Sunday, May 01, 2005

Flowers of Shakespeare

Sometimes there’s a need for special kinds of floral arrangements. For example, one might be organizing a medieval or Elizabethan event and want flowers to go with the party theme. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. In some cases quite a bit is known about the kinds of flowers and plants that were commonly used for various purposes during certain historical eras.

As a jumping off point, let’s look at some of the blossoms that were widely grown and used during Shakespeare’s time. He mentioned quite a few in his various works. You could make a lovely mixed bouquet or arrangement by combining some of these different flowers. Among these are buttercup, calendula (also called pot marigold), carnations, columbine, crab apple, daffodil, daisies, the Florentine iris, honeysuckle (also known as woodbine), lilies, and various kinds of primroses and their relatives, such as the cowslip. During the Elizabethan era, people were familiar with different kinds of violets. They often referred to these as heartsease or johnny-jump-ups.

So far as roses are concerned, they were widely grown during Shakespeare’s time. Apparently this would have been one of his favorites. He does mention them about seventy times. He wrote about the musk-rose, the Provencal cabbage rose, and the eglantine or sweet-brier rose in particular. In addition, he alludes to the white rose of the House of York and the red roses that symbolized the House of Lancaster. He also makes reference to the Tudor rose—which resulted when the two roses were united to create this rose.

In addition to these blooms, Shakespeare mentioned any number of herbs that would be suitable for such arrangements. Examples include fennel, rue, thyme, lavender, savory, marjoram, mint, and wormwood.

During Shakespeare’s time, people wore garlands and chaplets of blossoms made from flowers for special occasions. They were especially popular for funerals and weddings. They symbolized grief during funerals, and joy for nuptials.

For additional details on these flowers and their use in Shakespeare's works, I refer you to a classic book, "Shakespeare's Flowers." Written by Jessica Kerr with wonderful illustrations by Anne Ophelia Dowden, this was published by Johnson Books, a division of Johnson Publishing Co. Originally published in 1969, it was reprinted in 1997. Kerr was educated at the Roedean School in England, and studied at the Royal College of Music in London. She placed all the plants within the historical context of their time. Part of the royalties from the sale of this title go to the Folger Library in Washington.DC as stipulated by the wishes of the Kerr estate. Pleaes see the link at the top of the page on the right.

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