WATCH: Many Great Writers Such as Shakespeare Were Sick as a Dog

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Writing a book is "a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness," George Orwell once said. The literary giant behind "1984" and "Animal Farm" was comparing his life's work to the many illnesses that plagued him from childhood to death.

And though William Shakespeare, Herman Melville and Emily Bronte may not have tied their creativity to poor health quite so explicitly, there's plenty of evidence that disease -- everything from tuberculosis to syphilis and mercury poisoning -- profoundly impacted works like "Moby Dick," "Wuthering Heights" and "Hamlet."
In a new book, "Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: The Medical Lives of Famous Writers," Dr. John J. Ross of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital looks at how disease and mood disorder may have infected the lives, creativity and words of some of the world's most beloved authors.

Ross recently sat down with Jeffrey Brown to discuss the book, including what Shakespeare's handwriting might reveal about syphilis, how the Bronte family's fatal collision with a Victorian plague made an appearance in "Jane Eyre," and old medical practices like the use of "mummy," or ground-up human flesh and bone. They also explore why readers today should even care about these old illnesses -- especially when many of them could be treated so much more effectively today. Watch the full interview above.

To get a little more of the book's flavor, keep reading. Ross summarizes of some of the more intriguing cases below.

Watch Did Shakespeare Have Syphilis? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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SOURCE: PBS
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