Folk-lore of Shakespeare, by T.F. Thiselton Dyer, , at sacred-texts.com
That Shakespeare possessed an extensive knowledge of the history and superstitions associated with flowers is evident, from even only a slight perusal of his plays. Apart from the extensive use which he has made of these lovely objects of nature for the purpose of embellishing, or adding pathos to, passages here and there; he has also, with a master hand, interwoven many a little legend or superstition, thereby infusing an additional force into his writings. Thus we know with what effect he has made use of the willow in "Othello," in that touching passage where Desdemona (iv. 3), anticipating her death, relates how her mother had a maid called Barbara—
In a similar manner, Shakespeare has frequently introduced the notice of flowers with a wonderful aptness, as in the case of poor Ophelia. Those, however, desirous of gaining a good insight into Shakespeare's knowledge of flowers, as illustrated by his plays, would do well to consult Mr Ellacombe's exhaustive work on the "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," a book to which we are much indebted in the following pages, as also to Mr Biesly's "Shakspere's Garden."
Aconite. 1—This plant from the deadly virulence of its juice, which, Mr Turner says, "is of all poysones the most hastie
poysone," is compared by Shakespeare to gunpowder, as in "2 Henry IV." (iv. 4)—
It is probably, too, alluded to in the following passage in "Romeo and Juliet" (v. 1), were Romeo says—
According to Ovid, it derived its name from growing upon rock (Metam. vii. 419)—
It is probably derived from the Greek ἀκόνιτον, without a struggle, in allusion to the intensity of its poisonous qualities. Virgil 1 speaks of it, and tells us "how the aconite deceives the wretched gatherers, because often mistaken for some harmless plant. 2 The ancients fabled it as the invention of Hecate, 3 who caused the plant to spring from the foam of Cerberus, when Hercules dragged him from the gloomy regions of Pluto. Ovid pictures the stepdame as preparing a deadly potion of aconite, (Metam. i. I47)—
In hunting the ancients poisoned their arrows with this venomous plant, as "also when following their mortal brutal trade of slaughtering their fellow creatures. 4* Numerous instances are on record of the fatal results through persons eating this
plant. In the "Philosophical Transactions" (1732, vol. 38), we read of a man who was poisoned in that year, by eating some of it in a salad, instead of celery. Dr Turner mentions the case of some Frenchmen at Antwerp, who eating the shoots of this plant for masterwort, all died, with the exception of two, in forty-eight hours. The aconitum is equally pernicious to animals.
Anemone.—This favourite flower of early spring is probably alluded to in the following passage of "Venus and Adonis"—
According to Bion, it is said to have sprung from the tears that Venus wept over the body of Adonis—
Other classical writers make the anemone to be the flower of Adonis. Mr Ellacombe, 1 says that although Shakespeare does not actually name the anemone, yet the evidence is in favour of this plant. The "purple colour," he adds, is no objection, for purple in Shakespeare's time had a very wide signification, meaning almost any bright colour, just as "purpureus" had in Latin. 2
Apple.—Although Shakespeare has so frequently introduced the apple into his Plays, yet he has abstained from alluding to the extensive folk-lore associated with this favourite fruit.
Indeed, beyond mentioning some of the popular nicknames by which the apple was known in his day, little is said about it. The term apple was not originally confined to the fruit now so called, but was a generic name applied to any fruit, as
we still speak of the love-apple, pine-apple, &c." 1 So when Shakespeare ("Sonnet" xciii.), makes mention of Eve's apple, he simply means that it was some fruit that grew in Eden—
(a.) The "Apple-john," called in France deux-années or deux-ans, because it will keep two years, and considered to be in perfection when shrivelled and withered, 2 is evidently spoken of in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 3) where Falstaff says—"My skin hangs about me like an old lady's loose gown; I am withered like an old apple-john." In "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4) there is a further. allusion—"1st Drawer. What the devil hast thou brought there? apple-johns? thou knowest Sir John cannot endure an apple-john. 2nd Drawer. Mass, thou sayest true. The prince once set a dish of apple johns before him, and told him there were five more Sir Johns, and, putting off his hat, said, 'I will now take my leave of these six dry, round, old, withered knights.'" This apple, too, is well described by Phillips ("Cider," B. i.)—
In Ben Jonson's "Bartholomew Fair" (i. 1) where Little-wit encourages Quarlus to kiss his wife, he says, "she may call you an apple-john if you use this." "Here apple-john 3 evidently means a procuring John, besides the allusion to the fruit so called. 4
(b.) The "Bitter-sweet or sweeting" to which Mercutio alludes in "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 4)—"Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting; it is a most sharp sauce;" was apparently a
favourite apple, which furnished many allusions to poets. Gower in his "Confessio Amantis" (1554, fol. 174) speaks of it—
The name is "now given to an apple of no great value as a table fruit, but good as a cider apple, and for use in silk dyeing." 1
(c.) The "Crab" roasted before the fire and put into ale was a very favourite indulgence, especially at Christmas, in days gone by, and is referred to in the song of winter in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2)—
The beverage thus formed was called "Lambs-wool," and generally consisted of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crabs, or apples. It formed the ingredient of the wassail-bowl; 2 and also of the gossip's bowl 3 alluded to in "Midsummer Night's Dream" (ii. 1) where Puck says—
In Peele's "Old Wives' Tale," it is said—
And in Herrick's "Poems"—
(d.) The "Codling," spoken of by Malvolio in "Twelfth Night," (i. 5), "Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy, as a squash is before ’tis a peascod, or a codling when ’tis almost an apple,"—is not the variety now so-called, but was the popular term for an immature apple, such as would require cooking to be eaten, being derived from "coddle," to stew or boil lightly,—hence it denoted a boiling apple, an apple for coddling or boiling. 1 Mr Gifford 2 says that codling was used by our old writers for that early state of vegetation when the fruit, after shaking off the blossom, began to assume a globular and determinate form.
(e). The "Leather Coat" was the apple generally known as "the golden russeting." 3 Davy, in "2 Henry IV," (v. 3), says:—"There's a dish of leather coats for you."
(f.) The "Pippin" was formerly a common term for an apple, to which reference is made in "Hudibras Redivivus," (1705),—
In Taylor's Workes 4 (1630), we read:—
Mr Ellacombe 5 says the word "pippin" denoted an apple raised from pips and not from grafts, and "is now, and probably was in Shakespeare's time, confined to the bright-coloured long-keeping apples of which the golden pippin is the type." Justice Shallow, in "2 Henry IV," (v. 3), says:—"Nay, you shall see my orchard, where in an arbour we will eat a last year's pippin of my own graffing."
(g.) The "Pomewater" was a species of apple evidently of a juicy nature, and hence of high esteem in Shakespeare's time, for in "Love's Labour's Lost," (iv. 2), Holofernes says:—"The deer was, as you know, sanguis, in blood; ripe as the pomewater, who now hangeth like a jewel in the ear of
cœlo,—the sky, the welkin, the heaven; and anon falleth like a crab on the face of terra,—the soil, the land, the earth."
Parkinson 1 tells us the "Pomewater is an excellent, good, and great whiteish apple, full of sap or moisture, somewhat pleasant sharp, but a little bitter withal; it will not last long, the winter's frost soon causing it to rot and perish.
It appears that apples and carraways were formerly always eaten together; and it is said that they are still served up on. particular days at Trinity College, Cambridge. This practice is probably alluded to by Justice Shallow in the much disputed passage in "2 Henry IV.," (iii. 5), when he speaks of eating "a last year's pippin, with a dish of caraways." The phrase, too, seems further explained by the following quotations from Cogan's "Haven of Health," (1599). After stating the virtues of the seed, and some of its uses, he says:—"For the same purpose careway seeds are used to be made in comfits, and to be eaten with apples, and surely very good for that purpose, for all such things as breed wind would be eaten with other things that break wind." Again, in his chapter on apples, he says:—"Howbeit wee are wont to eat carrawaies or biskets, or some other kind of comfits, or seeds together with apples, thereby to breake winde ingendred by them, and surely this is a verie good way for students." Mr Ellacombe, 2 however, considers that in "the dish of carraways" mentioned by Justice Shallow, neither caraway seeds, nor cakes made of caraways, are meant; but the carraway or carraway-russet apple. Most of the commentators are in favour of one of the former explanations. Mr Dyce 3 reads caraways in the sense of comfits or confections made with caraway-seeds, and quotes from Shadwell's "Woman-Captain" the following:—"The fruit, crab-apples, sweetings, and horse-plumbs; and for confections, a few carraways in a small sawcer, as if his worship's house had been a lousie inn."
