Life Is But A Poor Player

2382 words - 10 pages

“...who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” Shakespeare penned these words for the tragic king Macbeth, as he contemplated mortality and its seeming insignificance. But in the world of anatomy, once the actor quits his role, he continues to speak. Anatomists, students, the morbidly curious: all have flocked to dissections for centuries searching for answers. Unknowingly, audiences flock to theatres for the same reasons. Theatre, in the same way as dissection, searches for answers within the human self. Sometimes these answers are concrete, like the location of the heart or the rationale behind suicide; other times they are more metaphysical, like the weight of a human soul, or standing against the desires and influences of societal norms (Roach). As curious, sentient beings, we crave answers, especially to our own inner workings; theatre and dissection are both tools used to explore and discover these ideas and answers.
The practice of dissection dates back to the ancient eras. The Mayans sculpted busts depicting human heads, half flesh and half skull (Wikipedia). Ancient Egyptian documents depict a rudimentary understanding of human anatomy (Ebers Papyrus). It is not until the Golden Age of the Greek civilization that Herophilos, considered the father of Anatomy, was one of the first to publically perform and record his dissections ( From these rough origins, the practice of dissection grew in private, behind closed doors, as many cultures looked down upon it as a desecration of the dead. Dissection stayed a quiet, solely academic practice until the early Renaissance when interest in the search for knowledge was renewed and the state began to fund public dissections. The state also monitored these dissections to ensure that the cadavers were in fact executed criminals and not stolen corpses. The medical schools were not as heavily censured though, and the practice of “acquiring” freshly deceased corpses abounded until the age of body donors (Edmonson). All of the renaissance greats: Michelangelo, Donatello, and probably best known, da Vinci, studied anatomy. Da Vinci’s sketchbooks picture a number of anatomical sketches ranging from the well-known Vitruvian man to heart and skeletal renderings. He explored how humans move and how their muscular and skeletal systems interacted. His anatomical sketches, found primarily in the Windsor portfolios, contained copious notes in the margins detailing his discoveries ("Leonardo's Manuscripts”). This more open approach to anatomy continued to grow and flourish through out Europe until the Victorian Age when society began to lean away from the openness and exploration of the Renaissance and Enlightenment Age. Anatomy was still a subject of interest, but was yet again confined to the academic world and the morbid curiosity of some. As the study continued to advance it became increasingly common to acquire bodies for dissection via body donations...

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