gunshots

Medical care in Elizabethan times was a regular horror show. Your treatment–if you were unlucky enough to survive long enough to receive care–might come from a physician, a surgeon or an apothecary, depending on the ailment. I call number 147 Shakespeare’s ‘Medical Sonnet.’ The Poet longs to break away from the Dark Lady, but his lust resists all powers of reason. Lust is his fever, and reason is the physician; one has left in lieu of the other. 

147

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly express’d;
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night. 

The Poet has ignored reason, and so good sense–his physician–has left him: ‘Angry that his prescriptions are not kept, Hath left me.’ The Poet longs for death, but this disease won’t quite kill him: “Desire is death, which physic did except. Finally, the Poet is past the point of caring: “Past cure I am, now reason is past care.’ 

As if this wonderfully intricate metaphor weren’t enough, Sonnet 147 ends with one of the most delicious couplets ever: 

For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night. 

Finally, the opening: ‘My love is like a fever.’ Rock ‘n’ rollers to this very day have used this metaphor–so worn out we can no longer stand it. Shakespeare invented it.   

The image comes from the cover of a French book on the treatment of battle wounds, printed in Shakespeare’s time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s