How gross can you go? Health, wellbeing and medicine were a little different in Shakespeare's time, though you may be surprised to find some interesting similarities. In celebration of Shakespeare Week please join guest curator, Martin Brown, Horrible Histories illustrator on a tour of medical mayhem.


A note from our Guest Curator, Horrible Histories illustrator, Martin Brown


"I am called the illustrator of the Horrible Histories - and I guess I am. I do draw the pictures for the books - which makes me the illustrator - but really, what I do is cartooning. Right from the start, my job was to write gags (jokes) and draw cartoons about history. Not to illustrate it accurately.

"That’s not to say I never draw realistically. Some things are best drawn that way - buildings, everyday objects, ships, trains and planes, and things you don’t want to make a joke about. A cartoon of Henry VIII looks more like Henry VIII with every added exaggeration. But a cartoon of the Colosseum very quickly looks less Colosseum-like the more cartoony it gets.

"Besides, there’s not much point in me merely showing a scene from history that already exists. I want to add something - a joke, a twist, a different spin on the topic. It’s my comment on history. So inevitably, some accuracy is lost. But, like with any editorial cartoon, I hope the exaggeration or pun or plain silliness hints at a broader truth or fresh angle. A plague doctor’s herb-filled beak looks bizarre to us - so an enormous beak would be utterly ridiculous. As today’s ICU doctor’s PPE seemed just a few months ago.

"In the Horrible Histories I often find myself pointing out that the oddities of the past are only strange because we adapt to change so quickly. How did you talk to your friends before mobile phones? How did you check cinema times before the internet? Or how did you protect yourself from disease before germs were discovered? What this fascinating exhibition of medicine in Shakespeare’s time reminds me is that what looks so outlandish, so brutal, so primitive to us was normal, fair and modern to them.

"So please forgive me if my historical accuracy is less than perfect. My aim is not to show you history in all its original context but to help you see it as something closer to home. And to get a cheap laugh of course. L P Hartley said 'The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.' He might have more simply said, 'The past is funny'."