A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Falstaffian Hypodermic Needles


The best known arm's race in medicine is of course the one that exists between disease organisms and antibiotics, a race played out by unsung white lab-coated researchers who chase after eternally evolving viruses and bacteria like cats chasing their own rapidly mutating tails. But there has recently been discovered another medical arm's race, one involving injection technology, which I believe has a fair claim on our attention. It seems that our buttocks – or more accurately many but not all of our buttocks – are growing too big to be serviced by regular-sized hypodermic needles.

"Thou seest I have more flesh than
another man, and therefore more frailty."

Falstaff, Henry IV Part I, III.iii.170.

A study conducted in Ireland has revealed that standard-sized needles often fail to reach the buttock muscles of adult patients. This failure was recorded among 23 out of 25 women, and 10 of 25 men, whose, uh, whose rears were examined after receiving an intramuscular injection. Presumably the women suffered a higher failure rate due to their additional natural endowment of soft curvaceous femininity, an endowment that in other contexts is so highly prized and valued. Yet another unfairness that is deposited more heavily on the fairer sex.

"A goodly portly man, i' faith, and a corpulent;
of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most
noble carriage; and, I think, his age some fifty,
or, by 'r Lady, inclining to threescore; and now
I remember me, his name is Falstaff."

Falstaff, Henry IV Part I, II.iv.417.

Falstaff in the above scene is pretending to be Henry IV, Hal's father (thanks to Jad at ShakespeareHigh for a correction here). The two men are role-playing in this way in order to prepare Hal for an upcoming meeting with his father. This scene takes place in the noontime of Hal's friendship with Falstaff, a friendship that injects Falstaff with a false sense of security over the advancement he may expect once Hal himself becomes king. But just as the life-preserving medicine delivered to the patients in the Irish study wound up lodged in the unexpected purgatory of their fat cells, Falstaff will later wind up being left behind when his friend ascends the throne. Here the new Henry V (formerly Hal), in the next play in the history series (Henry IV Part II), suggests that Falstaff consider dieting:

"I know thee not old man. Fall to thy prayers.
How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester!
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing. Know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest.
Presume not that I am the thing I was,…"

It is clear that were Falstaff to have been a patient in the buttock study, he would have been among those whose gluteus was a bit too maximus. The study was performed by a Dr. Victoria Chan, who in interpreting its results displays toward her patients some of the same icy sangfroid as the new Henry V does to Falstaff:

"There is no question that obesity is the underlying
cause. We have identified a new problem related,
in part, to the increasing amount of fat in patients'

As Dr. Chan lobbies for longer needles, so too does Henry V, in rejecting Falstaff, attempt to persuade all England that he has put his misspent youth, and the wayward friends of his youth, behind him. Better it is that we return to that more innocent time when needle lengths and coronations did not separate us from our inner Falstaffs, or our outer ones. And so here we will return to the time when Henry was Hal, scolding with light mockery his chubby friend:

"There is a devil haunts thee in the likeness
of an old fat man; a tun of man is thy companion.
Why dost thou converse with that trunk of
humors, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that
swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard
of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that
roasted Manningtee ox with the pudding in
his belly…?"

And here Falstaff responds, speaking for Dr. Chan's insulted patients, and for all of us who, without apology, place the pleasures of life above its mere appearances (Pharoah's lean kine refers to the seven lean cows, that follow seven fat ones, of Pharoah's dream, which Jacob interpreted as meaning that seven rich harvests would be followed by seven lean):

"If sack and sugar be a fault, God help
the wicked! If to be old and merry be a
sin, then many an old host that I know
is damned. If to be fat be to be hated,
then Pharoah's lean kine are to be loved…
Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world."

P.S.: Here's a recommendable post from the always recommendable Ace of Spades.

And a recommendable post from the always recommendable political teen.

And try this one from Californian Conservative.

And please try this link from Ace of Spades. And this one as well.

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