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Notable Notes
September 2014

Leprology and Betrayal in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Author Affiliations
  • 1State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Buffalo
  • 2Dermatology Division, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC
JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(9):934. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.357

Before Hansen discovered the lepra bacillus in 1873, there had been dozens of theories on leprosy’s etiology. The most dramatic hypothesis (literally and figuratively) may have been proposed by the ghost of Prince Hamlet’s father in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. The ghost recounted the onset of a lethal “lazar-like … vile and loathsome crust” after being poisoned with a “leperous distilment” by the king’s regicidal brother, Claudius (who then usurped the throne—and queen—of Denmark) (Hamlet. Act 1, scene 5):

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