The body as metaphor: digestive bodies and political surgery in Shakespeare's Macbeth

Medical Humanities 33 (2):67-69 (2007)

The article aims to reconstruct the perspective of bodily pathology underpinning Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In the play, Scotland’s body politic is frequently depicted as a macro-system suffering from a complexional imbalance of digestive origins. More specifically, Scotland comes over as a huge stomach strangled by a carcinogenic foreign body in need of being “raze[d] out”. Since traditional purgative drugs such as “rhubarb” and “cynne” turn out to be totally inefficient to cure the body of Scotland, the resolution to adopt a drastic medical measure becomes more than urgent. The conclusion of the play coincides with the most terrible form of political surgery: Shakespeare’s reiterated use of verbs such as “pluck” and “purge”, commonly used in Renaissance herbals and handbooks, suggests that Macbeth’s physical body is suffering from a kind of “blockage”, for which herbal treatments are no longer sufficient. Nothing less than a surgical operation is needed to “purge” the corrupt entrails of the State dominated by Macbeth’s tyranny
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DOI 10.1136/jmh.2007.000257
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