it was sometimes used when the play was written. The theme of consuming can be applied to both men consuming women and the disease syphilis consuming its victim a little at a time until the body is completely ravaged. With the brief history of the disease provided above, a greater understanding of the references of syphilis in Measure for Measure is established.
What was widely understood as truth concerning the disease in Renaissance Europe can be found in Shakespeares play. By reading and analyzing passages referring to syphilis in Measure for Measure it is clear that Shakespeare himself believed in these truths. Lucio, a character who speaks only truth makes most of the references to syphilis in the play. Bibliography Brown, Donohue, Axnick, Blount, Ewen, Jones. Syphilis and Other Venereal Diseases. Harvard University Press.
Cambridge Massachusetts, 1970 Rosebury, Theodor. Microbes and Morals. The Viking Press. New York, 1971.