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Simon Forman, a Late Sixteenth-Century Magical Practitioner

Introduction

Several medical practitioners have risen with various unique events surrounding their lives, but none, at least in London, has been as controversial as Dr. Simon Forman. This man was involved in astrology, physiology, herbals and their interconnection with witchcraft also called polypharmacy.In addition, he did botched anatomy and other numerous events that accompanied his life. Of great memory is his diary in which he recorded various writings (Rowse, p. 23). Apart from his medical works, Forman was also an admirer of theatre; he gave a long account of some William Shakespeare performances and could be named in many plays. This paper will attempt to investigate Simon Forman’s life, his works and their relevance in the contemporary world as well as the times of his life.

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Simon Forman

Simon Forman was an Occultist of Elizabethan during his time, as if this was inadequate; he was also a substitute healthcare practitioner and did his works in the city of London. Various writers described him in different ways as most did not believe in his practices, some referring to him as a quack practitioner. This was because he used to prescribe portions that were considered dangerous to their users. In fact his reputation was greatly damaged when he was accused of killing (Daston, pp. 97-110).His controversies never ended as he spent some part of his life behind bars. In spite of all these, he stayed in London and was considered brave given the trials he faced (Williams, pp. 383-401). During his stay in London, an epidemic had broken out and while all the other physicians had left the town in fear of infection and death as the eventuality, he remained and rescued both himself and some victims. This act made him famous in the region and has since been remembered for this bravery.

During his time, he was considered the most popular occultist of all time and this did not stop here as he was also considered one of the most active herbalists and astrologists of his time in London. These events took place in the times of James I and Queen Elizabeth I. Other writers like Hawthorne and Overbury among others classified him as a fool, a magician that was associated with evil and was thought to be in the similar league with the devil (Duden, p. 87). This man was thus surrounded by many complex events that seemed to touch on other people’s lives. His consultants and clients numbered thousands per year although he kept his distance from the elite physicians of the time. He bravely came up with medical ideas that poised the other party as his direct enemies and challengers.

Life history

Forman was a British born on 30th December 1552 in a place called Quid Hampton located near Salisbury in Wiltshire. He did his primary schooling in the area of birth and dropped out when his father passed on. This happened when he was just nine years old and the impact of the loss was so great that he had to part with schooling. This brought him in contact with a local merchant called Mathew Common who traded in salt, herbal medicine and clothes (Crisciani 297-324). Clearly it was during this time when he stayed with Commin that he learned herbal use in human life. He apprenticed for the merchant although this did not continue for long as he clashed with Common’s wife and had to be terminated from his apprentice. With sufferings on his shoulders once again, he went to stay with his cousins in Oxford. Oxford was a good place for his development since it is in this place that he studied medicine and astrology for one and a half years at Magdalen College.

He then proceeded with his medicinal and astrological studies in Holland, eventually moving on to work as a teacher and at the same time studying occult arts. This was between 1570s and 80s. Later in 1583, Forman, moved by the desire to be a physician went back to London and started this practice. This is when he survived the plague for two consecutive years, saving the lives of other people as well. The event put his reputation on global scale as many people referred to him for their problems. It is still at this moment that he is believed to have taken a serious shot at occult studies which led to the establishment of his first alternative medical center in Billingsgate.

At billingsgate, he provided astrological approach to various illnesses, and kept numerous detailed casebooks that entailed his clients’ questions on varied topics of their lives, including issues touching on pregnancy, marriage possibilities, careers and stolen goods among others. It is at the very office that he was able to accomplish two activities largely associated with different professionals are; being a surgeon and a physician as well (Condrau, pp. 525-540). This provoked the company of Baber surgeons who tried and successfully managed to ban him from practicing, they did because they believed no one could perform the same tasks at the same time. Besides, one of his patients had died and this put him behind bars for some time.

