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THE GENIUS OF FRIEDRICH SIEGENTHALER, M.D. GABRIELJ. ESCOBAR* During the closing stages of World War II, an event with tragic consequences for English literature took place. I refer to the death of Friedrich Siegenthaler, M.D., ship's surgeon, during a kamikaze attack that sank the escort carrier, the USS Salem, on which he served. Scattered about the waters on that fateful day in late 1944 were the rough drafts of a play, Elizabeth, which was to be his crowning work. After years of painstaking research, I came to the conclusion that Friedrich Siegenthaler actually wrote the works attributed to one "William Shakespeare." Siegenthaler's modest genius, his self-effacing humor—only exceeded by his consummate skill in the operating theatre—led him to employ a pseudonym. Why he chose the name "William Shakespeare" is a question I will leave to future historians and neo-Freudians. I have little time for such considerations these days, days in which slanderous allegations defiling the name of Siegenthaler are made. Recently, Dr. Jake Hendassy, an illiterate pseudointellectual with scholarly pretensions, asserted that "William Shakespeare" was actually an obstetrician, R. H. Barraclough, who practiced outside Omaha, Nebraska , in the 1940s. Hendassy bases his entire book on the analysis of one line of Siegenthaler's tragedy, Macbeth. . . . Macduff was from his mother's womb Untimely ripped. (5.8.15-16) Had Hendassy bothered to read the rest of the play, as I have, and had he bothered to employ even a fraction of his minute intellect, he would have arrived at strikingly different conclusions. Moreover, he never took the time to investigate the archives of the Okinawa campaign, where The author is grateful to Professor Stanton B. Garner,Jr., ofthe University of Michigan for permitting him to cite from the galley proofs of his forthcoming collection, The Complete Annotated Works ofFriedrich Siegenthaler, to be published this fall. *Resident, Department of Pediatrics, 696-M, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143.© 1985 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 003 1 -5982/86/290 1-0459$0 1 .00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 29, 1 ¦ Autumn 1985 \ 37 several rough drafts of Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Titus Andronicus, and— alas!—a few scraps oí Elizabeth can be found. Macbeth, an allegory describing a chief resident's meteoric rise to the top, is replete with overt and symbolic references to the surgical world. Indeed, most scholarly research on the subject seems to confirm my suspicion that Siegenthaler wrote the play during his internship. One can only marvel at the genius of Siegenthaler, producing a masterwork in the brief moments of free time allowed by an intern's miserable, groveling existence. His incandescent brilliance is all the more striking when one realizes the dual voices with which he speaks (voices which, I may add in passing, attest to Hendassy's deafness). Part of him, by using the language of tragedy and love, speaks to all humanity, but part of him remains a physician, musing on various aspects of medicine in general and surgery in particular. The wry humor that made him look askance at the excesses of surgical ritual is cleverly concealed and expressed by Lady Macbeth as she scrubs. What, will these hands ne'er be clean? (5.1.46) The decisiveness of surgeons—often the butt of crass jokes by other physicians—is voiced by Macbeth. The flighty purpose never is o'ertook Unless the deed go with it. From this moment The very firstlings of my heart shall be The firstlings of my hand. (5.1.145-149) Siegenthaler also describes, perhaps better than anyone else, the doubts felt by a young physician, doubts that are burned away in the crucible of the operating room, when the youthful surgeon is finally confirmed in his resolve to complete his training. ... I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as to go o'er. (2.4.137—140) Macbeth's soliloquy is, without any doubt, one of the cusps of English literature. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 37-40
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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