Shakespeare to be blamed for bad skin stigma

Written by PTI | London | Updated: Jul 2 2014, 22:48pm hrs
ScarsShakespeare may be partly to blame for the social stigma associated with disfiguring skin conditions.(Thonkstock)
Shakespeare may be partly to blame for the social stigma associated with disfiguring skin conditions, experts say.

Plays written by the Bard of Avon contain insults that refer to skin blemishes and scarring, reflecting an Elizabethan obsession with flawless complexions, experts said.

They argue that Shakespeare's language has helped to perpetuate negative attitudes towards imperfect skin, 'The Times' reported.

Experts pinpoint use of the phrases "a pox upon him" in All's Well That Ends Well and "scurvy knave" in Romeo and Juliet.

In another play, King Lear launches into his scheming daughter Goneril, declaring: "Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle".

"Rat-infested and with open sewers, overcrowding and sexual promiscuity, Elizabethan London was a melting pot for diseases such as plague, syphilis and smallpox," said Catriona Wootton, a dermatologist from Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham.

"Many of the diseases of the time involved lesions or sores on the skin, so skin imperfections were seen as a warning sign for contagious disease," said Wootton.

"It is interesting to note that much of the Elizabethan stigma over disfiguring skin disease still persists today. Nobody is suggesting that we edit Shakespeare, but maybe we should ensure that new films and books don't reinforce this stereotype," said Nina Goad, of the British Association of Dermatologists.