Apricot. This word, which is spelt by Shakespeare "Apricock,"
occurs in "Richard II.," (iii. 4), where the gardener says:—
And in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (iii. i), Titania gives directions:—
The spelling "Apricock," 1 is derived from the Latin præcox, or præcoquus; and it was called "the precocious tree" because it flowered and fruited earlier than the peach. The term "Apricock" is still in use in Northamptonshire.
Aspen,—According to a mediæval legend, the perpetual motion of this tree dates from its having supplied the wood of the Cross, and that its leaves have trembled ever since at the recollection of their guilt. De Quincey in his essay on "Modern Superstition" says, that this belief is co-extensive with Christendom. The following verses, 2 after telling how other trees were passed by in the choice of wood for the Cross, describe the hewing down of the aspen, and the dragging of it from the forest to Calvary—
Still when not a breeze is stirring,
When the mist sleeps on the hill,
And all other trees are moveless
Stands the aspen trembling still."
The Germans, says Mr Henderson, have a theory of their own, embodied in a little poem, which may be thus translated:—
Another legend tells us 1 that the aspen was said to have been the tree on which Judas hanged himself after the betrayal of his Master, and ever since its leaves have trembled with shame. Shakespeare twice alludes to the trembling of the aspen. In "Titus Andronicus" (ii. 4), Marcus exclaims:—
And in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4), the hostess says:—"Feel, masters, how I shake. Yea, in very truth, do I, an ’twere an aspen leaf."
Bachelor's Buttons.—This was a name given to several flowers, and perhaps in Shakespeare's time was more loosely applied to any flower in bud. It is now usually understood to be a double variety of ranunculus; according to others, the Lychnis Sylvestris; and in some counties it is applied to the Scabiosa Succisa. 2 According to Gerarde, this plant was so called from the similitude of its flowers "to the jagged cloathe buttons, anciently worne in this kingdome." It was formerly supposed by country people to have some magical effect upon the fortunes of lovers. Hence, it was customary for young people to carry its flowers in their pockets, judging of their good or bad success, in proportion as these retained or lost their freshness. It is to this sort of divination that Shakespeare probably refers in "Merry Wives of Windsor" (iii. 2) where he makes the hostess say:—"What say you to young Master Fenton? He capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth, he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May; he will carry ’t, he will carry ’t; ’tis in his buttons; he will carry ’t." Mr Warter, in one of his notes in Southey's "Common-Place Book" (1851, 4th series 244) says that this
practice was common in his time, in Shropshire and Staffordshire. The term "to wear bachelor's buttons," seems to have grown into a phrase for being unmarried. 1
Balm.—From very early times, the balm or balsam has been valued for its curative properties, and, as such, is alluded to in "Troilus and Cressida" (i. 1)—
In "3 Henry VI." (iv. 8) King Henry says 2—
Alcibiades, in "Timon of Athens" (iii. 5), says—
Macbeth, too, in the well-known passage (ii. 2), introduces it—
As the oil of consecration, 3 it is spoken of by Richard ("Richard II.," iii. 2)—
And again, in "3 Henry VI." (iii. 1), King Henry, when in disguise, speaks thus—
The origin of balsam, says Mr Ellacombe 4 "was for a long time a secret, but it is now known to have been the produce of
several gum-bearing trees, especially the pistacia lentiscus and the balsamodendron gileadense, and now, as then, the name is not strictly confined to the produce of any one plant."
Barley.—The barley broth, of which the Constable in "Henry V." (iii. 5) spoke so contemptuously as the food of English soldiers, was probably beer, 1 which long before the time of Henry was so celebrated that it gave its name to the plant (barley being simply the beer-plant)—
Bay-tree.—The withering and death of this tree were reckoned a prognostic of evil, both in ancient and modern times, a notion 2 to which Shakespeare refers in "Richard II." (ii. 4)—
—having obtained it probably from Holinshed, who says—"In this yeare, in a manner throughout all the realme of Englande, old baie trees withered." Lupton, in his "Syxt Booke of Notable Things," mentions this as a bad omen—"Neyther falling-sickness, neyther devyll, wyll infest or hurt one in that place whereas a bay-tree is. The Romaynes call it the plant of the good angel." 3
Camomile.—It was formerly imagined that this plant grew the more luxuriantly for being frequently trodden or pressed down; a notion alluded to in "1 Henry IV." (ii. 4), by Falstaff—"For though the camomile, the more it is trodden on the faster it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted the sooner it wears." Nares 4 considers that the above was evidently written in ridicule of the following passage, in a book very fashionable in Shakespeare's day, Lyly's "Euphues," of which it is a parody—"Though the camomile, the more it is trodden and pressed down, the more it spreadeth; yet the violet, the
oftener it is handled and touched, the sooner it withereth and decayeth," &c.
Clover.—According to Johnson, the "honey-stalks" in the following passage ("Titus Andronicus," iv. 4), are "clover-flowers, which contain a sweet juice." It is not uncommon for cattle to overcharge themselves with clover and die, hence the allusion by Tamora—
Columbine.—This was anciently termed "a thankless flower," and was also emblematical of forsaken lovers. It is somewhat doubtful to what Ophelia alludes in "Hamlet" (iv. 5), where she seems to address the king—
Perhaps she regarded it as symbolical of ingratitude:
Crow-flowers.—This name, which in Shakespeare's time was applied to the "ragged robin," is now used for the buttercup. It was one of the flowers that poor Ophelia wove into her garland ("Hamlet" iv. 7)—
Cuckoo-buds.—Commentators are uncertain as to what flower Shakespeare refers in "Love's Labour's Lost," (v. 2):—
Mr Miller, in his "Gardener's Dictionary," says that the flower here alluded to is the "Ranunculus Bulbosus"; but Mr Beisly, in his "Shakspere's Garden," considers it to be the "Ranunculus Ficaria," (lesser celandine), or pile-wort, as this flower appears earlier in spring, and is in bloom at the same time as the other flowers named in the song. Mr Swinfen Jervis, however, in his "Dictionary of the Language of Shakespeare" (1868), decides in favour of cowslips 1; and
[paragraph continues] Dr Prior suggests the buds of the crowfoot. At the present day the nickname cuckoo-bud is assigned to the meadow cress (cardamine pratensis).
Cuckoo-Flowers.—By this flower, Mr Beisly 1 says, the ragged robin is meant, a well-known meadow and marsh plant, with rose-coloured flowers and deeply-cut narrow segments. It blossoms at the time the cuckoo comes, hence one of its names. In "King Lear," (iv. 4), Cordelia narrates how:—
Cypress.—From the earliest times the cypress has had a mournful history, being associated with funerals and churchyards, and as such is styled by Spenser "cypress funereal."
In Quarles's "Argalus and Parthenia," (1726, bk. iii.), a knight is introduced whose
Formerly coffins were frequently made of cypress wood, a practice to which Shakespeare probably alludes in "Twelfth Night," (ii. 4), where the clown says:—"In sad cypress let me be laid. Some, however, prefer 2 understanding cypress to mean "a shroud of cyprus or cypress,"—a fine transparent stuff, similar to crape, either white or black, but more commonly the latter. 3 Douce 4 thinks that the expression "laid"
seems more applicable to a coffin than to a shroud, and also adds that the shroud is afterwards expressly mentioned by itself.
Daffodil.—The daffodil of Shakespeare is the wild daffodil which grows so abundantly in many parts of England. Perdita, in "Winter's Tale," (iv. 4), mentions a little piece of weather-lore, and tells us how—
And Autolycus in the same play (iv. 3), sings thus:—
Darnel.—This plant, like the cockle, was used in Shakespeare's day to denote any hurtful weed. Newton, 1 in his "Herbal to the Bible," says that "under the name of cockle and darnel is comprehended all vicious, noisome, and unprofitable graine, encombring and hindering good corne." Thus Cordelia, in "King Lear," (iv. 4), says:—
According to Gerarde, "darnel hurteth the eyes, and maketh them dim, if it happen either in corne for breade, or drinke." Hence, it is said, originated the old proverb, "lolio victitare,"—applied to such as were dim-sighted. Steevens considers that Pucelle in the following passage from "1 Henry VI.," (iii. 2), alludes to this property of the darnel—meaning to intimate that the corn she carried with her had produced the same effect on the guards of Rouen; otherwise they would have seen through her disguise, and defeated her stratagem:—
Date.—This fruit of the palm-tree was once a common
ingredient in all kinds of pastry, and some other dishes, and often supplied a pun for comedy, as for example, in "All's Well that End's Well" (i. 1), where Parolles says:—"Your date is better in your pie and your porridge, than in your cheek." And in "Troilus and Cressida" (i. 2):—"Ay, a minced man; and then to be baked with no date in the pye; for then the man's date's out."
