Welcome to Episode #013 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

I believe that if you want to understand Shakespeare’s plays, then understanding the life of William Shakespeare, the man, is essential. This podcast is designed to help you explore early modern England as Shakespeare would have lived it by interviewing the historians, performers, authors, and experts that know him best.

Barbara Traister is the author of The Notorious Astrological Physician of London, and Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in English Renaissance Drama, as well as former Professor of English at Lehigh University. She joins us today to look at some of Shakespeare’s examples of medicine depicted in his plays and explore where Shakespeare got it right, and some of the hidden messages we can discover in the text by understanding the realities of astrology and 17th century medicine.

Join the conversation below.

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Barbara Traister is a powerful writer and expert historian into medicine, astrology, and physicians in early modern England, having spent the last twenty years dedicated to the study of Simon Forman, the Notorious Physician during Shakespeare’s lifetime. She writes about the literature of 16th and 17th century Britain, particularly about Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Barbara has a PhD from Yale University and has held fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Folger Shakespeare Library, among several others. She has been a scholar in residence at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and at the Medical College of Pennsylvania where she also taught courses in medical literature for a number of years. Her publications include Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in English Renaissance Drama (Missouri), The Notorious Astrological Physician of London (Chicago), Anonymity in Early Modern England (co-edited with Janet Starner for Ashgate) and numerous articles on early modern drama, medicine, and magic.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Barbara about :

  • What kinds of doctors existed in the 16th and 17th century?
  • What role did astrology play in time keeping and individuals knowing how often to take their medicine?
  • Why were people accepting, even respectful and trusting of doctors who mixed herbal medicine, but suspicious of witches by accusing them of mixing potions?
  • What was the relationship between the 4 humors and the more bizarre practices of medicine like bloodletting?

Books Barbara Recommends:

Gail Pastor, former Head of Folger Shakespeare Library, Humoring The Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage and Leaky Women

Weird Treatments and day-to-day life of Elizabethan physicians:
Lauren Castle, Cambridge Project, The Casebooks Project




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