Following a contentious battle for supremacy between him and the company of Barber surgeons, he finally succeeded in getting another license to practice surgery from Cambridge University, and that was in 1603. Forman continued his practice and wedded a seventeen-year-old woman who had been renting his house in Lambeth, having lost his beloved in 1597. Forman had considerable attraction to sexual activity and is said to have closed on almost every woman he ever encountered (Entralgo, p. 26). Even though he got married, he still felt like having other women and didn’t see marriage as making any difference in his life apart from the fact that he had a relatively inexperienced young girl as his mistress.

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Something worth noting is the correct prediction of his death in 1611 on River Thames, informing his wife of his expected death which was to happen on Thursday of 1st September 1611. The week was full of drama as his wife thought he had been making a fool of her, even satirizing his mention of death as he was not sick during the first 4 days of the week. Sure enough, just by to his prediction he died on Thursday, collapsing while trying to say that he was an impost (Risse, pp. 183-205).Later, with the help of Forman’s female patients Anne Tuner and Frances Howard, he was suspected of having murdered Overbury.The latter’s lawyers clearly indicated that the potion he had given to Lady Essex was the one used to kill Overbury (Beier, p. 56). The Judge at the time describe him as a Devil Forman and this greatly impacted his reputation that was already hanging in the balance due to his controversial activities.

Overbury had died in 1613 while in jail where he was placed for refusing to become British ambassador to Russia and was well known as the advisor to Robert Carr, another man famous for being the darling of court. The insinuation was that Forman had negatively corrupted the minds of the two ladies implicated in the murder of Overbury by aiding them in producing impotent earl of Essex. This was mainly because lady Essex had loved Carr and wanted to be with him which Overbury was against and being the advisor, he had an upper hand in deciding whether Essex would be taken or not. On realizing this, Essex had no option but to kill him (Warner, pp. 101-111). This was well planned and it eventually soiled reputation of the dead man as well as caused further charges on Turner. Other descriptions given to Forman included, ‘Impudent impostor’, a reference given to him by the College of physicians and also an ‘Oracle Forman’ given to him by dramatist Jonson.

During his times he had written several papers and these have been used although they have also been subject to further scrutiny and criticism by his peers and other practitioners. It can well be said that his attempt to successfully practice his magic was not as successful as he desired (Porter, pp. 175-198). Other failures that associated his career included his famous attempt to make the philosophers’ stone, which was a heavy failure incurring great losses on him. His records that cover occult experiences and experiments, his love for Shakespeare and even his sex life formed a great picture of life in the Town of London during late 1600s and early 1700s.

Simon Forman’s life can be described as more a mundane. To some he was a successful physician, having lived in the times of William Shakespeare. Much of his studies were based on self-learning. He was considered the first of physicians to keep records of information relating to his patients (Traister, pp. 88). His experience in medical literature was varied albeit his readings were not critically based as shown from his activities. He loved practical experiments in his works and was keen to evaluate the effectiveness of the procedures he conducted as well as the diagnostic ways involved. He was usually careful in his observations and regularly used his casebooks to refer to his activities. Other activities credited to him, were his ways of learning new ideas as well as the meticulous notes he had written.

Works

Forman’s papers have been used in studying periods of historical culture. They have been found to be unique and odd to this date and posed several challenges to the cultural world. Some of these papers include some notes that are biblical and others are relevant historically. Examples of these papers include several autobiographies and guides to astrology among others. In his collections, he also notes the nature of his disputes with the currently known Royal College of physicians formerly the company of Barber-Surgeons (Jewson, pp. 225-244). Despite the fact that Forman had co many manuscripts, the only pamphlet that was printed was the one that was bogus and in which he tried to define the longitude at sea. Most of his manuscripts mentioned his relations with the patients, their questions, astronomy, mathematics, and any subject that was of great interest to him as well as the practice of magic (Sturdy, pp. 659-689).

