Cover image for The notorious astrological physician of London : works and days of Simon Forman
The notorious astrological physician of London : works and days of Simon Forman
Traister, Barbara Howard.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xviii, 250 pages ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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R489.F585 T73 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Quack, conjurer, sex fiend, murderer--Simon Forman has been called all these things, and worse, ever since he was implicated (two years after his death) in the Overbury poisoning scandal that rocked the court of King James. But as Barbara Traister shows in this fascinating book, Forman's own unpublished manuscripts--considered here in their entirety for the first time--paint a quite different picture of the works and days of this notorious astrological physician of London.

Although he received no formal medical education, Forman built a thriving practice. His success rankled the College of Physicians of London, who hounded Forman with fines and jail terms for nearly two decades. In addition to detailing case histories of his medical practice--the first such records known from London--as well as his run-ins with the College, Forman's manuscripts cover a wide variety of other matters, from astrology and alchemy to gardening and the theater. His autobiographical writings are among the earliest English examples of their genre and display an abiding passion for reworking his personal history in the best possible light, even though they show little evidence that Forman ever intended to publish them.

Fantastic as many of Forman's manuscripts are, it is their more mundane aspects that make them such a priceless record of what daily life was like for ordinary inhabitants of Shakespeare's London. Forman's descriptions of the stench of a privy, the paralyzed limbs of a child, a lost bitch dog with a velvet collar all offer tantalizing glimpses of a world that seems at once very far away and intimately familiar. Anyone who wants to reclaim that world will enjoy this book.

Author Notes

Barbara Howard Traister is a professor of English at Lehigh University. She is the author of Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in Early Renaissance Drama .

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Simon Forman was a self-taught physician, astrologer, and practitioner of black magic who was able to practice medicine in 16th-century England despite persecution by the Royal College of Physicians. Traister (English, Lehigh Univ.) uses Forman's manuscripts to paint a colorful image of his life and of society in Shakespeare's London. We hear of various maladies and their cures as well as Forman's use of spells and predictions of the future. We see Forman building his practice and struggling to raise himself in society, and we learn how he thought his patients and peers viewed him. Traister's view is more positive than A.L. Rowse's in Sex and Society in Shakespeare's Age: Simon Forman the Astrologer (1974. o.p.), the only other recent book on Forman. Recommended for large academic collections.DEric D. Albright, Duke Univ. Medical Ctr. Lib., Durham, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 A Self-Conscious Life
2 Medical Theories: A Physician Evolves
3 Forman's London Practice
4 Troubles with the College of Physicians
5 Forman's Occultism
6 Forman and His Books
7 Forman in Society
8 Forman and Public Events