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Skin Stigma: Is Shakespeare to Blame?

William Shakespeare, centuries after making his name, is blamed for bringing skin misery among millions. Medical experts are now claiming that behind Shakespeare’s success is a painful legacy for anyone suffering from skin disease. The master of the playwright is now the primary focus of new research.

Why is Shakespeare blamed?

Shakespeare is famous for his rash of insults grounded on people’s appearance. These insults seem to make the most memorable lines. Some have even turned to other alternative treatments to help alleviate their worries.

Lines such as “an embossed carbuncle” referring to King Lear when he was branding his daughter or those of “scurvy companion” are seen as a prosecution of people according to how they look.

Other characters such as Marcius Coriolanus seem to take up Shakespeare’s insults. He wishes a young couple and his enemies “boils and plagues.”

What do researchers think about Shakespeare and the skin stigma?

British researchers have written a paper on whether Shakespeare is to blame for the negative stigma of skin diseases. Other researchers from Leicester, Derby, and Nottingham claim that Shakespeare showed an obsession with flawless pale skin. Thus, they argue that his success may have led to its perpetuation.

Dr. Catriona, a Nottingham based dermatologist who works at Queens Medical Center, is a co-author of this study. She said that Elizabeth London was prone to diseases such as smallpox, syphilis, and plague. This is because she stayed in a rat-infested neighborhood with open sewers, sexual promiscuity, and overcrowding.

During that time, most diseases involved sores and lesions. Therefore, skin imperfections severed as a warning sign for any contagious diseases. Shakespeare took advantage of the negative undertones. He then employed physical idiosyncrasies on his character to depict weaknesses in their behavior.

The spokesman for BAD (British Association of Dermatologist) said that there is still much of the “Elizabethan” stigma over blemishing skin diseases. The only difference is that now, there are real examples in films where disfigurements are a symbol of malice or evil. Researchers, therefore, think that Shakespeare is partly responsible for social skin stigma related to disfiguring skin conditions.

How did Shakespeare lovers react to the allegations?

Fans of Shakespeare remain loyal and defend their favorite author. For instance, Stuart Hampton who is in charge of the British Shakespeare Association claims that Shakespeare was just a product of his era. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect his work to conform to modern attitudes. He also claims it is far-fetched to accuse modern-day preconception on Shakespeare’s works.

Birmingham University’s Shakespeare University director, Professor Michael Dobson also defends Shakespeare’s work. He argues that no writer, even in history, has ever suggested skin disease to be attractive. He further strengthens his point by asking if, over the past four centuries, any audience has approached the theatre to go against pox. Therefore, Shakespeare shouldn’t be blamed.

Nobody is recommending we alter the works of Shakespeare. However, we should ensure that new books and films don’t support this stereotype.  Due to the skin stigma today, most patients with skin disorders need psychological support to enable them to deal with their disease and the negative emotional and psychological effects that come with it. Fortunately, there are now several skin care products that can effectively treat various skin diseases. Hemp for skin care, for example, is widely used by many to treat their skin related conditions.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

“Zefirelli’s performers breathe understanding into every ornate phrase, translating the sixteenth-century prose into something fresh and modern.” – Common Sense Media

Argued by many to be one of the best Romeo and Juliet adaptations ever released, the 1968 version of the classic tale of tragedy features Franco Zeffirelli’s incredible eye and direction (if the Academy Awards aren’t proof enough of that) and stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as the infamous, star-crossed lovers. The garden beauty of the sets made it a movie to remember. This Shakespearean adaptation was welcomed warmly by both young audiences and critics; praised for its cast, sets and direction; and for being an overall fantastic and exciting take on an old plot that has been redone a thousand times over.

The film follows a centuries-old story about the feud of the Montagues and the Capulets, and the two young lovers caught in the crossfire of it all. It is a story that has been told and retold over and over and over, but what makes Zefirelli’s interpretation of this tale stand out is his unique eye and impeccable ability to present the old story with a fresh perspective, through a brand new lens. This, as proven by the film’s massive success and multiple awards, was something that both viewers and critics deeply appreciated.

Zefirelli is able to show the romance on screen in a way that makes the young lovers’ innocence shine, which is, all at the same time, reflective, inspirational and relatable – something that helped the film achieve the success that it did. The setting of the story and the way it was told had the uncanny ability to catch young people’s attention ans to reflect both their rebelliousness and the struggles they faced.

There is little to be said of Zefirelli and this film save that it is a well put-together piece of art that reaches out to viewers and touches both their minds and hearts.

The 1968 version of Shakespeare’s classic old tale is my favorite film adaptation so far. It gives off a very historic and simple feeling, which is how, I feel, Shakespeare would have intended any film adaptation of his great play. It does not play around too much with the script, or change the settings and characters all too much. The 1968 Romeo and Juliet adaptation stays largely true to Shakespeare’s original text. In addition, it does a splendid job of presenting the plight of the young lovers, who aspire for love in the face of adversity and their families’ war.