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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):
Guo C, Norton SA. Leprology and Betrayal in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(9):934. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.357