According to an article in the February 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, Shakespeare not only suffered from syphilis but it's possible that his death was the result of treatment for the "malady of France":
To support the claims, Dr. John Ross [the study's author], of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston, points to four primary lines of evidence: the prevalence of syphilis in Shakespeare's England; the bard's interest in, and knowledge of, STDs; documentation by and about Shakespeare; and his physical appearance.
Surviving hospital records indicate that English hospitals during the mid to late 16th century were flooded with syphilis patients. In 1579, one physician wrote that 75 percent of patients were being treated for "the French pox," a reference to syphilis.
Ross wrote that Shakespeare in his works variously called syphilis "the pox," "the malady of France," "the infinite malady," "the incurable bone-ache," "the hoar leprosy," and "the good-year," which is a corruption of "goujere," a French term meaning prostitute.
Shakespeare's contemporaries, like Christopher Marlowe, rarely mention syphilis or venereal diseases in their texts, but Ross believes that many of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets contain one or more references to STDs. He counted 55 such lines in "Measure for Measure," 61 lines in "Troilus and Cressida," and 67 lines in "Timon of Athens."
He believes most of the references either describe aspects of the illness, as in the "embossed sores" from act 2 scene 7 of "As You Like It," or treatments for the diseases, particularly syphilis.
"Shakespeare had a knowledge of syphilis that was clinically exact," Ross told Discovery News.
You can read the paper's abstract here.
Next week: Clap for Homer.