Simon Forman was one of the most extraordinary personalities of Elizabethan and Jacobean London. Charismatic, volatile and ambitious, he was doctor to the giants of the theatre and his 'playbook' contains the first eye-witness accounts of Shakespeare's plays. Like most doctors he was also an astrologer, reading the stars for all and sundry. Constantly on the fringes of great events and court intrigues, his name has been linked with Sir Walter Raleigh's mysterious group, 'the School of Night' and with the notorious Overbury poisoning case, in which the beautiful Countess of Essex was accused of murder. Also uncovered is Forman's private world, that of a compulsive womaniser who kept a coded diary, never fully deciphered before, a record of promiscuity as colourful as the journals of Pepys and Boswell.
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(198mm x 130mm x 16mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
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UK Kirkus Review »
Simon Forman has lived a shadowy existence in the margins of historical and literary studies for centuries now. If for no other reason, he would be important as the man who provides us with the first reliable accounts of some of Shakespeare's plays. His writings were also the source for A L Rowse's characteristically tendentious claim to have identified the Dark Lady of the Sonnets as Emilia Lanier. What Cook shows in her splendidly readable book is that Forman in fact has considerable importance in his own right. He was, in his combination of roguishness and intellectual seriousness, in his obsession with astrology and contemporary medicine, an emblematic figure of an extraordinary age. Whether he is casting horoscopes or mixing potions for his consultations - and he frequently did both simultaneously - or probing the gynaecological problems of his female patients, there is a ceaselessly inquisitive mind at work. The word 'probing' here is not accidental, for a consultation with a female patient very often didn't stop with the disposition of the stars and the requisite tinctures. As he makes abundantly clear he is often sought for, and frequently succeeded in, 'haleking' them. It is not necessary to be a master of crypto-analysis to work out what he meant. He does seem to have haleked an extraordinary number. These days he'd be struck off the medical register, assuming he'd ever got on it. Forman's London, like that of Pepys or Boswell, thrives in all its disreputableness. It shouts and dances and stinks. We are treated to an account of how Forman carefully plants sweet-smelling camomile 'near to the privy', to make the journeyings there seem less insalubrious. Cook's book is both a superb biography in its own right and a very good introduction to Elizabethan medicine, with its constant, curious cross-overs into astrology. She is perhaps unduly sympathetic to some of Rowse's clamorous assertions, and a little over-confident in her statements about the School of Night, the intellectual circle around Sir Walter Raleigh - both the name and even the existence of which remain conjectural - but these are minor faults in a highly enjoyable and richly-researched book. Review by ALAN WALL (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Judith Cook
Judith Cook spent the first part of her career as an investigative journalist. She wrote several non-fiction books on social issues, including an investigation into the death of the anti-nuclear compaigner Hilda Murrell. She was herself a political and anti-nuclear campaigner. She also wrote biographies of Daphne du Maurier and J. B. Priestley, a popular historical fiction series and theatre scripts. She later taught Elizabethan and Jacobean studies at Exeter University. She died in May 2004.