Thursday, 8 May 2008

Doctors in The Tudors

I recently started watching The Tudors. It is a show I find thoroughly entertaining. I don't expect my entertainment to be historically accurate (too often fiction is made dull by being a slave to the authentic) and I like glossy American dramas. It's like watching an early modern Dallas.

I've just watched episode four (season one). It contains a scene in which Henry needs to be bled following a seizure. Yet again, like so many other renderings, the premodern doctors are shown in the background mumbling to one another nervously. They grovellingly enquire whether the king gives his permission to be bled. A bowl is placed under his arm, a strap is tied around his upper arm, and he is bled using a surprisingly clean looking knife.

It's led me to wonder where this image of early modern doctors came from. It's certainly a familiar one from literature; think of Moliere's Le Malade Imaginaire. I'm sure there are many more examples. What strikes me as interesting is the nervousness of the doctor as seen in these imaginings. They are often self-serving, inexpert showmen.

Does this reflect reality I wonder? Moliere can write about doctors as he does because he has no faith in their expertise. Modern imaginings of early modern and medieval doctors will share a disbelief in their Galenic medicine. But surely in eras when such medicine was trusted, or at least was the only option (leaving 'folk remedies' aside for a moment), it's doctors may have, in fact, had a more self assured manner? A project for a time-traveller perhaps; bedside manners throughout the ages...


Adam said...

Enjoying reading your work, just had an idea pertaining to your last post and thought i'd post a comment.

The Doctors themselves may have known that they were merely prescribing placebo "cures" in a similar fashion to modern day "alternative medicine".

The so called Doctors were nervous because they knew what they were doing might not work.

As stated in the La Malade wiki you referenced when talking of what Doctor he would like to be Mr. Diaforious says "with ordinary people he is less accountable to anybody and, as long as procedure is followed, there is no need to worry so much about the results; the rich are much more difficult since they actually seem to expect to be cured"

This might explain their apparent lack of self assurance?
Just a thought....

Shane said...

I thinkyou have a point Adam, mind you Galenic medicine was on the way out by the time Le Malade was written - I'd expect doctors to have had more faith in the older system around the time The Tudors is set.