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.
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!
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!
- 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.
Folger Shakespeare Library: V.a.388
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.
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.
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