Medicine Chest


A wooden chest dating from around c.1600 .


What curious remedies did this chest once contain in its many compartments?

Among our treasures there are some everyday objects dating from Shakespeare’s lifetime, like this medicine chest. Through such items we can catch tantalizing glimpses of what fed his thoughts, ideas and imagination. By offering a real connection to Shakespeare’s life, works and times these ordinary items become extraordinary.

This is a particularly fine wooden chest, made in the late 16th century. It is inlaid with holly and black bog oak, and the lid is lined with beautiful printed wallpaper. Inside it has nine drawers, thirteen compartments, five wooden pots (two more are missing), and even a secret compartment.

It would have been used to store medicines and the ingredients to make them, and may have belonged to a lady from a wealthy household. Homemade remedies were a common feature of everyday life in Shakespeare’s time.  Helena and the Countess discuss such recipes, or ‘receipts’, in the play All’s Well That Ends Well.

As well as medicines containing ingredients such as herbs, seeds, roots, spices, nuts and wine, remedies favoured in Tudor times included using leeches to ‘bleed’ a sick person, wearing animal skins or introducing red bed hangings.

To find out more about the chest, read our post in the ‘Shakespeare’s World in 100 objects’ series on Finding Shakespeare