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Rodrigo López (physician)

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Rodrigo López (c. 1525 – June 7, 1594), whose name modern form would be Rodrigo Lopes in Portugese, was physician to Queen Elizabeth, and may have been an inspiration for Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

He was born in Crato, Portugal and raised as a New Christian. He was driven away from Portugal by the Portuguese Inquisition and was considered a Marrano (a hidden Jew).

He made London his home in 1559 and successfully resumed his practice as a doctor, soon becoming house physician at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Despite prejudice and professional jealousy, he developed a large practice among powerful people, including Robert Dudley and Francis Walsingham. Rumor held that his success was less due to his medical skill and more to his skill at flattery and self-promotion. A 1584 libelous pamphlet attacking Dudley suggested that López distilled poisons for Dudley and other noblemen as well. In 1586, López reached the pinnacle of his profession; he was made physician-in-chief to Queen Elizabeth. López earned the queen's favour for in 1589 she granted him a monopoly on the importation of aniseed and sumac. His success continued as he neared retirement. He was viewed, at least outwardly, as being a dutiful practicing Protestant.

In October of 1593, López was wealthy and generally respected. At that time, he owned a house in Holborn and had a son enrolled at Winchester College. However, also in October, a complex web of conspiracy against Dom António began to come to light. Subsequently, Robert Devereux accused López of conspiring with Spanish emissaries to poison the Queen. He was arrested on January 1, 1594, convicted in February, and subsequently hanged, drawn and quartered on June 7.

The Queen herself was uncertain of his guilt and delayed his execution. López maintained his innocence and his true conversion from Judaism to Christianity. According to the 16th century historian William Camden, just before López was hanged, he said to the crowd that he loved his queen as well as he loved Jesus Christ. The crowd laughed at this statement, taking it for a thinly veiled confession.

Some historians and literary critics consider López and his trial to have been an influence on William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.[1] "Many Shakespearean scholars believe Dr. López was the prototype for Shylock...."[2], which is believed to have been written between 1594 and 1597, though the play undoubtedly relies more on Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta. Marlowe also loosely mentioned López in the first, unrevised script for The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, comparing him to the titular hero: "Doctor Lopus was never such a doctor!".

NotesEdit

  1. Faye Kellerman, The Quality of Mercy (historical novel), "Historical Summary", pp. 606-607, New York, Morrow, 1989.
  2. Greenblatt, S. (2004). Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, New York: W. W. Norton.

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