Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Note to The Tempest, 3.3.43-47, "When we were boys . . . in their breasts"


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The Tempest,
Act 3, Scene 3, line 43
     When the "strange SHAPES" bring out the banquet, Sebastian exclaims "Now I will believe / That there are unicorns." He is being sarcastic, and we see that despite what is before his eyes, he sticks to what he thinks of as realism. For old Gonzalo, it is different; he is willing to believe that there are wonders in the world that confound common sense.

     I believe that members of Shakespeare's audience would favor Gonzalo's point of view. Shakespeare's time was an age of exploration, and the explorers discovered wonders which had seemed to be impossibilities. For example, since antiquity stories had circulated about men "whose heads stood in their breasts"; such stories seemed the stuff of fable, but in Shakespeare's time two prominent and respected men, Richard Hakluyt and Sir Walter Raleigh, attested to the existence of such people, and contemporary maps of maps of South America depicted "Ewaipanoma" (headless men):
1599 map showing headless men in South America
Of course we now know that there were no such men, but many (maybe most) people in Shakespeare's time would have felt quite sure that the opposite was true.

     As for the men "whose throats had hanging at 'em / Wallets of flesh," they certainly existed, and exist today. The stories about such men were probably carried to England from Switzerland, whose soil has scant iodine, and which is far from any source of seafood, the food richest in iodine. Lack of sufficient iodine is the most common cause of goiter, the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Swiss man with goiter
Man with goiter

Sources:
Wikipedia: Headless men (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headless_men)

Antoine Menuisier, "Dr Iodine and Mr Salt" (http://www.invivomagazine.com/en/corpore_sano/tendances/article/211/dr-iodine-and-mr-salt).

Mayo Clinic: Goiter (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/goiter/symptoms-causes/syc-20351829)