Working on John Hall at The Shakespeare Centre.

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By Oscar Lake

Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1633.

Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1633.


This following post was written by fifteen-year-old Oscar Lake, who was on a work experience placement with Dr Paul Edmondson, Head of Research. He was based in Library and Archives and helping to prepare a new edition of the medical casebook of Shakespeare’s son-in-law, John Hall.

As many people in Stratford-Upon-Avon know, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is like a rabbit warren of corridors and stairs. The whole building is full of visiting students, sixteenth-century books and historical artefacts, all of which is run by a cohort of staff. People come here from across the world and there are resources that any researcher would kill for. It is truly a hive of activity, and I was lucky enough to do my work experience here.

When I was planning my work experience, the SBT didn’t even cross my mind at first. I was expecting a week in a shop or primary school in Portsmouth, where I live. As it turned out, I spent a week working on a book about John Hall, Shakespeare’s son-in-law. I also met students from Hawaii, searched a year’s worth of the Stratford Herald from 1895 for mentions of the Prince of Wales, and toured the ‘stacks’, where the rare or important books, art and items are kept safe behind bombproof doors on rows of shelves. I spent hours with a 1621 illustrated edition of Gerard’s Herball, finding plants that Hall used in his cures then writing the page numbers and useful information about them ready to be photographed for the new book.

One of the most memorable things I have done during my work experience was a session with a group of Hawaiian students on Monday. As part of their time visiting Stratford, they were given a presentation on past productions of Shakespeare plays, particularly Titus Andronicus. Afterwards, they looked at some relevant items including a Folio from the seventeenth century, stage-managers’ reports from past productions, and a copy of Hamlet translated to Klingon. Being part of this visit underlined to me the significance of the SBT, and how it is visited by people from across the world for education and research.

I have been visiting Stratford-upon-Avon my whole life, and I like to think I know it quite well. However, working here has given me a new perspective on what it is to live and work there. Although I’ve visited the Shakespeare Centre before, I’d never explored it properly, but now that I’ve spent a full working week here I can appreciate what the people there do. I’ve also seen the town in a new perspective, as someone who works here would.

My time working at the SBT has been interesting to say the least and it has shown me what is like to work at a real job. It has been an extraordinary experience which I would recommend for any student who has the opportunity to do work experience here.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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