Shakespeare in Stratford and London: Ten Eyewitnesses Who Saw Nothing - Part 6
by Ramon L. Jiménez
Our fifth eyewitness is Dr. James Cooke, a surgeon from Warwick who was responsible for the publication of John Hall’s casebook. Although he was about twenty years younger than Hall, Cooke was acquainted with him from the time they had both attended the Earl of Warwick and his family. In the 1640s a Parliamentary army was contending with the army of Charles I in a civil war that would end with Charles’ defeat, and eventual beheading in 1649. Both royalists and rebels occupied Stratford-upon-Avon on different occasions. In 1644 Dr. Cooke was attached to a Parliamentary army unit assigned to guard the famous Clopton Bridge over the Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon. At this date Dr. John Hall had been dead nine years and, according to Cooke, he and a friend decided to visit Hall’s widow Susanna “to see the books left by Mr. Hall” (Joseph 105).
When they arrived at New Place and met Susanna, Cooke asked if her husband had left any books or papers that he might see. When she brought them out, Cooke noticed two manuscript notebooks handwritten in a Latin script that he recognized as Dr. Hall’s. Susanna was confident that it wasn’t her husband’s handwriting, but when Dr. Cooke insisted, she agreed to sell him the manuscripts, and he carried them away with great satisfaction.
He eventually translated one of the notebooks, added some cases of his own, and published it in 1657 under a very long title that is commonly shortened to Select Observations on English Bodies. On the title page John Hall is described as a “Physician, living at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, where he was very famous” (Joseph 104). In his introduction to the book, Cooke described his visit with Susanna, during which neither of them referred to her supposedly famous father, nor to any books or manuscripts that might have belonged to him. In fact, from Dr. Cooke’s report of the meeting, neither Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna nor the doctor himself was aware of any literary activity by the William Shakespeare who had lived in the very house they were standing in.
As is well known, William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon mentioned no books, papers, or manuscripts in his will. After certain specific bequests, he left the rest of his goods and “household stuffe” to his daughter and her husband, John Hall. In contrast, Dr. Hall referred in his will to “my study of books” and “my manuscripts,” and left them to his own son-in-law Thomas Nash (Lane 350).
Joseph, Harriet: Shakespeare’s Son-in-Law: John Hall, Man and Physician Hamden, CT:
Archon Books, 1964.
Lane, Joan: John Hall and his Patients. Stratford-upon-Avon: The Shakespeare
Birthplace Trust, 1996.