Ebony.—The wood of this tree was regarded as the typical emblem of darkness—the tree itself, however, was unknown in this country in Shakespeare's time. It is mentioned in "Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 3)—
In the same play we read of "the ebon-coloured ink" (i. 1), and in "Venus and Adonis" (948), of "Death's Ebon Dart."
Elder.—This plant whilst surrounded by an extensive folklore, has from time immemorial possessed an evil reputation, and been regarded as one of bad omen. According to a popular tradition "Judas was hanged on an elder,"—a superstition mentioned by Biron in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2); and also by Ben Jonson in "Every Man Out of Humour" (iv. 4)—"He shall be your Judas, and you shall be his elder-tree to hang on." In "Piers Plowman's Vision" (1. 593–6), we are told how—
So firmly rooted was this belief in days gone by that Sir John Mandeville tells us in his travels, which he wrote in 1364, that he was actually shown the identical tree at Jerusalem, "And faste by is zit, the tree of Elder that Judas henge himself upon, for despeyr that he hadde when he solde and betrayed oure Lord." This tradition no doubt, in a great measure, helped to give it its bad fame; causing it to be spoken of as "the stinking elder." Shakespeare makes
it an emblem of grief. In "Cymbeline" (iv. 2) Arviragus says—
The Dwarf Elder 1 (Sambucus Ebulus) is said only to grow where blood has been shed either in battle or in murder. The Welsh call it "Llysan gward gwyr," or "plant of the blood of man." Shakespeare perhaps had this piece of folklore in mind when he represents Bassianus, in "Titus and Andronicus" (ii. 4), as killed at a pit beneath an elder tree—"This is the pit and this the elder tree."
Eryngoes.—These were formerly said to be strong pro-vocatives, and as such are mentioned by Falstaff in "Merry Wives of Windsor" (v. 5). "Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Green Sleeves, hail kissing comfits, and snow eryngoes." Mr Ellacombe 2 thinks that in this passage the Globe Artichoke is meant, "which is a near ally of the Eryngium, and was a favourite dish in Shakespeare's time."
Fennel.—This was generally considered as an inflammatory herb; and to eat "conger and fennel" was "to eat two high and hot things together," which was an act of libertinism. 3* Thus in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4) Falstaff says of Poins he "eats conger and fennel." Mr Beisly states 4 that fennel was used as a sauce with fish hard of digestion, being aromatic, and as the old writers term it, "hot in the third degree." One of the herbs distributed by poor Ophelia in her distraction is fennel which she offers either as a cordial or as an emblem of flattery—"There's fennel for you, and columbine."
Mr Staunton, however, considers that fennel here signifies lust, while Mr Beisly thinks its reputed property of clearing the sight is alluded to. It is more probable that it denotes
flattery; especially, as in Shakespeare's time, it was regarded emblematical of flattery. In this sense it is often quoted by old writers. In Greene's "Quip for an Upstart Courtier," we read—"Fennell I meane for flatterers." In "Phyala Lachrymarum" 1 we find—
Fern.—According to a curious notion fern-seed was supposed to possess the power of rendering persons invisible. Hence it was a most important object of superstition, being gathered mystically, especially on Midsummer Eve. It was believed at one time to have neither flower nor seed; the seed, which lay on the back of the leaf, being so small as to escape the detection of the. hasty observer. On this account, probably, proceeding on the fantastic doctrine of signatures, our ancestors derived the notion that those who could obtain and wear this invisible seed would be themselves invisible; a belief which is referred to in "1 Henry IV." (ii. 1)—
This superstition is mentioned by many old writers; a proof of its popularity in times past. It is alluded to in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Fair Maid of the Inn" (i. 1)—
Again, in Ben Jonson's "New Inn" (i. 1)—
As recently as Addison's day, we are told in the "Tatler" (No. 240), that "it was impossible to walk the streets without having an advertisement thrust into your hand of a doctor
who had arrived at the knowledge of the green and red dragon, and had discovered the female fern-seed." 1
Fig—Formerly the term fig served as a common expression of contempt, and was used to denote a thing of the least importance. Hence the popular phrase, "not to care a fig for one;" a sense in which it is sometimes used by Shakespeare, who makes Pistol say, in "Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 3), "a fico for the phrase;" and in "Henry V." (iii. 6), Pistol exclaims, "figo for thy friendship." In "Othello" (i. 3), Iago says, "Virtue! a fig."
The term, "to give or make the fig," as an expression of insult, has for many ages been very prevalent among the nations of Europe, and according to Douce 2 was known to the Romans. It consists in thrusting the thumb between two of the closed fingers, or into the mouth, a practice, as some say, 3 in allusion to a contemptuous punishment inflicted on the Milanese, by the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa in 1162, when he took their city. This, however, is altogether improbable, the real origin no doubt being a coarse w representation of a disease, to which the name of ficus or fig has always been given. 4
The "fig of Spain" spoken of in "Henry V." (iii. 6), may either allude to the poisoned fig employed in Spain as a secret way of destroying an obnoxious person, as in Webster's "White Devil" 5—
And in Shirley's "Brothers" 6—
It may, as Mr Dyce remarks, 1 simply denote contempt or insult in the sense already mentioned.
Flower-de-luce.—The common purple iris which adorns our gardens is now generally agreed upon as the fleur-de-luce, a corruption of fleur de Louis—being spelt either fleur-de-lys or fleur-de-lis. It derives its name from Louis VII., King of France, who chose this flower as his heraldic emblem when setting forth on his crusade to the Holy Land. It had already been used by the other French kings, and by the emperors of Constantinople; but it is still a matter of dispute among antiquarians as to what it was originally intended to represent. Some say a flower, some a toad, some a halbert-head. It is uncertain as to what plant is referred to by Shakespeare when he alludes to the fleur-de-luce in the following passage 2 in "2 Henry VI." (v. 1) where the Duke of York says—
In "1 Henry VI." (i. 2), Pucelle declares—
Some think the lily is meant, others the iris. For the lily theory, says Mr Ellacombe, 3 "there are the facts that Shakespeare calls it one of the lilies, and that the other way of spelling is fleur-de-lys."
Chaucer seems to connect it with the lily (C. T. Prol, 238)—
On the other hand, Spenser separates the lilies from the flower-de-lutes in his "Shepherd's Calendar;" and Ben Jonson mentions "rich carnations, flower-de-luces, lilies."
The fleur-de-lis was not always confined to royalty as a badge. Thus in the square of La Pucelle, in Rouen, there is
a statue of Jeanne D’Arc with fleur-de-lys sculptured upon it, and an inscription as follows:—
St Louis conferred upon the Chateaubriands the device of a fleur-de-lis, and the motto, "Mon sang teint les bannièrs de France." When Edward III. claimed the crown of France, in the year 1340, he quartered the ancient shield of France with the lions of England. It disappeared, however, from the English shield in the first year of the present century.
Gillifower.—This was the old name for the whole class of carnations, pinks, and sweet-williams, from the French girofle, which is itself corrupted from the Latin cariophyllum. 1 The streaked gillyflowers, says Mr Beisly, 2 noticed by Perdita in "Winter's Tale" (iv. 4)—
"are produced by the flowers of one kind being impregnated by the pollen of another kind, and this art (or law) in nature Shakspere alludes to in the delicate language used by Perdita, as well as to the practice of increasing the plants by slips." Tusser, in his "Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry," says—
Harebell.—This flower, mentioned in "Cymbeline" (iv. 2), is no doubt another name for the wild hyacinth.
Arviragus says of Imogen—
Hemlock.—In consequence of its bad and poisonous character, this plant was considered an appropriate ingredient for
witches’ broth. In "Macbeth," (iv. 1), we read of "root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark." Its scientific name, conium, is from the Greek word meaning cone or top, whose whirling motion resembles the giddiness produced on the constitution by its poisonous juice. It is by most persons supposed to be the death-drink of the Greeks, and the one by which Socrates was put to death.
