As part of a semester-long celebration of Shakespeare at Yale, the Medical Historical library is exhibiting a selection of English medical works from Shakespeare’s time period. These works describe medical topics that appeared in Shakespeare’s plays, highlighting the interplay between medicine and drama. This exhibit highlights themes from Shakespeare's works, such as plague, midwifery, domestic medicine, herbals, astrological medicine, surgery, and other medical topics from the time period.
Medical and astrological texts England, 1553

I

Astrological medicine - The author (or authors) of this manuscript was keenly interested in how astrology affected a person’s body. The text describes how signs of the zodiac predisposed a person to different types of illness and disease. There is … Continue reading

Thomas Cogan (1545?-1607)

II

Medicine and Health - Although most medical texts were written in Latin, the language of learned men, there was a growing market for guides to health written in English in Elizabethan London. These guides offered dietary advice, treatments for a … Continue reading

John Hall (1575-1635)

III

Shakespeare and medicine in the family - John Hall, a physician, married Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna. Some historians suggest that Shakespeare gained some of his medical knowledge from Hall. However, according to a chronology of Shakespeare’s medical references plotted against a … Continue reading

Nicolás Monardes (ca. 1512-1588)

IV

Herbals - Herbals were one source of therapeutic information to turn to for physicians, midwives, and women at home treating families and friends. With new plant discoveries coming from the Americas, and increasing knowledge of the uses of plants in … Continue reading

William Clowes (ca. 1540-1604)

V

Surgery and Anatomy - Surgery was considered a trade in Elizabethan London. Surgeons were trained through apprenticeship for several years, and then usually licensed through a guild. Surgeons like William Clowes and Thomas Gale treated the outside of a person’s … Continue reading

Thomas Raynalde (fl.1539–1552)

VI

Midwifery - The Byrth of Mankynde, otherwyse named the Womans Booke was one of the earliest English books on pregnancy and childbirth. It was based on Eucharius Rösslin’s Der swangern Frawen und hebammen Rosegarten, and originally translated into English by … Continue reading

Plague Orders Advice

VII

Plague and Melancholy - In 1578, England’s Privy Council established its Plague Orders, which remained in place virtually unchanged until 1666. The Orders, administered not by physicians but by local justices of the peace, called for the enforcement of certain … Continue reading