10th Jul, 2020

Shakespeare's son-in-law's medical casebook revealed

THE MEDICAL treatments of Shakespeare’s son-in-law physician John Hall are detailed in the first English translation of his revealing casebook.

‘John Hall, Master of Physicke: A casebook from Shakespeare’s Stratford’ was written by the late Dr Greg Wells and details nearly 200 of Hall’s cases between 1611 and 1635.

The cases were directly translated from Hall’s 131-page personal manuscript, written in Latin, titled A Little Book of Cures.

It has been published by Manchester University Press in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust which looks after the Shakespeare family homes including Hall’s Croft where the physician lived with wife Susanna.

From the casebook, it is clear Hall was treating people at all levels of society in Stratford and within a 20-mile radius. They included aristocrats such as the Earl of Northampton and the godson of Queen Elizabeth I for ‘desperate quinsy’ – or a throat abscess – and later pleurisy – a lung condition.

He records treating glove-maker Robert Butler for kidney stones and Mrs Archer, a malt dealer, for loss of speech and facial convulsions.

Although there is no reference to him treating Shakespeare himself, Hall detailed treatments of family members including his wife and their daughter Elizabeth – Shakespeare’s only grandchild.

Dr Wells also reveals the conversations Hall had with his patients – his prayers for their recovery and his thanksgivings for their cures.

Referring to Richard Wilmore of Budbrooke, who the physician treated for ‘astonishing worms’ when Wilmore was 14, Hall wrote: ‘I saw him in passing two years later and asked whether he ever felt any corrosion of the stomach or passed worms. He replied that he had been free of all pain and torment since that time. Praise God’.

References to other medical books Hall borrowed from were discovered by Dr Wells in the original manuscript, indicating the physician was a well-read scholar with a significant library of books, most from continental Europe.

Hall was among just a third of physicians outside of London with a Master of Arts, and although he did not have a medical degree, he could still practice.

The trust’s head of research Dr Paul Edmondson, who edited the book, said: “Greg believed that John Hall was a significant figure in the history of medicine even without the Shakespeare connection, because physicians’ records from the early 17th century are rare. In this ground-breaking work, Hall emerges as a compassionate scholar physician who treated all levels of society.

“Greg discovers the previously unnoticed conversations that Hall had with his patients, which show the ongoing sense of his pastoral sensitivities and expertise.

“And through close examination of the Latin, he also identified Hall’s many borrowings from other medical textbooks, which offer a unique insight into the intellectual climate of early 17th century Stratford-upon-Avon.”

The book, published on February 7, costs £20 and proceeds from sales will support the trust’s work.

Visit manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk to pre-order.

* Dr Edmonson will give a talk on the work of Dr John Hall on Saturday February 8, from 5.30pm to 7pm, at Hall’s Croft in Old Town.

Visit www.shakespeare.org.uk for more details.

 

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