Herb of Grace or Herb Grace.—A popular name in days gone by for rue. The origin of the term is uncertain. Most probably it arose from the extreme bitterness of the plant, which, as it had always borne the name rue (to be sorry for anything), was not unnaturally associated with repentance. It was, therefore, the herb of repentance, 1" and this was soon changed into 'herb of grace,' repentance being the chief sign of grace." The expression is several times used by Shakespeare. In "Richard II." (iii. 4), the gardener narrates—
In "Hamlet" (iv. 5), Ophelia, when addressing the queen, says, "There's rue for you; and here's some for me: we may call it herb-grace o’ Sundays: O, you must wear your rue with a difference." 2
Malone observes that there is no ground for supposing that rue was called "herb of grace" from its being used in exorcisms in churches on Sunday, a notion entertained by Jeremy Taylor, who says, referring to the Flagellum Dæmonum, "First, they (the Romish exorcisers) are to try the devil by holy water, incense, sulphur, rue, which from thence, as we suppose, came to be called "herb of grace." 3 Rue was also a common subject of puns, from being the
same word which signified sorrow or pity (see "Richard II." iii. 4 cited above).
Holy Thistle.—The Carduus Benedictus, called also "blessed thistle," was so named, like other plants which bear the specific name of "blessed," from its supposed power of counteracting the effect of poison. 1 Cogan, in his "Haven of Health," 1595, says, "This herbe may worthily be called Benedictus, or Omnimorbia, that is, a salve for every sore, not known to physitians of old time, but lately revealed by the special providence of almighty God." It is alluded to in "Much Ado about Nothing" (iii. 4)—
Insane Root.—There is much doubt as to what plant is meant by Banquo in "Macbeth" (i. 3)—
The origin of this passage is probably to be found in North's "Plutarch—Life of Antony," 1579 (p. 990), where mention is made of a plant which "made them out of their wits." Several plants have been suggested—the hemlock, belladonna, mandrake, henbane, &c. Douce supports the last, and cites the following passage 2:—"Henbane . . . is called insana, mad, for the use thereof is perillous; for if it be eate or dronke, it breedeth madness, or slow lykenesse of sleepe." Nares 3 quotes from Ben Jonson ("Sejanus" iii. 2), in support of hemlock—
Ivy.—It was formerly the general custom in England, as it is still in France and the Netherlands, to hang a bush of ivy at the door of a vintner. Hence the allusion in "As You Like It" (v. 4, Epilogue), where Rosalind wittingly remarks, "If it be true that good wine needs no bush, ’tis true that a good play needs no epilogue." This custom is often referred to by our old writers, as, for instance, in Nash's "Summer's Last Will and Testament; 1" 1600—
And in the "Rival Friends," 1632—
This plant was no doubt chosen from its being sacred to Bacchus. The practice was observed at statute hirings, wakes, &c., by people who sold ale at no other time. The manner, says Mr Singer, 2 in which they were decorated appears from a passage in Florio's "Italian Dictionary," in voce trcmola, "Gold foile, or thin leaves of gold or silver, namely, thinne plate, as our vintners adorn their bushes with." We may compare the old sign of "An owl in an ivy bush," which perhaps denoted the union of wisdom or prudence with conviviality, as "be merry and wise."
Kecksies.—These are the dry hollow stalks of hemlock. In "Henry V." (v. 2), Burgundy makes use of the word:—
It has been suggested 3 that kecksies may be a mistaken form of the plural kex; and that kex may have been formed from keck, something so dry that the eater would keck at it, or be unable to swallow it. The word is probably derived from the Welsh "cecys," which is applied to several plants of the umbelliferous kind. Dr Prior, 4 however, says that kecksies is from an old English word keek, or kike, retained in the northern counties in the sense of "peep" or "spy."
Knotgrass. 1—The allusion to this plant in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (iii. 2):—
refers to its supposed power of hindering the growth of any child or animal, when taken in an infusion, a notion alluded to by Beaumont and Fletcher ("Coxcombe" ii. 2):—
In "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" (ii. 2), we read:—"The child's a fatherless child, and say they should put him into a strait pair of gaskins, ’twere worse than knot-grass; he would never grow after it."
Lady Smocks.—This plant is so-called from the resemblance of its white flowers to little smocks hung out to dry ("Love's Labour's Lost" v. 2), as they used to be at that season of the year especially:—
According to another explanation, the lady's smock is a corruption of "Our Lady's Smock," so called from its first flowering about Lady-tide. This plant has also been called cuckoo-flower, because, as Gerarde says, "it flowers in April and May when the cuckoo doth begin to sing her pleasant notes without stammering."
Laurel.—From the very earliest times this classical plant has been regarded as symbolical of victory, and used for crowns. In "Titus Andronicus" (i. 1), Titus says:—
And in "Antony and Cleopatra" (v. 3), the latter exclaims:—
Leek.—The first of March is observed by the Welsh in honour of St David, their patron saint, when, as a sign of their patriotism, they wear a leek. Much doubt exists as to the origin of this custom. According to the Welsh, it is because St David ordered his Britons to place leeks in their caps, that they might be distinguished in fight from their Saxon foes. Shakespeare in "Henry V." (iv. 7), alludes to the custom when referring to the battle of Cressy. Fluellen says:—"If your majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which your majesty know to this hour is an honourable badge of the service; and I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy's Day." 1 Dr Owen Pughe 2 supposes the custom arose from the practice of every farmer contributing his leek to the common repast when they met at the Cymmortha, an association by which they reciprocated assistance in ploughing the land. Anyhow, the subject is one involved in complete uncertainty, and the various explanations given are purely conjectural (see page 284).
Lily.—Although so many pretty legends and romantic superstitions have. clustered round this sweet and favourite flower, yet they have escaped the notice of Shakespeare, who, whilst attaching to it the choicest epithets, has simply made it the type of elegance and beauty, and the symbol of purity and whiteness.
Long Purples.—This plant mentioned by Shakespeare in "Hamlet" (iv. 7) as forming part of the nosegay of poor Ophelia, is generally considered to be the early purple orchis (orchis mascula) which blossoms in April or May. It grows in meadows and pastures, and is about ten inches high. Tennyson ("A Dirge") uses the name—
Another term applied by Shakespeare to this flower was
[paragraph continues] "Dead Men's Fingers," from the pale colour and hand-like shape of the palmate tubers—
In "Flowers from Stratford-on-Avon" it is said "there can be no doubt that the wild arum is the plant alluded to by Shakespeare," but there seems no authority for this statement.
Love-in-Idleness, or, with more accuracy, Love-in-Idle, 1 is one of the many nicknames of the pansy or heart’s-ease—a term said to be still in use in Warwickshire. It occurs in "Midsummer Night's Dream" (ii. 1) 2 where Oberon says—
The phrase literally signifies love in vain, or to no purpose, as Taylor alludes to it in the following couplet:—
That flowers, and pansies especially, were used as love-philtres, 3 or for the object of casting a spell over people in Shakespeare's day, is shown in the passage already quoted, where Puck and Oberon amuse themselves at Titania's expense. Again, a further reference occurs (iv. 1) where the king removes the spell—
"It has been suggested," says Mr Aldis Wright, 3 "that the device employed by Oberon to enchant Titania by anointing her eyelids with the juice of a flower, may have been borrowed by Shakespeare from the Spanish Romance of Diana by George of Montemayor. But apart from the difficulty which arises from the fact that no English translation of this romance is known before that published by Young in 1598, there is no necessity to suppose that Shakespeare was indebted to anyone for what must have been a familiar element in all incantations at a time when a belief in witchcraft was common." Percy ("Reliques," iii. b. 2) quotes a receipt by the celebrated astrologer, Dr Dee, for "an ungent to anoynt under the eyelids, and upon the eyelids eveninge and morninge, but especially when you call," that is, upon the fairies. It consisted of a decoction of various flowers.
