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Sir John Falstaff and Bardolph by George Cruikshank Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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Bardolph's rosacea: skin disorders that define personality in Shakespeare's plays.

Clin Dermatol. 2019 Sep - Oct;37(5):600-603

Authors: Hassan S, Mohammed TO, Hoenig LJ

Several popular Shakespearean characters are dramatically portrayed on stage with striking physical appearances caused by medical and dermatologic disorders. Shakespeare's colorful portrayal of their maladies not only helps to entertain audiences but also serves to define the characters' personalities and behavior. Shakespeare himself emphasizes this point in his play Richard III, in which the notorious English king states that his evil nature is a direct result of his hideous spinal deformity. This contribution discusses four other famous Shakespearean characters: Bardolph, who appears to be suffering from rosacea; the Witches of Macbeth, who have beards; Juliet, who has green sickness (chlorosis); and Falstaff, who is morbidly obese. In all of these cases, their skin disorders and medical maladies serve to highlight their underlying nature.

PMID: 31896414 [PubMed - in process]

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Portrait of Bardolph by Henry Stacy Marks, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Famous Rosaceans


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"Rosacea and scurvy, however, are described by Shakespeare before they become named entities. Bardolph's skin characterizes his alcohol addiction and thievery, and Caliban's "monstrous" form mirrors his state as an untouchable in society."

On Shakespeare and cutaneous diseases


"It is Bardolph’s big, red nose that commands our attention. He has what modern physicians call rosacea, a skin disorder of the face that causes redness, inflammation, and rhinophyma, the pimply growths that enlarge, harden, and crack the nose."

Bardolph’s Rosacea, Jeffrey R. Wilson
Preceptor in Expository Writing
Harvard College Writing Program

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