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Shakespeare On Call


The New Physician May-June 2001
Two houses, Surgery and Medicine, in fair Philadelphia, where we lay our scene. From an ancient hierarchy arises new conflict, where a surgeon jealously guards his love. From forth this scene enters a star-crossed medical student, whose misadventure ends with a loss of true love. The fearful passage of their tragic love and the resident’s endless labors, which naught but death could end, is now the more than two-page tale in your hand. Which, if you with patient mind attend, what here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.


A Hospital Lobby. Enter Will Shakespeare and Balthasar Andronicus.

Will: So begins our penultimate rotation on the wards, Balthasar.

Balthasar: Nay, our second to last it is.

Will: Which of us will be charged with the task of paging our supervising resident?

Balthasar: Not I, for I am always left to that vile task.

Will: And I do not wish to risk the wrath of our new resident on the first day.
Balthasar: Perhaps then we should retire to our quarters and page our resident on the ’morrow.

Will: Thou art a fool indeed, cowardly Balthasar, for that would be the worst of our alternatives. Lend me the digits, and I shall enter them most expediently into the device.

Enter Soothsayer.

Soothsayer: Beware the fines of March.

Will: What thou speakest of?
Soothsayer: The fines of March will be upon us.

Balthasar: We care not.

Will: Our resident returns our call and demands our presence anon. Let us make haste.



On the Wards. Enter Dr. Yersinia Bubonica.
Yersinia: Another rectal exam! Medical students, medical students, wherefore art thou medical students? Thinkest all that I have no better use of my time than to wait upon others? Oh wretched weariness, oh wretched call room, oh wretched beeper that haunts my dreams.

Enter Will and Balthasar.

Balthasar: Methinks we have wandered into the wrong ward.

Will: This labyrinth would test even that noble gunner Theseus.

Balthasar: I think that we have at last come to our destination.

Will: Behold yonder! Do you see that fair maiden clad in the long white coat? I would that Father Time suffer a torn ACL, that I may gaze longer upon her perfection. But, wait, she comes forth!

Yersinia: Art thou the two apprentice physicians? The medical students on my team?

Will: If you be Dr. Bubonica, then we are yours.

Yersinia: Aye, I am. But you may call me Yersinia.

Balthasar: Balthasar at your service.
Will: And I am…I am….

Yersinia: Make haste. We have much to do today.



By the Nurses’ Station. Enter Will and Yersinia.

Will: My lady Yersinia, I appear to have forgotten to give you my name.
Yersinia: Do not give what is not asked. I am too busy for trivial matters.

Will: Ah, ’tis true. For what is in a name? Yersinia by any other name would smell as sweet, as I am sure you do when not in last week’s odorous scrubs.

Yersinia: Look pal, I am post-call. OK?

Will: Aye, my lady, thou needest not take that form of speech with me.

Yersinia: I apologize for my outburst of the common tongue. Weariness has taken its toll.

Will: Nay, my lady, apologize not. But rather set me a task, any task, and it will be done.

Yersinia: Indeed, if thou will, fill these empty forms with words detailing the status of our patients; I will be able to sign off on thine note, lessening my load. If thou will draw fluid from a patient’s sinews that would remove a task from my ever-growing list. Lastly, get thou to the apothecary and make haste with a purified protein derivative—I mean, PPD.

Will: Worry not, my lady. All these tasks and any others that you desire will be done. Consider them a thought that no longer weighs heavy upon thy mind. I have but one query, whereto should I perform this PPD thou speakest of?

Yersinia: TB or not TB? That is the question. Knowest thou not the answer? If not, make haste to the isolation room.



The Apothecary. Enter Will and Narcoticus.

Will: Apothecary, I require a PPD for a maid with suspected TB.

Narcoticus: TB? I know of no such disease. Dost thou mean consumption?

Will: Aye, thou art correct. And another task I have for thee: I need the nectar of that sweet rose that Cupid’s arrow hath pierced. The juice of this flower, purple with love’s wound, will inflame the soul of she who drinks of it.

Narcoticus: I have none of this juice, save a pill made to keep thy helmeted head upright if ye understands.

Will: I am well endowed and need no such device, but rather a lure for my sweet Yersinia. A kingdom I’d pay for such a potion.

Narcoticus: Yersinia? Dr. Bubonica? Thou speakest of forbidden love. Residents cannot lay lustful eyes upon medical student apprentices. ’Tis against nature’s decree, or at the least the regulations that govern these halls.

Will: I care not for such a rule—be it by nature or other powers. Words, words, words, these rules are mere words.

Narcoticus: Then perhaps thou careth to know that she be spoken for by the surgeon Brutus Thorax. Forget thy love or get thee to a nunnery. For I say it again, such love is forbidden. But soft, Dr. Thorax doth approach.

Will: Forbidden? Forbidden? And if it were forbidden? Can one forbid the fiery morning sun to rise in the morrow? Can one forbid the nightingale to fill the night with song? Can one forbid the flower to bloom or the star to shine? What could be more tragic than a future without Yersinia? What sorrow does a terminal patient’s moan know? What loneliness does the patient in the TB isolation room feel? What is suffering if it is not to be without my Yersinia?

Exit Will. Enter Dr. Brutus Thorax.

Brutus: Do mine ears deceive me or did that lowly apprentice speak the name of my fair Yersinia? Speak, Narcoticus, there is a tale to tell. You will tell all or suffer my wrath.

Exit Brutus.


Inside a Lecture Hall. Enter Merck Anthony, Will, Balthasar, Yersinia and Soothsayer.
Merck: Fellows, residents, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury generics; don’t use them. The benefits of a pill live long past its patents, but its profits inter when they expire. Hail Dr. Caesar!

Enter Dr. Cruelius Caesar.

Caesar: Run along now, Anthony, thou shall not befuddle these young minds with thy wares and prattle.

Balthasar: Oh, I am fortune’s fool! I have been deprived of a mug holder!

Soothsayer: Beware the fines of March!

Caesar: What thou speakest of? Our inspections have passed.

Yersinia: Hast thou completed thy tasks?

Will: Aye, my love, that and more. I took the liberty to relieve our service of three patients who no longer require our healing.

Yersinia: Thou speech is music to mine ears. Three fewer patients! ’Tis like waking from a dire dream, to find oneself in the comforts of a warm bed—oh dear deprived bed that I have neglected. Oh, apprentice, thou hast won my heart with your discharging valor!

Will: My dear Yersinia, let us flee this place and be a stranger to your bed no more.

Yersinia: Thy words are bold, and yet this boldness fuels my passion. How strange that within one scene I learn thy name and swoon for thy bones as if Cupid’s arrow hath stung my heart.

Enter Brutus, wielding a scalpel.

Brutus: Shakespeare, this scalpel shall have as its sheath your lecherous heart that does bewitch the bosom of my fair Yersinia.

Will: Out reflex hammer, thou art my only defense.

Will swiftly strikes Brutus’ biceps tendon, stimulating the reflex arc, which sends Brutus’ blade flying. Alas, the blade lands cruelly in Yersinia’s neck.

Yersinia: I have been struck. My life’s blood runs fast from my inky veins. I am dead, Shakespeare. A plague on both your houses, Medicine and Surgery alike. Ah, but death is sweet. At last, I rest.

Caesar: O woeful medical error!
Brutus: Oh, I have murdered my love. Though my surgeon’s garb is oft speckled with blood, never so crimson as this juice of my sweet lady. Out, out damned spot!

Enter Hubris Occupus.

Hubris: The fines of March are upon you. You did not heed the soothsayer’s warnings. The Lords of Congress have writ and proclaimed that the hours that residents may toil are thus limited. You are fined for violation.

Caesar: Cruel fate that this proclamation passes after I have already done my resident’s toil!

Will: My heart bleeds. My love is slain. And my soul can bear not this vile practice of medicine if I cannot be of service to my fair Yersinia. If I cannot serve her as an apprentice, I will shun these hospital halls. I forsake this hammer and will don in its stead the playwright’s quill and scroll. Only thus can I immortalize my fair Yersinia.

Caesar: Go not, Will. Consider thy lucrative career that you forsake. And who will serve my patients, my resident thus slain, and this proclamation thus passed?
Will: I care not for pains and problems that know no end. I will write for the ’morrow, and the words I write today shall echo in eternity and will outlive thy physicians’ daily deeds.

Farewell cruel hospital.

Farewell callous teachers.

Farewell Merck Anthony, and farewell to thy tainted wares.

Farewell Medicine. I bid thee adieu.

Exeunt. Enter Narcoticus.


Narcoticus: If we clinicians have offended, Think but this and all is mended,
That thine endless toil day and night,
Hath blurred thy senses and thy sight,
Thou have hallucinated here,
While this tale did appear,
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding than a dream,
We pray that sleep shall soon befall.
Good night, sweet dreams unto you all.

The playwrights: Simon Ahtaridis is a fourth-year medical student at Temple University, and Jaya Agrawal is a fourth-year medical student at Brown University.