Mandragora or Mandrake.—No plant, perhaps, has had, at different times, a greater share of folk-lore attributed to it than the mandrake; partly owing probably to the fancied resemblance of its root to the human figure, and the accidental circumstance of man being the first syllable of the word. An inferior degree of animal life was assigned to it; and it was commonly supposed that, when torn from the ground, it uttered groans of so pernicious a character, that the person who committed the violence either went mad or died. In "2 Henry VI." (iii. 2), Suffolk says:—
And Juliet (iv. 3) speaks of—
[paragraph continues] To escape this danger, it was recommended to tie one end of a string to the plant and the other to a dog, upon whom the fatal groan would discharge its whole malignity. The ancients, it appears, were equally superstitious with regard to this mysterious plant, and Columella, in his directions for the site of gardens, says they may be formed where—
Pliny 1 informs us that those who dug up this plant paid particular attention to stand so that the wind was at their back; and before they began to dig, they made three circles round the plant with the point of the sword, and then proceeding to the west commenced digging it up. It seems to have been well known as an opiate in the time of Shakespeare, who makes Iago say in "Othello," (iii. 3):—
In "Antony and Cleopatra," (i. 5), the latter pathetically says:—
Lyte, in his translation of "Dodoens," (1578, 438), tells us that "the leaves and fruit be also dangerous, for they cause deadly sleepe, and peevish drowsiness, like opium." It was sometimes regarded as an emblem of incontinence, as in "2 Henry IV." (i. 2):—
A very diminutive figure was, too, often compared to a mandrake. In "2 Henry IV." (i. 2), Falstaff says:—
Tracing back the history of this plant into far distant times, it is generally believed that it is the same as that which the
ancient Hebrews called Dudain. 1 That these people held it in the highest esteem in the days of Jacob is evident from its having been found by Reuben, who carried the plant to his mother, and the inducement which tempted Leah to part with it, proves the value then set upon this celebrated plant. According to a curious superstition this plant was thought to possess the properties of making childless wives become mothers, and hence some suppose Rachel became so desirous of possessing the mandrakes which Reuben had found. Among the many other items of folk-lore associated with the mandrake; there is one which informs us that "it is perpetually watched over by Satan, and if it be pulled up at certain holy times, and with certain invocations, the evil spirit will appear to do the bidding of the practitioner." 2 In comparatively recent times, quacks and impostors counterfeited with the root briony figures resembling parts of the human body, which were sold to the credulous as endued with specific virtues. 3 The Germans, too, equally superstitious, formed little idols of the roots of the mandrake, which were regularly dressed every day, and consulted as oracles,—their repute being such that they were manufactured in great numbers and sold in cases. They were, also, imported into this country during the time of Henry VIII., it being pretended that they would; with the assistance of some mystic words, increase whatever money was placed near them. In order, too, to enhance the value of these so-called miracle workers, it was said that the roots of this plant were produced from the flesh of criminals which fell from the gibbet, and that it only grew in such a situation. 4
Marigold.—This flower was a great favourite with our old writers, from a curious notion that it always opened or shut its flowers at the sun's bidding; in allusion to which Perdita remarks in "Winter's Tale," (iv. 3):—
It was also said, but erroneously, to turn its flowers to the sun, a quality attributed to the sunflower (helianthus annuus), and thus described by Moore:—
A popular name for the marigold was "mary-bud," mention of which we find in "Cymbeline," (ii. 3):—
Medlar.—This fruit, which Shakespeare describes as only fit to be eaten when rotten, is applied by Lucio to a woman of loose character, as in "Measure for Measure," (iv. 3):" They would else have married me to the rotten medlar."
Chaucer, in the "Reeve's Prologue," applies the same name to it—
Mistletoe.—This plant, which from the earliest times has been an object of interest to naturalists, on account of its curious growth, deriving its subsistence entirely from the branch to which it annexes itself, has been the subject of wide-spread superstition. In "Titus Andronicus" (ii. 3), Tamora describes it in the graphic passage below as "the baleful mistletoe," an epithet which, as Mr Douce observes, is extremely appropriate either conformably to an ancient, but erroneous, opinion, that the berries of the mistletoe were poisonous; or on account of the use made of this plant by the Druids during their detestable human sacrifices. 1
Mushroom.—Besides his notice of the mushroom in the following passages, Shakespeare alludes to the fairy rings 1 which are formed by fungi, though, as Mr Ellacombe 2 points out, he probably knew little of this. In the "Tempest" (v. 1), Prospero says of the fairies—
the allusion in this passage being to the superstition that sheep will not eat the grass that grows on fairy rings.
Mustard.—Tewkesbury mustard, to which reference is made in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4), where Falstaff speaks of "wit as thick as Tewkesbury mustard," was formerly very famous. Shakespeare speaks only of its thickness, but others have celebrated its pungency. Coles, writing in 1657, says:" In Gloucestershire, about Teuxbury, they grind mustard and make it into balls, which are brought to London, and other remote places, as being the best that the world affords."
Narcissus.—The old legend attached to this flower is mentioned by Emilia in "The Two Noble Kinsmen" (ii. 1)—
Nutmeg.—A gilt nutmeg was formerly a common gift at Christmas and on other festive occasions, a notice of which occurs in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2), in the following dialogue 3—
Oak.—A crown of oak was considered by the Romans worthy of the highest emulation of statesmen and warriors.
[paragraph continues] To him who had saved the life of a Roman soldier was given a crown of oak leaves; one, indeed, which was accounted more honourable than any other. In "Coriolanus" (ii. 1), Volumnia says—"He comes the third time home with the oaken garland." And again (i. 3)—"To a cruel war I sent him; from whence he returned, his brows bound with oak." Montesquieu, indeed, said that it was with two or three hundred crowns of oak that Rome conquered the world. Although so much historical and legendary lore have clustered round the oak, yet scarcely any mention is made of this by Shakespeare. The legend of Herne the hunter, which seems to have been current at Windsor, is several times alluded to, as for instance in "Merry Wives of Windsor" (iv. 4)—
"Page. There want not many that do fear
In deep of night to walk by this Herne's oak."
Herne's Oak, so long an object of much curiosity and enthusiasm, is now no more. According to one theory, the old tree was blown down, August 31st, 1863; and a young oak was planted by Her Majesty, September 12th, 1863, to mark the spot where Herne's oak stood. 1 Mr Halliwell-Phillipps, however, tells us, "the general opinion is that it was accidentally destroyed in the year 1796, through an order of George III. to the bailiff Robinson, that all the unsightly trees in the vicinity of the castle, should be removed; an opinion confirmed by a well-established fact, that a person named Grantham, who contracted with the bailiff for the removal of the trees, fell into disgrace with the king for having included the oak in his gatherings." 2
Olive.—This plant ever famous from its association with the return of the dove to the oak, has been considered typical of peace. It was as an emblem of peace, that a garland of olive was given to Judith when she restored peace to the
[paragraph continues] Israelites by the death of Holofernes (Judith xv. i3). It was equally honoured by Greeks and Romans. It is, too, in this sense, that Shakespeare speaks of it when he makes Viola in "Twelfth Night" (i. 5), say—"I bring no overture of war, no taxation of homage; I hold the olive in my hand, my words are as full of peace as matter." In his "Sonnet" (cvii.), here are too those well-known lines 1—
Palm.—As the symbol of victory, this was carried before the conqueror in triumphal processions. Its classical use is noticed by Shakespeare in "Coriolanus" (v. 3). Volumnia says 2—
In "Julius Cæsar" (i. 2), Cassius exclaims—
Pilgrims were formerly called "palmers," from the staff or bough of palm they were wont to carry. So in "All's Well That End's Well" (iii. 5), Helena asks—
Pear.—In his few notices of the pear, Shakespeare only mentions two by name, the warden and the poperin—the former was chiefly used for roasting or baking, and is mentioned by the clown in the "Winter's Tale" (iv. 3)—
Hence, Ben Jonson makes a pun upon Church-Warden pie's. According to some antiquarians, the name warden is from the Anglo-Saxon wearden, to preserve, as it keeps for a long time; but it is more probable that the word had its origin
from the horticultural skill of the Cistercian monks of Wardon Abbey, in Bedfordshire, founded in the twelfth century. Three warden pears appeared on the armorial bearings of the Abbey. 1 It is noticeable that the warden pies of Shakespeare's day, coloured with saffron, have been replaced by stewed pears coloured with cochineal.
The Poperin.—This pear was probably introduced from Flanders by the Antiquary Leland, who was made rector of Popering, by Henry VIII. It is alluded to by Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 1), where he wishes that Romeo were "a poperin pear." In the old dramas there is much attempt at wit on this pear.