The conclusions that Forman came up with were rejected by other physicians as they did not rhyme with the accepted codes of practice at the time. For instance, while the practices at that time allowed reliance on uroscopy, which involves the use of samples from urine in diagnosing some kinds of illnesses, he completely opposed the method. His treatment options were considered conservative and in any event malfunction hence would less likely cause damage. During this period, there was very little separation between mental and emotional illness, so he wrote dissertation on depression. His approach to medicine, like his peers, relied majorly on Galenic theory of humoral (Forrester, pp. 1-25). This he combined with his theory on herbs and paracelsian theory. His reliance on astrology was not only in view of making prognoses from diagnoses, but also to drive his daily life (Fissell, pp. 92-109).This was complemented by the fact that he was experienced in magical sigils and did some good work on the same. His works included engraved metals that people wore so that they may not be attacked by evil spirits and illness. In addition it was believed that by wearing these engraved metals they could land to a good destiny or get some good fortunes. His experiments were more likened to those of John Dee, who was one of the most talented mathematicians of his time and also an astrologer to Queen Elizabeth. This is where he tried to summon the magical spirits believing that he had succeeded which is still subject to debate.

His Lucrative activities in London were fueled by the bravery that led him to stay even when the plague consumed people’s lives. Even after this, as expected, the college of Physicians could still not accept him into their congregation as they expected him to leave the City as they did during the epidemic. Since they had the mandate to license all practitioners in the Town (Pomata, pp. 105-146), they refuted allowing Forman to practice although he was able to get another license from Cambridge. Instead of guaranteeing licenses, the college of physicians was quite rampant with censorship deals on practitioners. Nonetheless many practitioners kept working without any license (Kassell, p. 56). They especially had difficulty allowing the most notorious or successful practitioners in the field. This was sad as they knowingly blocked development in the health sector.

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They had identified Forman very early in his medicinal career. He faced several counts of imprisonment but remained intact in London facing his adversaries with a brave heart and an open mind. This came in handy for him in 1603, when the University of Cambridge offered him a license that ensured he continued his practice. The college continued with their pursuit of him with several notable harassments but this time he was not found behind bars over this.

Generally, the man was hardworking, committed to his profession and astute in his works. He was also considered blessed as his manners made him very attractive even though his appearance was nothing to go by (Sawyer, p. 112). It can be said that this, won him an opportunity with several patients as well as sexual conquests. In most cases the same people would regularly contact him and remain his loyal customers, examples are the two women who were implicated in the murder of Overbury (MacDonald, p. 67). His chain of private diaries contains the entire case notes of these clients and sex conquests; it is in this that he is believed to have coined the word ‘halek’ to mean sexual intercourse. His stay in London which had angered the college of physicians took place during two outbreaks that worsened his relationships with the college. They had wanted to be credited with teaching every physician, which was not the case with Forman as he was self-taught. Eventually, they forced him with examinations which, from the look of it, had very little connection with his ability to practice and fitness.

Forman also worked outside medicine, he was so enthusiastic about the theatre events of his lifetime. These included the wonderful performance from William Shakespeare and plays of Johnson (Stowe, p. 67). According to Judith cook, Forman had an astonishing litigiousness, furthering on that he lived in a world that faced great challenges of intrigues, threats, violence and higher mortality rates. She points out that Forman’s great fears lay on the likelihood of infidelity by the woman, being, and one who loved romance in his time.

Among his works was the book of plays in which he describes the four main plays he had witnessed and what he had drawn from them. Among the four plays are three confirmed Shakespeare’s performances done on the theater in 1610 and 1611 respectively and one that is still of doubt if it was really from Shakespeare. This included Macbeth which was performed at the globe theatre and the winter’s Tale also at the same place (Park, pp. 347-367). The other was Cymbeline whose stage was unnamed as well as the date of its performance. Much debate has been on the authenticity of the book since its existence and many skeptics have always associated the book of plays to John Payne’s forgeries as he proclaimed himself to have discovered it in 1836.

Suspicion has majorly been raised based on the odd content entailed in the book. Richard II said that another play thought to no one had ever heard a play with such a name. Furthermore the thought of Kings Men performing a Richard II which was originally done by Shakespeare was quite astonishing. Also the description given in Macbeth was the more startling especially to those who had the knowledge of Jacobean dramaturgy as it talked of characters riding. These have caused skeptics to doubt the credibility and authenticity of the book (Kassell, pp. 3-18). They especially take the riding as a proof of what is unknown and are very clear that there must have been forgery by Payne. Although this has been an open way of pinning Payne to his works of forgery, the psychological content of the work has been suggesting the negative, and this has put skeptics at bay, at least for now until they find another proof.

