Monday, November 2, 2015

Exhibition at the Shiffman Medical Library

by Richard Joyrich

Last Thursday, October 29, I attended the opening reception of a traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine at the Shiffman Medical Library at Wayne State University in Detroit. The exhibition is titled, “’And there’s the humor of it’ Shakespeare and the four humors”.

As its name implies, this is an exhibition of Shakespeare’s references to the theory of the four humors regulating the body’s health and also a person’s character or temperament.

The exhibit, while small (only 6 standing panels) is well done and informative. It will be on display at the Shiffman Medical Library until November 28 (free admission). Most of the information (i.e. copies of most of what is on each panel) can be found on the online guide that the Wayne State University library system has prepared at

This guide also has information on local places to see performances of the plays as well as links to classroom teaching aids. Although the section on “About Shakespeare” has the traditional biography of the author, it also includes a link to a YouTube presentation called “William Shakespeare: The Conspiracy Theories”.

Despite the name of this presentation, it is actually mostly “Antistratfordian”, but it is really about Marlowe as the author (deVere is only mentioned near the end for about 10 seconds). However, when you follow the link to this YouTube video other authorship videos come up on the side that you can then view on all sides of the issue, including the Frontline program.

The library guide to this exhibition also links to the new book by Peter Rush, Hidden in Plain Sight, another take on the Sonnets, based on the work of Hank Whittemore.

Anyway, back to what happened at the opening reception:

There was a talk by Dr. Eric Ash, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History at Wayne State University. This was about a 30 minute presentation on the theory of the four humors as understood in Shakespeare’s time and how Shakespeare refers to it frequently in the plays, both in regards to actual illness and in regard to personality types in his characters. It was a well-done presentation.

After the talk, there was a reception with appetizers and also a showing of some of the books held in the Historical Collection of the Shiffman Library. It was nice to see these books (I didn’t know that the library had them). Included were Gerard’s Herball of 1597 and two works on anatomy by Vesalius (1551 and 1568). All of these works are believed to have been in the libraries of Thomas Smith or William Cecil, where Edward deVere would have had access to them.

I had made a copy of Frank Davis’s article from Volume 3 (2000) of The Oxfordian, “Shakespeare’s Medical Knowledge: How Did He Acquire It?”, available at
and also Chapter 9, “How Did Shakespeare Learn the Art of Medicine?”, written by Earl Showerman, from Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? An Industry in Denial (2013, ed. by John Shahan and Alexander Waugh), available from Amazon and other retailers.

I gave these copies to Dr. Ash and gave him a very quick summary of how the plays of Shakespeare show a great knowledge of the medicine of his time (including some newer ideas which were being developed in Italy and the “continent”, but had not yet penetrated to medical practice in England) and how it seems extremely unlikely that someone with Shakspere of Stratford’s background and education (and lack of travel) would have learned of any of this. Dr. Ash seemed interested and said he would read the articles.

I also got to talk with Dr. Sandra Yee, the Dean of the Wayne State University Library System, who was also at the reception. I wished that I had made another copy of the two articles to give her, but I told her I would email them to her.

She told me (as I already knew) that this particular exhibit at the Medical Library was part of a whole series of displays and presentations to be done at various venues at Wayne State University as companions to the upcoming national exhibition by the Folger Library of copies of the First Folio (coming to Detroit March 7-April 1, 2016).

She directed me to a listing of some upcoming events from the “library blog” at I will be trying to attend as many of these as I can and I hope members of our Oberon group will do so as well. A more specific website devoted to these events will be forthcoming, she said.

I would particularly direct your attention to the event on March 18, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Shakespeare But Were Afraid to Ask” by Dr. Athur F. Marotti, a “distinguished professor of English emeritus at Wayne State University”, talking about various interesting topics of Shakespearean research. However, the write up of this lecture specifically mentions that the “following non-debatable topics” will not be discussed: The Shakespearean authorship controversy, Evolution and Natural Selection, and Climate Change. I guess Dr. Marotti might be described as “close-minded”.

Despite this particular lecture I believe that our Oberon group and other open-minded individuals might still be able to make some of our views known through questions to lecturers or even handing out “literature” (but not too subversive).

I mentioned to Dr. Yee that I, along with the Oberon group, would like to participate as much as we can in all of the “festivities” associated with the Folio Tour, even to the point of doing our own presentations if that were possible. She did not turn me down right away and appreciated my interest, telling me that the full program of events had not yet been finalized. She did point out to me her belief that libraries should be open to all inquiries, whereupon I informed her that “free exchange of ideas” does not seem to apply to the English Departments of universities.

Anyway, I hope that my initial contacts with Dr. Ash and Dr. Yee may prove useful in the future in trying to “get the word out” that there is definitely room for doubt when it comes to determining the authorship of the works of Shakespeare.

Stay tuned.