Peas.—A practice called "peascod wooing" was formerly a common mode of divination in love affairs. The cook, when shelling green peas, would, if she chanced to find a pod having nine, lay it on the lintel of the kitchen door, and the first man who entered was supposed to be her future husband. Another way of divination by peascod consisted in the lover selecting one growing on the stem, snatching it away quickly, and if the good omen of the peas remaining in the husk were preserved, in then presenting it to the lady of his choice. Touchstone in "As You Like It" (ii. 4), alludes to this piece of popular suggestion:—"I remember the wooing of a peascod 2 instead of her." Gay, who has carefully chronicled many a custom of his time, says in his "Fourth Pastoral":—
We may quote as a further illustration the following stanza from Browne's "Pastorals" (Bk. ii., song 3).
Plantain.—The leaves of this plant were carefully valued by our forefathers for their supposed efficacy in healing wounds, &c. It was also considered as a preventive of poison. And to this supposed virtue we find an allusion in "Romeo and Juliet"(i. 2):—
In the "Two Noble Kinsmen" (i. 2), Palamon says:—
Poppy.—The plant referred to by Shakespeare in "Othello" (iii. 3), is the opium poppy, well known in his day for its deadly qualities. It is described by Spencer, "Faerie Queene" (ii. 7, 52), as the "dead-sleeping poppy," and Drayton ("Nymphal" v.), enumerates it among the flowers that procure "deadly sleeping."
Potato.—It is curious enough, says Nares 2 to find that excellent root which now forms a regular portion of the daily nutriment of every individual, and is the chief or entire support of multitudes in Ireland, spoken of continually as having some powerful effect upon the human frame, in exciting the desires and passions—yet this is the case in all the writings contemporary with Shakespeare. Thus Falstaff in "Merry Wives of Windsor" (v. 5) says:—"Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Green Sleeves, hail kissing comfits," &c. In "Troilus and Cressida" (v. 2) Thersites adds:—"How the devil Luxury with his fat rump and potato finger, tickles these together." 3 It appears, too, that the medical writers of the times countenanced this fancy. Mr Ellacombe 4 observes that the above passages are of peculiar interest inasmuch as they contain almost the
earliest notice of potatoes after their introduction into England.
Primrose.—Although the early primrose has always been such a popular and favourite flower, yet it seems to have been associated with sadness, 1 or even worse than sadness; for in the following passages the "primrose paths," and "primrose way," are meant to be suggestive of sinful pleasures. Thus in "Hamlet" (i. 3), Ophelia says:—
And in "Macbeth" (ii. 3), the porter declares:—
Curious to say, too, Shakespeare's only epithets for this fair flower are "pale," "faint," "that die unmarried." Nearly all the poets of that time spoke of it in the same strain, with the exception of Ben Jonson and the two Fletchers.
Reed—Among the uses to which the reed was formerly applied were the thatching of houses, and the making of shepherds’ pipes. The former is alluded to in the "Tempest" (v. i.):—"His tears run down his beard, like winter's drops from eaves of reeds"; and the latter in "Merchant of Venice" (iii. 4), where Portia speaks of "a reed voice." It has generally been regarded as the emblem of weakness, as in "Antony and Cleopatra" (ii. 7)—"A reed that will do me no service."
Rose.—As might be expected, the rose is the flower most frequently mentioned by Shakespeare; denoting. in many cases the symbol of all that is fair and lovely. Thus, for instance, in "Hamlet" (iii. 4), the queen says
And Ophelia (iii. i), describes Hamlet as—
[paragraph continues] In days gone by the rose entered largely into the customs and superstitions of most nations, and even now-a-days there is an extensive folklore associated with it.
It appears that in Shakspeare's time one of the fashions of the day was the wearing of enormous roses on the shoes, of which full-length portraits afford striking examples. 1 Hamlet (iii. 2) speaks "of two provincial roses on his razed shoes."—meaning, no doubt, rosettes of ribbon in the shape of roses of Provins or Provence. Douce favours the former, Warton the latter locality. In either case it was a large rose. The Province or damask rose, was probably the better known. Gerarde in his "Herbal," says that the damask rose is called by some "Rosa provincialis." 2 Mr Fairholt 3 quotes from Friar Bacon's Prophecy, 1604, the following in allusion to this fashion:—
Again, in King John (i. 1), where the Bastard alludes to the three-farthing silver pieces of Queen Elizabeth, which were extremely thin, and had the profile of the sovereign, with a rose on the back of her head, there doubtless is a fuller reference to the court fashion of sticking roses in the ear:— 4
Shakspeare also mentions the use of the rose in rose-cakes and rose-water, the former in "Romeo and Juliet" (v. r), where Romeo speaks of "old cakes of roses," the latter in "Taming the Shrew" (induction, sc. 1):—
Referring to its historical lore, we may mention its famous connection with the "Wars of the Roses." In the fatal dispute in the Temple Gardens, Somerset, on the part of Lancaster, says, ("1 Henry VI." ii. 3):—
Warwick, on the part of York, replies:—
The trailing white dog-rose is commonly considered to have been the one chosen by the house of York. A writer however, in the "Quarterly Review" (vol. cxiv.), has shown that the white rose has a very ancient interest for Englishmen, as, long before the brawl in the Temple Gardens, the flower had been connected with one of the most ancient names of our island. The elder Pliny, in discussing the etymology of the word Albion, suggests that the land may have been so named from the white roses which abounded in it. The York and Lancaster rose, with its pale striped flowers, is a variety of the French rose known as Rosa Gallica. It became famous when the two emblematical roses, in the persons of Henry VII. and Elizabeth of York at last brought peace and happiness to the country which had been so long divided by internal warfare. The canker rose referred to by Shakspeare is the wild dog rose, a name occasionally applied to the common red poppy.
Rosemary.—This plant was formerly in very high esteem, and was devoted to various uses. It was supposed to strengthen the memory, hence it was regarded as a symbol of remembrance, and on this account was often given to friends. Thus, in "Hamlet" (iv. 5), where Ophelia seems to be addressing Laertes, she says:—
In the "Winter's Tale" (iv. 4), rosemary and rue are beautifully put together:—
[paragraph continues] Besides being used at weddings, it was also in request at funerals, probably for its odour, and as a token of remembrance of the deceased. Thus the Friar in "Romeo and Juliet" (iv. 5) says:—
This practice is thus touchingly alluded to by Gay in his "Pastorals"—
Rosemary, too, was one of the evergreens with which dishes were anciently garnished during the season of Christmas, an allusion to which occurs in "Pericles" (iv. 6)—"Marry, come up my dish of chastity, with rosemary and bays."
Rush.—Before the introduction of carpets, the floors of churches and houses were strewed with rushes, a custom to which Shakespeare makes several allusions. In "Taming of the Shrew" (iv. i.) Grumio asks—"Is supper ready, the house trimmed, rushes strewed, cobwebs swept;" and Glendower in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 1) says—
At the coronation of Henry V. ("2 Henry IV.," v. 5) when the procession is coming, the grooms cry, "More rushes, more rushes," which seems to have been the usual cry for rushes to be scattered on a pavement or a platform when a procession was approaching. 2 Again, in "Richard II." (i. 3) the custom is further alluded to by John of Gaunt, who speaks of the presence strew’d," referring to the presence chamber. So, too, in "Cymbeline" (ii. 2), Iachimo soliloquizes—
[paragraph continues] And in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 4) Romeo says—
—an expression which Middleton has borrowed in his "Blunt Master Constable," 1602—
In the "Two Noble Kinsmen" (ii. 1) the gaoler's daughter is represented carrying "strewings" for the two prisoners’ chamber.
Rush-bearings were a sort of rural festival, when the parishioners brought rushes to strew the church. 1
The "rush-ring" appears to have been a kind of token for plighting of troth among rustic lovers. It was afterwards vilely used, however, for mock marriages, as appears from one of the Constitutions of Salisbury. In "All's Well that Ends Well" (ii. 2) there seems a covert allusion to the rush-ring—
Spenser, in the "Shepherd's Kalendar," speaks of—
Du Breul, in his "Antiquities of Paris," 2 mentions the rush-ring as "a kind of espousal used in France by such persons as meant to live together in a state of concubinage; but in England it was scarcely ever practised except by designing men, for the purpose of corrupting those young women to whom they pretended love."
