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Shakespeare Connected - ‘The natural gates and alleys of the body’ (Hamlet, 1.5.67): Physicality, Hygiene and Bodily Waste in Shakespeare’s World

Osias Dyck - A Doctor Casting the Water, about 1660, oil on panel.

The ‘science’ of casting water, known technically as uroscopy, had several advantages: it was cheap and didn’t require an expensive home visit nor the potentially painful movement of the patient. It preserved anonymity which was particularly welcome in cases when being used to diagnose pregnancy. It was less offensive than coproscopy (the study of faeces) and less intrusive than hematoscopy (blood).

This image shows the uroscopist examining the sample in a glass flask (known as a matula). He would look for colour, viscosity, particles and even aroma.


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