Out, damned spot! Study blames Shakespeare for zit aversion


Sure, it was a guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth who cried “Out, damned spot,” but a new dermatological study says Shakespeare’s words might as easily apply to acne. According to a report by British dermatologists, Shakespeare is to blame for our obsession with clear skin.

That’s because his plays are so full of insults related to skin disease.

“Thou art a boil, A plague sore, an embossed carbuncle,” King Lear says to his daughter Goneril. “A pox upon him,” a phrase that’s lasted through the centuries, comes from “All’s Well That Ends Well.” In “King John,” Constance says she could not love a man “Full of unpleasing blots and sightless stains... Patch’d with foul moles and eye-offending marks.” A curse in “Coriolanus” promises blemishes and hate: “Boils and plagues Plaster you o’er, that you may be abhorr’d.”


The dermatologists point out that in Shakespeare’s time, around 1600, London was rat-infested, had open sewers, and was a, um, hotbed of promiscuity. “Disease was rife in Elizabethan England; visible signs of illness led to stigmatization and pejorative connotations followed,” they write. “Shakespeare’s works have survived the intervening centuries; has his success led to the perpetuation of Elizabethan negativity towards skin disease?”

Maybe -- or maybe not. The Guardian calls the idea “a stretch.” The Independent spoke to professor Michael Dobson, director of Birmingham University’s Shakespeare Institute, who asked rhetorically, “Has any writer in history ever suggested that the symptoms of skin disease are attractive?”

“You’re Blaming Shakespeare For What Now?!” the blog Shakespeare Geek scoffs. “In other news, Shakespeare’s popularity is also responsible for cross-dressing, bed-tricks and the occasional regicide.”

Like passing notes in class; I’m @paperhaus on Twitter