The "rush candle," which in times past was found in nearly every house, and served as a night-light for the rich and candle for the poor, is mentioned in "Taming of the Shrew" (iv. 5)—
Saffron.—In the following passage ("All's Well that Ends Well," iv. 5) there seems to be an allusion 3 by Lafeu to the
fashionable and fantastic custom of wearing yellow, and to that of colouring paste with saffron:—"No, no, no, your son was misled with a snipt-taffeta fellow, whose villanous saffron would have made all the unbaked and doughy youth of a nation in his colour."
Spear-grass.—This plant—perhaps the common reed—is noticed in "1 Henry IV." (ii. 4) as used for tickling the nose and making it bleed. In Lupton's "Notable Things" it is mentioned as part of a medical recipe—"Whoever is tormented with sciatica or the hip gout, let them take an herb called spear-grass, and stamp it and lay a little thereof upon the grief." Mr Ellacombe 1 thinks that the plant alluded to is the common couch grass, (Triticum repens), which is still known in the Eastern Counties as spear-grass.
Stover.—This word, which is often found in the writings of Shakespeare's day, denotes fodder and provision of all sorts for cattle. In Cambridgeshire, stover signifies hay made of coarse rank grass, such as even cows will not eat while it is green. In the "Tempest" (iv. 1) Iris says—
According to Steevens, stover was used as a thatch for cart-lodges and other buildings that required but cheap coverings.
Strawberry.—Shakespeare's mention of the strawberry in connection with the nettle in "Henry V." (i. 1):—
deserves, says Mr. Ellacombe, a passing note. "It was the common opinion in his day that plants were affected by the neighbourhood of other plants to such an extent that they imbibed each other's virtues and faults. Thus sweet flowers were planted near fruit trees with the idea of improving the flavour of the fruit, and evil-smelling trees, like the elder, were carefully cleared away from fruit trees, lest they should be tainted. But the strawberry was supposed to be an exception to the rule, and was said to thrive in the midst of 'evil communications without being corrupted.'"
Thorns.—The popular tradition which represents the marks on the moon 1 to be that of a man carrying a thorn-bush on his head, is alluded to in "Midsummer Night's Dream" (v. 1) in the prologue: "This man, with lanthorn, dog, and bush of thorn, presenteth Moonshine." Little else is mentioned by Shakespeare with regard to thorns, save that they are generally used by him as the emblems of desolation and trouble.
Violets.—An old superstition is alluded to by Shakespeare, when he makes Laertes wish that violets may spring from the grave of Ophelia ("Hamlet" v. 1):—
an idea which occurs in Persius's "Satires" (i. 39)
The violet has generally been associated with early death. This, Mr Ellacombe considers 2 "may have arisen from a sort of pity for flowers that were only allowed to see the opening year, and were cut off before the first beauty of summer had come, and so were looked upon as apt emblems of those who enjoyed the bright springtide of life and no more." Thus, the violet is one of the flowers which Marina carries to hang "as a chaplet on the grave" in "Pericles" (iv. 1):—
Again, in that exquisite passage in the "Winter's Tale" (iv. 4), where Perdita enumerates the flowers of spring, she speaks of:—
[paragraph continues] Upon which Mr Singer 1 thus comments:—"The eyes of Juno were as remarkable as those of Pallas, and:—
The beauties of Greece and other Asiatic nations tinged their eyes of an obscure violet colour, by means of some unguent, which was doubtless perfumed like those for the hair, etc., mentioned by Athenæus.
Willow.—From time immemorial the willow has been regarded as the symbol of sadness. Hence it was customary for those who were forsaken in love, to wear willow garlands—a practice to which Shakespeare gives several allusions. In "Othello" (iv. 3), Desdemona, anticipating her death, says:—
The following is the song 2:—
And further on Emilia says (v. 2):—
[paragraph continues] And, again, Lorenzo, in "Merchant of Venice" (v. 1), narrates:—
It was, too, in reference to this custom that Shakespeare in "Hamlet" (iv. 7), represented poor Ophelia hanging her flowers on the "willow aslaunt a brook." "This tree," says Douce 1 "might have been chosen as the symbol of sadness from the cxxxvii. Psalm (verse 2)—'We hanged our harps upon the willows;' or else from a coincidence between the weeping-willow and falling tears." Another reason has been assigned. The agnus castus was supposed to promote chastity, and "the willow being of a much like nature," says Swan, in his "Speculum Mundi," 1635, "it is yet a custom that he which is deprived of his love must wear a willow garland." Bona, the sister of the King of France, on receiving news of Edward the Fourth's marriage with Elizabeth Grey, exclaimed, "In hope he'll prove a widower shortly, I'll wear a willow garland for his sake."
Wormwood.—The use of this plant in weaning infants is alluded to in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 3) by Juliet's nurse in the following passage—
Yew.—This tree styled by Shakespeare "the dismal yew" ("Titus and Andronicus," ii. 3) apart from the many superstitions associated with it, has been very frequently planted in churchyards, besides being used at funerals. Paris in "Romeo and Juliet" (v. 3) says—
Although various reasons have been assigned for planting the yew tree in churchyards, it seems probable that the practice had a superstitious origin. As witches were supposed to exercise a powerful influence over the winds, they were believed occasionally to exert their formidable power against religious edifices. Thus Macbeth says (iv. i)—
To counteract, therefore, this imaginary danger, our ancestors may have planted the yew tree in their churchyards—not only on account of its vitality as an evergreen, but as connected, in some way in heathen times, with the influence of evil powers. 1 In a statute made in the latter part of Edward the First's reign, to prevent rectors from cutting down trees in churchyards, we find the following: "Verum arbores ipsæ, propter ventorum impetus ne ecclesiis noceant, sœpe plantantur." 2
The custom of sticking yew in the shroud is alluded to in the following song in "Twelfth Night" (ii. 4)—
Through being reckoned poisonous, it is introduced in "Macbeth" (iv. 1), in connection with the witches—
"How much the splitting or tearing off of the slip had to do with magic we learn from a piece of Slavonic folk-lore. It is unlucky to use for a beam, a branch, or a tree, broken by the wind. The devil, or storm spirit, claims it as his own, and, were it used, the evil spirit would haunt the house. It is a broken branch the witches choose; a sliver’d slip the woodman will have none of." 3
Its epithet, "double fatal" "Richard II." (iii. 2), no doubt refers to the poisonous quality of the leaves, and on account
of its wood being employed for instruments of death. Sir Stephen Scroop, when telling Richard of Bolingbroke's revolt, declares that "the very beadsmen learn to bend their bows of double-fatal yew against thy state."
It has been suggested that the poison intended by the Ghost in "Hamlet" (i. 5), when he speaks of the juice of cursed ebenon is that of the yew, and is the same as Marlowe's "juice of hebon" ("Jew of Malta," iii. 4). The yew is called hebon by Spenser, and by other writers of Shakespeare's age; and, in its various forms of eben, eiben, hiben, etc., this tree is so named in no less than five different European languages. From medical authorities, both of ancient and modern times, it would seem that the juice of the yew is a rapidly fatal poison; next, that the symptoms attendant upon yew poisoning correspond, in a very remarkable manner, with those which follow the bites of poisonous snakes; and lastly, that no other poison but the yew produces the "lazar-like" ulcerations on the body, upon which Shakespeare, in this passage, lays so much stress. 1
Amongst the other explanations of this passage, is the well-known one which identifies "hebenon" with henbane. Mr Beisly suggests that nightshade may be meant, while Nares considers that ebony is meant. 2
From certain ancient statutes it appears that every Englishman, while archery was practised, was obliged to keep in his house either a bow of yew or some other wood. 3
190:1 Aconitum napellus, Wolf's-bane or Monk's-hood.
191:1 "Miseros fallunt aconita legentes" (Georgic, ii. 152).
191:2 See Ellacombe's "Plant Lore of Shakespeare," 1878, pp. 7, 8.
191:3 Dr Prior's "Popular Names of British Plants," 1870, pp. 1, 2.
191:4 Phillips "Flora Historica," 1829, ii. pp. 122, 128.
192:1 "Plant Lore of Shakespeare," pp. 10, 11.
192:2 Phillips, "Flora Historica," 1829, i. p. 104.
193:1 Ellacombe's "Plant Lore of Shakespeare," p. 13.
193:2 Dyce's "Glossary to Shakespeare," p. 15.
193:3 See Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 29, probably synonymous with the term "Apple-Squire," which formerly signified a pimp.
