Susanna, Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, was afflicted with a rather painful
stomach condition, she was able to seek treatment very close to home. Her
husband, John Hall was a physician whose practice extended as far as Worcester
and who was well-respected. Doctors from this period are popularly
characterised as using leeches for everything, often bleeding a patient so much
that their health worsened. Hall was more progressive. He was less inclined
that most to resort to blood-letting, instead using mixtures and compounds of
herbs in various forms to minister to the sick. He was especially noted for his
use of purgatives (laxatives), and emetics (drugs to induce vomiting) being
once described by someone who had benefited from such treatment as ‘most
excellent in that art’ [Lady Tyrrell writing to Lady Temple; Ackroyd, p. 427].
How Hall treated his patients is a matter of record, as his case notes, originally written in Latin, were translated and published by the Warwickshire surgeon James Cooke. Sadly, there is no record of Hall’s treating his father-in-law, William – although he undoubtedly would have done – perhaps because there was another volume of the notes which is now lost [Lane, 2004, pp. 623-4]
What we do have is an entry in the case notes in which Hall describes treating his wife, Susanna. It seems she was struck down by a rather bad bout of stomach ache. The notes describe her as ‘miserably tormented with the Colic’ which suggests abdominal spasms. Hall first gave her an enema, then called a clyster, made of substances familiar to us today, rhubarb and senna, which were held together by a mixture of oil of rue and milk. This provided only temporary relief and, as Hall recorded, after the treatment, she was still in pain. Hall then treated her with a second enema, this time ‘a Pint of Sack made hot.’ Essentially, this means he heated up a pint of white fortified wine (think of it as a cheap sweet sherry). This had the desired effect of relieving her pain, though in a rather noisy way. Hall described the treatment as bringing ‘forth a great deal of Wind.’
Peter. 2005. Shakespeare: The Biography.
London: Chatto & Windus. [Reading Room 25/]
John & James Cooke. 1657. Select
Observations on English Bodies. London: John Sherley [SR – 97.8/]
Joan. 1996. John Hall and his Patients.
SUA: SBT Alan Sutton [97.8/LAN]
Joan. 2004. ‘John Hall’, Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography, Vol 24, Oxford: OUP [Reading Room 93.1]
Samuel. 1977. William Shakespeare: A
Compact Documentary Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press. [Reading Room 25/SCH]