Shakespeare Anniversary/”Nursing”

Today marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Shakespeare provides us with the earliest attestation of the word nurse as denoting one who provides health care to the sick, which appears in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors (ca. 1590s): “I will attend my husband, be his nurse, Diet his sicknesse, for it is my Office” (V.i.99).

The wife as nurse (and the advantage of marriage as engaging a live-in nurse) is also apparent in the Duchess of Newcastle’s Matrimonial Trouble (1662), which contends, “That he might do [i.e., marry], if it were for no other reason, but for a Nurse to tend him, if he should chance to be sick.”

To mark this Shakespeare anniversary, the Wellcome Library’s blog comments on “Shakespeare’s Medical World”:



One thought on “Shakespeare Anniversary/”Nursing”

  1. Conversely, one might consider the nurse as other-mother, as is the case in *Romeo and Juliet.* In the period in which the play is set, it was common to send children to live with wet-nurses, sometimes for as long as two years. The historian Christiane Klapisch-Zuber has surveyed wet-nurse contracts from the period, and analyzes the data she found. For a more literary approach, the novel *Juliet’s Nurse* (Simon & Schuster 2014) imagines the 14 years leading up to the event in Shakespeare’s play, from the point of view of the nurse. Although she isn’t a nurse in the medical sense, depictions of pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, plague, etc. in the novel–and of course of the death of the nurse’s own infant and ultimately of Juliet’s suicide–provide insight into the intersections of religious, cultural, and medical beliefs in the era.

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