193:4 Forby, in his "Vocabulary of East Anglia," says of this Apple, "we retain the name, but whether we mean the same variety of fruit which was so called in Shakespeare's time, it is not possible to ascertain."
194:1 Ellacombe's "Plant Lore of Shakespeare," p. 16; Dyce's "Glossary," p. 430; Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 81; Coles's "Latin and English Dictionary." "A bitter-suete [apple]—Amari-mellum."
194:2 See chapter XI., Customs connected with the Calendar.
194:3 See chapter on Customs connected with Birth and Baptism.
194:4 Edited by Dyce, 1861, p. 446. Many fanciful derivations for this word have been thought of, but it was no doubt named from its smoothness and softness, resembling the wool of lambs.
195:1 Dr Prior's "Popular Names of British Plants," 1870, p. 50.
195:2 Note on "Jonson's Works," iv. p. 24.
195:3 Dyce's "Glossary," p. 242.
195:4 Quoted by Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 662.
195:5 "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," p. 16.
196:1 "Theatrum Botanicum," 1640.
196:2 "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," pp. 17, 37.
196:3 "Glossary," pp. 65, 66.
197:1 See "Notes and Queries," i. s. ii. p. 420.
197:2 See Henderson's "Folk-Lore of Northern Counties," 1879, pp. 151, 152.
198:1 Napier's "Folk-Lore of West of Scotland," 1879, p. 124.
198:2 Dr Prior's "Popular Names of British Plants," p. 13.
199:1 Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 45.
199:2 See "Richard III.," i. 2; "Timon of Athens," iii. 5.
199:3 See "2 Henry IV.," iv. 5.
199:4 "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," p. 22.
200:1 Ellacombe's "Plant-lore of Shakespeare," p. 23.
200:2 See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 32.
200:3 See also Evelyn's "Sylva," 1776, p. 396.
200:4 "Glossary," i. p. 150. See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 63.
201:1 See Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 212.
202:1 "Shakspere's Garden," p. 343.
202:2 See "Winter's Tale," (iv. 4):—
Its transparency is alluded to in "Twelfth Night," (iii. 1):—
202:3 See Dyce's "Glossary," 1872, p. 113.
202:4 Douce's "Illustrations of Shakespeare," 1839, p. 56. See Mr Gough's "Introduction to Sepulchral Monuments," p. lxvi.; also Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 221.
203:1 See Dr Prior's "Pop. Names of British Plants," 1870, p. 63.
205:1 "Flower Lore," p. 35.
205:2 "Plant Lore of Shakespeare," p. 66.
205:3 Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 302; Dyce's "Glossary," p. 159.
205:4 "Shakspere's Garden," p. 158.
206:1 Quoted in Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 303.
207:1 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, i. pp. 314–316.
207:2 "Illustrations of Shakespeare," pp. 302–8.
207:3 See Nares’ "Glossary," i. 305.
207:4 See Gifford's note on "Jonson's Works," i. p. 52; Dyce's "Glossary," p. 161; Du Cange's "Glossary;" Connelly's "Spanish and English Dictionary," 4to.
207:5 Edited by Dyce, 1857, p. 30.
207:6 Edited by Gifford and Dyce, i. p. 231.
208:1 "Glossary," p. 161.
208:2 See "Winter's Tale," iv. 3; "Henry V.," v. 2; "1 Henry VI.," i. 1.
208:3 "Plant-lore of Shakespeare," p. 73.
209:1 Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 363.
209:2 "Shakspere's Garden," p. 82. See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 184.
210:1 Ellacombe's "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," p. 204; Prior's "Popular Names of British Plants," 1870, p. 111.
210:2 Cf. "All's Well that Ends Well," iv. 5; "Antony and Cleopatra," iv. 2; "Romeo and Juliet," ii. 3, where Friar Laurence says" In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will."
210:3 "A Dissuasive from Popery," pt. i., chap. ii. sec. 9; see Dyce's "Glossary," p. 371.
211:1 Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 464.
211:2 Batman "Uppon Bartholomæus de Propriet. rerum," lib. xvii. chap. 87.
211:3 "Glossary," i. p. 465.
212:1 See Hotten's "History of Sign Boards."
212:2 "Shakespeare," iii. p. 112.
212:3 See Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 482.
212:4 "Popular Names of British Plants," 1879, p. 128.
213:1 Polygonum Aviculare.
213:2 See "3 Henry VI." iv. 6; "Troilus and Cressida," i. 3.
214:1 See "Henry V." iv. 1.
214:2 "Cambrian Biography," 3803, p. 86; see Brand's "Popular Antiquities," 3849, i. pp. 302–108.
215:1 See Dr Prior's "Popular Names of British Plants," 1870, p. 339.
215:2 Cf. "Taming of the Shrew," i. 3.
215:3 Cf. what Egeus says (i. 1) when speaking of Lysander—
216:1 Dian's bud is the bud of the agnus castus, or chaste tree. "The virtue this herbe is, that he will kepe man and woman chaste." "Macer's Herbal," 1527.
216:2 Cupid's flower, another name for the pansy.
216:3 Notes to "A Midsummer Night's Dream," 1877. Preface p. xx.
217:1 "Natural History," book xxv. chap. 94.
218:1 Phillips’ "Flora Historica," 1829, i. pp. 324, 325. See Smith's "Dictionary of the Bible," 1869, ii. p. 1777.
218:2 "Mystic Trees and Flowers," by M. D. Conway; "Fraser's Mag.," 1870, ii. p. 705.
218:3 Singer's "Shakespeare," 1875, v. p. 153.
218:4 See Sir Thomas Browne's "Vulgar Errors," 1852, ii. p. 6.
219:1 "Illustrations of Shakspeare," p. 386.
220:1 See page 15.
220:2 "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," p. 131.
220:3 Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 612.
221:1 See "Windsor Guide," p. 5.
221:2 See "Notes and Queries," 3d Series, xii. p. 160.
222:1 "3 Henry VI.," iv. 6; "Timon of Athens," v. 4; "Antony and Cleopatra," iv. 6; "2 Henry IV.," iv. 4.
222:2 See "As You Like It," iii. 2; "Timon of Athens," v. i; Cf. "Henry VIII.," iv. 2.
223:1 See "Archæological Journal," v. p. 301.
223:2 The cod was what we now call the pod.
223:3 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, ii. p. 99.
224:1 See "Love's Labour's Lost," iii. 1.
224:2 "Glossary," ii. p. 677.
224:3 See Beaumont & Fletcher, "Elder Brother," iv. 4; Massinger, "New Way to Pay," ii. 2; Ben Jonson, "Cynthia's Revels," ii. 1, etc.
224:4 "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," p. 173.
225:1 Ellacombe, "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," p. 179.
226:1 Singer's "Shakspeare," 1875, ix. p. 227.
226:2 "Hamlet," Wright and Clarke, 1876, p. 579.
226:3 "Costume in England," p. 238. At p. 579 the author gives several instances of the extravagances to which this fashion led.
226:4 Some gallants had their ears bored, and wore their mistresses' silken shoe-strings in them. See Singer's notes, iv. 257.
228:1 Dyce's "Glossary," p. 373.
229:1 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, ii. pp. 13, 14.
229:2 Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare," 1839, p. 194.
229:3 Dyce's "Glossary," p. 381.
230:1 "Plant Lore of Shakespeare," p. 319.
231:1 See p. 65.
231:2 "Plant-Lore of Shakespeare," p. 248.
232:1 "Shakespeare," iv. p. 76.
232:2 "The old ballad on which Shakespeare formed this song is given in Percy's 'Reliques of Ancient Poetry' (1794, i. p. 208), from a copy in the Pepysian collection. A different version of it may be seen in Chappell's 'Popular Music of the Olden Time' (2d edition, i. p. 207). The original ditty is the lamentation of a lover for the inconstancy of his mistress."—Dyce's "Shakespeare," vii. p. 450.
233:1 "Illustrations of Shakspeare," p. 105.
234:1 Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare," p. 244.
234:2 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, ii. pp. 255–266
234:3 "Notes and Queries," 5th S. xii. p. 468.
235:1 Extract of a paper read by Rev. W. A. Harrison—New Shakespeare Society, 12th May 1882.
235:2 See Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare;" Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 412; Beisly's "Shakspere's Garden," p. 4.
235:3 Singer's "Shakespeare," iv. p. 427. See a paper in the "Antiquary" (1882, vi. p.33), by Mr George Black, on the yew in Shakespearian folk-lore.