Living in Shakespeare’s World

If you live in Britain or listen to the BBC World Service you have probably heard the popular Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs in which guests imagine being shipwrecked and choose only eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item to keep them company. An article in The Guardian newspaper this week suggested that if Shakespeare were a guest on the show he would take a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with him. Perhaps anticipating the most likely request, the castaways are already gifted with the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare certainly borrowed from Ovid; for example the story of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or a simile referencing Actaeon’s fate [torn apart by his hounds after spying a nude Diana] in Twelfth Night. There are countless other examples. Feel free to chime in with more!

Knowing your Latin was certainly a helpful tool for living an early modern life. On Shakespeare’s World I regularly see Ovid popping up in the manuscripts. Our transcribers can note any Latin aphorisms or musings they come across by using the Talk feature. They often see probatum est : it has been proved after a tested recipe, or some witty wisdom copied from Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and so forth, scrawled on a letter. Quotes from Cicero even appear before a collection of recipes for fruit conserves in one manuscript. The Latin below translates as all that is false falls quickly like blossoms.

flowers

Folger Shakespeare Library: V.a.364

Here’s a pater noster : our father [Lord’s prayer] found in a recipe for a cheese tart, to help the cook keep track of time. The advice is to let it bake for the length of two prayers!

pater noster
For some more on interesting Latin in a 16th century drinking song, go to this Collation post: A monument more lasting than bronze.

After spending a day delving into our manuscripts on Shakespeare’s World I often wonder what it must have been like to live in Shakespeare’s time. What was considered a luxury? Perhaps an Orient Ruby – melted raspberries boiled candy high with sugar & rose water, then left to stand for eighteen days. Maybe other sweet treats such as buns, orange flower cakes or lemon creams? One of our volunteers @Traceydix told us yesterday that she had made a round of Mrs Hampden’s excellent sugar cakes to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary today. Here’s a picture of some delicious caraway cakes @SarahtheEntwife baked in February, also going that extra mile in her dedication to the project!

buns
Made by volunteer transcriber @SarahtheEntwife. Picture posted February 1st 2016, 11.33am.

Or would a luxury be the ingredients needed to concoct a miraculous remedy for a blinding headache, or a salve to heal every ache and pain possible on a desert island.

If you want more ideas log into Shakespeare’s World ‘Talk’ and use the #hashtags to navigate through the discussions that interest you. #Bleedthrough? #Medicine? #Cooking? #Recipe? #JohnWarddiaries? #Catholic? #Water? #OED#Latin#Letter? They are all there!

One thing is clear – early modern society was a vain one. Our transcribers regularly encounter evidence of concern for one’s outward appearance. We’ve seen a treatment for a face full of pimples, namely a mixture of quick-silver with spit, and stale beer to drink morning, noon and night.
face recipe

Folger Shakespeare Library: V.a.388

We’ve seen elixirs for a thick head of hair and how to stem baldness with elm roots.

Screenshot 2016-04-22 at 23.55.29

There’s advice on how to take away wrinkles, although frustratingly the page is blank. And there’s a most intriguing medicine for faking a maiden’s glow. See below A medycyne to make the face fare and well coloured.

Screenshot 2016-04-22 at 23.43.33.png

Other helpful tips contained among the thousands of digitized images from the Folger’s collection include: ridding ink stains from your linen cloths, successfully washing your silk hood, preventing vomiting on the sea, a recommendation to smell baking bread if suffering consumption, eating purple wood-louse for a kidney stone [hidden in obscure Latin translated by our volunteer @IntelVoid], cutting down on your beer intake by sucking it through a quill and a warning that the smell of sea air and flying ants induces lust…the list is never-ending and gives us an enchanting insight into the 1500-1700s.

Transcribing these manuscripts on a daily basis provides tantalizing glimpses into early modern life. My favorite remedy so far on Shakespeare’s World? A special drink for Melancholy and Weeping.

melancholy

It seems that then, like now, people still had worries which a glass of wine or a hot drink by the fire could help alleviate!

By Sarah Powell

Sarah Powell is the EMMO Paleographer at the Folger Shakespeare Library: @S_Powell

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: