Rodrigo López (physician)

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Rodrigo Lopez, whose original name is thought to have been Rodrigo Lopes, (c. 1525 – 7 June 1594) was a Portuguese physician, who served Queen Elizabeth, and may have been an inspiration for Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

Life and career[edit]

He was born in Crato, Portugal and raised as a New Christian. He was driven away from Portugal by the Portuguese Inquisition and was known to be 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. He developed a large practice among powerful people, including Robert Dudley and Francis Walsingham. A 1584 libellous pamphlet attacking Dudley suggested that Lopez distilled poisons for Dudley and other noblemen as well. In 1586, Lopez reached the pinnacle of his profession; he was made physician-in-chief to Queen Elizabeth. Lopez 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 practising Protestant.

In October 1593, Lopez 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, Prior of Crato began to come to light. Subsequently, Robert Devereux accused Lopez of conspiring with Spanish emissaries to poison the Queen. Lopez was arrested on 1 January 1594, convicted in February, and subsequently hanged, drawn and quartered on 7 June.

The Queen herself was uncertain of his guilt and delayed his execution. Lopez maintained his innocence and his true conversion from Judaism to Christianity. According to the 16th-century historian William Camden, just before Lopez 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 Lopez and his trial to have been an influence on William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.[1] "Many Shakespearean scholars believe Dr. Lopez was the prototype for Shylock,"[2] which is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. There is also a mention of Lopez in the posthumously published text of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, comparing him to the titular hero: "Doctor Lopus was never such a doctor!" This reference was presumably added after Marlowe's death in 1593.[3]


  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. ISBN 0393050572. 
  3. ^ "The past-tense allusion to him suggests that in its present form this scene must be post-Marlovian." Michael Keefer (ed.), Doctor Faustus: A 1604 Version Edition, 2nd edition, Broadview Editions, 2007, p. 150

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