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  • Beyond the Body: The Boundaries of Medicine and English Renaissance Drama.
  • Stephen Pender
William Kerwin . Beyond the Body: The Boundaries of Medicine and English Renaissance Drama. Massachusetts Studies in Early Modern Culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005. viii + 290. index. bibl. $34.95. ISBN: 1-55849-482-0.

The physician Everard Maynwaring insists his Medicus absolutus (1668) is "a Touch-stone" by which the true, learned physician might be distinguished from the charlatan: "him that hath been trained up in Manufacture, Buying and Selling, or a loose idle life," ill fits for the "grand Business" of medicine. In his deft, wide-ranging, and occasionally rewarding study, William Kerwin explores the distinctions conjured in Maynwaring's polemic: in five "case studies" (1, 8) involving apothecaries, women practitioners, surgeons, physicians, and patients, Kerwin investigates the "social dynamics of medical culture" as they were played out in early modern medical debates and on the English stage (10). Kerwin is concerned with "narratives from outside medicine that end up shaping medical history," with the "frames" of medical theory and medical practice, and with the ways in which histories of medicine should not, perhaps cannot, be immured from various social pressures and pulsions (1, 5, 6, 9, 13). He argues that "nonmedical narratives" are "determinants of the lived affect of medical practice and medical culture" (17). Yet drama is the sole "nonmedical" area of inquiry present in Beyond the Body there is little from the patient's view, less from the rich store of historical work on questions of early modern medical experience, and next to no contemporary scholarship about the varied intersections of literature and medicine in the period. Instead, Kerwin argues for drama's singular efficacy in "opening up" the "social imagination" of early modern medicine (10).

After acquainting us with his externalist program, Kerwin explores the ways in which apothecaries and alchemists were "part of an early modern culture of commerce" (19) as well as a "drug culture redefined by new markets, new class relations, and a new sense of the liquidity of wealth" (18). Using a diverse array of sources, including masques, Romeo and Juliet, and Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, Kerwin suggests that alchemists and apothecaries challenge the social order with "a new empiricism" (22): "the pharmaceutical is the political" (20). Chapter 3 claims that early modern English drama "gives us a symbolic woman healer whose story carries traces of a series of historical conflicts" (64), conflicts which Kerwin adumbrates in the figure of Medea, vilified as harmful but valued as a "magician-healer" (65). Contemporary prosecution of women practitioners stands in contrast to their dramatic representation as socially and spiritually powerful: onstage, women healers are "social reformer[s]," a type that "emerges in the drama of the period directly from the historical tradition," in which they moved from powerlessness to authority (83, 87, 91).

Chapter 4 treats surgeons, satire, and inwardness. Kerwin argues that surgeons were not only revealers of interiority (his champion is Vesalius) but custodians of appearance: above all, early modern surgery was "an art of concealment" (100). Noting the usual connections between surgery and satire, Kerwin contends that surgery was in some sense about the dialect between inside and outside, between [End Page 635] a concealed interior and a public face. True, surgeons produced prosthetics and were concerned with appearance, but their main work was decidedly visceral, sanguine, osteal; he seems to confuse barbers and surgeons, as with his claim that surgeons "were affiliated with the project of crafting an exterior image" (105). Similarly, Kerwin's claim that Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida is "a play about the social contradictions that shaped . . . the early modern roles of surgeons" (122) is odd.

In chapter 5, Kerwin argues that "the physician more than any other practitioner is defined in the period through the aesthetics of theatre" (131). Kerwin's argument is complex and spurring: briefly, in order to distance themselves from empirics, physicians employed theatrical tropes, accusing their competitors of empty, histrionic performance rather than solid learning and sound practice; yet physicians themselves had to persuade, and persuasion required performance and an audience. Here his readings are dextrous and subtle, and he illuminates both Samuel...


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