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Migraine treated by Shakespeare’s son-in-law, Dr John Hall
  1. J M S Pearce
  1. 304 Beverley Road, Analby, Hull HU10 7BG, UK;

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    The name of Dr John Hall is familiar to students of Shakespeare, but less known by medical biographers. He was born c. 1575 and died in 1635,1 an eminent Stratford physician and herbalist.2,3

    Early descriptions of migraine in Greco Roman times are well known.4 In De Capitis Passione, Caelius Aurelianus, born in AD 400 in Algeria, described hemicrania, although the term is not encountered in English texts until 1597 (OED). After Caelius Aurelianus little was written until 1672 in Thomas Willis’s Two discourses concerning the soul of brutes (De anima brutorum),5 where he distinguished different headache types.

    An interesting account of migraine and its treatment in his time is included in Hall’s much earlier notebook published in 1644, as Select observations on English bodies, or cures both empericall and historicall performed upon very eminent persons in desperate diseases1:

    “Observation XXIII. Good-Wife Bessie aged 40, who once a month (yea sometimes twice or thrice) was grievously pained on the right side of her Head, which often ended with vomiting, and in her Fit could neither walk nor stand: was cured thus: First, she took this Vomit; R/the vomiting Infusion ozs i. This wrought six times. For the next day was provided the following pills: R/Pil de Succin. drachms ii. Cephal Fernel. Drachms i. F. Pil N xv. She took three of them before supper, every day till they were spent. After I cause a Vein to be opened to ozs vi. After she took the Decoction: R/Sarsaparilla ozs iv. Water lbx. being sliced, let them infuse for twenty four hours, after boyl them till half be wasted, strain it. Dose a draught morning and night, when she went to bed. For ordinary Drink, she took the second Decoction, which was made of the same Wood, adding lbxv of Water, boyling it without infusion till the third part be wasted”.

    How much the contribution of Hall influenced the medical content of Shakespeare’s writing remains a fascinating source of conjecture.6