The garden of the Bard’s daughter to be recreated, focusing on the plants and herbs she and her husband used as medicines, and often referenced in Shakespeare's plays.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia offers rosemary to boost memory, while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck pours the juice of “love-in-idleness” on to the sleeping eyelids of Titania, making her “madly dote” on Bottom wearing an ass’s head.
The magical power of herbs and flowers that Shakespeare recognised is now inspiring the recreation of a 17th-century herbal garden in the historic 1613 house, Hall's Croft, that his daughter Susanna shared with her husband, John Hall, a physician who is believed to have advised his father-in-law on medical ailments.
Documentary evidence shows that the vast majority of Hall’s patients were women, and the herb garden at his home, Hall’s Croft in Stratford-upon-Avon, will be filled with the sort of plants that he used in treating them. The site is overseen by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which is collaborating with the University of Brighton on a major research project focusing on Susanna.
As part of their research, they are drawing on Hall’s 400-year-old medical casebook which was recently translated from Latin into English. Between 1611 and 1635, he recorded symptoms and treatments for 178 cases.
Hall, who was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge, emerges from its pages as a compassionate scholar-physician.
The project is headed by Dr Ailsa Grant Ferguson, principal lecturer in literature at the University of Brighton. “We’re going to create a garden with the plants that were actually used for women’s health, particularly reproductive health, looking at how that was treated and how we might treat it now,” she told the Observer.
Grant Ferguson wants to discover whether, like other physicians’ wives at the time, Susanna would have helped her husband in preparing remedies or even administering medications herself – like Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well, who cures the king with medicines learned through her late father, an apothecary.
The garden will open to the public next year.