Just the fact that, Forman, known for his canning ways and worldly operations, can be portrayed as one who on a different time-line takes his time to draw morals out of plays is quite cynical and has struck many skeptics as a false psychology because in this case he would be considered a successful con-man. This is quite unlike him and brings forth the question of authenticity of the book, if indeed it was not forged (Tannenbaum, p. 89). This idea is still of great focus and scholars are trying to establish the progress in this book of play and to redress the doubts accompanying it. Other suspicious issues have concerned the spelling used in the book. This is evident in the vagaries of the content of the book and points to the earlier forgeries associated with William Ireland and his comical extravagances on faux-Elizabethan (Duncan-Jones xii-xiii).

More debate has been raised concerning the arguments in the book that relate to paleographic arguments. This has been based on its handwriting and was done by Samuel Tannenbaum in the 1930s although his claims were disproved by other people. The book has generally been accepted to form part of the school of thought despite the skepticism associated with it (Trevor-Roper, p. 112). Other works of Simon Forman included alchemy in which he wrote, among others, about ‘of the Division of Chaos’, a poem he wrote during his time in his many manuscripts.

Significance

It is thought that Forman was attracted to literary circles due to the knowledge he had of Shakespeare’s performance and the famous poet Emilia Lanier (the topmost candidate with high probability of becoming Shakespeare’s Dark lady).These manuscripts have been used and are still exploited by the modern scholars in their quest for the exposure of private lives of the Jacobean and Elizabethans. Several books have been written of him and a lot of critical analyses of his manuscripts are still ongoing to fairly establish his theories and lines of thought in the cultural history. Among the scholars on his work is Rowse A. L. and others (King, p. 34). Of important relation to the modern medicinal objectives is Forman’s persistence even in his expensive failures. This can be related to the current fight to find the cure for diseases like cancer, hepatitis B and HIV Aids, which are very expensive to research and study. Even though they have not been ascertained, persistence is very critical in these subjects and Forman, provides that example.

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Summary

Forman was born in 1552 in Quidhampton, which is a town near Salisbury. He is considered one of the most exciting Physicians in history, with his unique and exceptional skills in magic sigils, tactics in physic , astrological observations, and works in writings of the manuscripts, alchemy, witchcraft and divine means as suggested by his persistence. He lived in a setting full of intrigues, and violence among others, under harassment from the college of Physicians as he was self-taught practitioner who was hardworking, very observant and experiment oriented (Marks, p. 34). His roles were multiple and this compounded his arguments with the college of physicians. He read far and wide and even wrote widely on every aspect that touched his life. His practice was heavily criticized by skeptics and his peers who considered him inhuman in the manner that he dealt with people.

His career can be described as rather successful, although he faced various trying moments of expensive failures. His love for romance played a big role in his life and he always tried to get closer to his female clients. His description of sex life in some of his manuscripts is a clear show of this (Nance, p. 24). In general, He was committed to his work and participated in lots of activities outside medicine, especially his writings on the performances of William Shakespeare and Richard II. He died on Thursday after dinner, in September of the year 1611, leaving his young wife Baker.

Conclusion

Several books have been written about Simon Forman, and they have different views of him because of his controversies. While some writers consider him successful, others cling that him as bogus and as just another quack. With much being said about him, it is worth noting that his manuscripts have been very essential in understanding the various aspects of his life in relation to the contemporary world (Armstrong, pp. 739-744). His commitment to his work and varied medical literature review are some of the aspects worth noting. It is also quite imperative to take into account that , although there were many skeptics of his activities, he has contributed greatly to the understanding of Shakespeare’s four performances, medicine, learning of astrology, magic sigils and witchcraft.

Works Cited

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