Shakespeare on the Natural Remedies and the Limits of Medicine

Labouring art can never ransom nature“The congregate college have concluded
That labouring art can never ransom nature
From her unaidable estate.”
(All’s Well That Ends Well, act 2, sc. 1)

Comments. It is commonly accepted that longevity is the product of modern medicine. Historical information on the subject does not support the contention. Statistics are immensely skewed by the incidence of infant mortality. Survivors of infancy often lived for a very long time. Pierre Chaunu, in his authoritative “The civilization of Classical Europe” writes that in Burgundy people lived well into their 90s. In 1786 there are listed 72,000 persons with age between 60 and 100 years on a total of about one million people. Similar data are available for England and other countries. In Italy, Luigi Cornaro wrote his still very actual and very readable  “The Art of Living Long” at the age of 83. He died a centenarian.  There were terrible epidemics, as we know, due to a combination of wars, famine, lack of widespread knowledge about hygiene etc.
Furthermore, even a short glance at the history of medicine shows that almost each age has its own specific and dreadful disease. Diseases that mysteriously came and mysteriously went.
What is different in our times is the attitude towards death. Until the advent of modern medicine, maybe 80-100 years (?) the axis of social history included the awareness of the cycle connecting death and rebirth – in line with the myth of the eternal return of what is temporarily lost and then continually renewed. A time belonging to nature and not to history.
But for modern man death is intolerable and if it cannot be avoided, it must be camouflaged. To admit that “laboring art can never ransom nature from her unaidable estate” is a kind of heresy. Hence the billions poured into the proverbial endless pits, with help from countless “walkathons”, “races for the cure” and similar. And all for the “pursuit of happiness”. But what kind of happiness can it be if in the end we must die anyway?
To bypass the paradox death is masked by declaring it conquerable through various “wars”. The undeclared objective is that soon death will not exist.
There is a curious if unconventional parallel between the current attitude towards death and the implications of the Declaration of Independence. “All men are created equal” – says the Declaration – except blacks, who were slaves, Indians, who were to be driven off their land, poor people who could not vote and women, who were not men. That is, all men are created equal by pretending that the unequal do not exist.
The current  popularity and quest for alternative medicine is also a reaction to the myths, delusions and illusions inspired by the (high) profit-driven conventional medical-pharmaceutical machine.

Tips for Use.  Remind yourself or your interlocutors or your audience that human powers are limited against the laws of nature.

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In the play. Helen wishes to cure the King but he is at first skeptical considering the advice of his other doctors. But she will succeed where others failed

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