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Four Seasons in Shakespeare’s World…

By the Shakespeare’s World team

Cross-posted on The Recipes Project with some slight differences.

One year ago the Early Modern Manuscripts Online project at the Folger Shakespeare Library partnered with Zooniverse to officially launch Shakespeare’s World, in association with the Oxford English Dictionary. What better way to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, than to invite people into our manuscript collection so that we could learn together about the everyday experiences and scribblings of his contemporaries? For 12 months we have been puzzling through thousands of pages from recipe books and correspondence (in 2017, further images and genres will be added).

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Screen shot taken from Shakespeare’s World main site

 

On our first day we put out a world-wide welcome all call to join us in transcribing “handwritten documents by Shakespeare’s contemporaries and help us understand his life and times. Along the way you’ll find words that have yet to be recorded in the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary.”

We were thrilled by the response! Transcribers in Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, UK and USA, as well as elsewhere, promptly jumped on board. At one point, within hours of launching, 300 users were simultaneously transcribing. From that day forward the Shakespeare’s World community was formed.

The handwritten words in Shakespeare’s World manuscripts are far more intimate than what you might read on a printed page. Their immediacy – a letter or recipe written in haste, a letter accompanied by a couple of old ling, a cheese or fresh nectarines, a pewter box of mithridatum and angelica roots sent in the time of plague – is compelling. We hope transcribing on Shakespeare’s World transports our volunteers from the modern day and drops them directly into the midst of the early modern world, with all the noise and smells (good or bad) that this entailed. Through the recipes and letters we encounter busy lives communicating, cooking, negotiating, quarrelling, cajoling, healing, burning, itching, vomiting, scolding, bleeding and more.

The website itself follows an inductive learning sequence. It has a brief tutorial with sample alphabets to help users identify early modern letters. Users have the option to skip an image if the writing or subject matter is not to their taste. Shortcut buttons make it easy to expand abbreviations (wch / which; wth / with; yr / your).

Here is a snapshot of what you would have encountered, should you have decided to transcribe a letter at 4.05pm EST, December 8, 2016!

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Screen shot taken from Shakespeare’s World, 4.05pm eastern time, December 8th 2016

Here is whistle stop tour of our very full year, season by season!

Winter

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Folger MS V.b.232, folio 14 verso

Shakespeare’s World has a ‘Talk’ platform which hosts interaction between transcribers and the research team, supporting wide-ranging discussions about paleography and specific manuscripts on a daily basis. When users log their transcriptions, they can comment on the image by adding #hashtags. Winter is a time of baking and nesting so it came as no surprise to see that our first #recipes2try were comfort foods such as marmalade, damson plum tart and caraway buns.

Throughout the year Shakespeare’s World transcribers have kept their eyes peeled for potential new early modern words or meanings to add to the OED. They ping these to #PhilipDurkin on Talk using #OED. Winter was probably our busiest time for #OED finds, with a flurry of words highlighted. You can read all about the first forays into word questing on Philip’s February blog post here including the Talk musings over what exactly arePortugall farts“? (answer: a kind of macaroon).

Spring

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Folger MS V.b.232, folio 6 verso

Spring saw a turn to matters of husbandry with animal care figuring largely. Transcribers discussed and observed many tips on keeping one’s horses, sheep, hens and hogs healthy. How to color paper and how to lure an earwig out of your ear with a slice of warm apple, were other charming finds.

Summer

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Folger MS V.b.232, folio 10 verso

 

As well as #OED, another popular tag among our transcribers is #paper. Shakespeare’s World transcribers have been tagging paper and its use as a tool (such as to apply a salve to a wound, or in baking) after learning that Elaine Leong was researching the use of paper in medical and culinary recipes.

One of the liveliest discussions on Talk took place in summer, over a recipe in Margaret Baker’s receipt book for convulsion fits in children, which required a mountain elf’s foot. To read more on paper and the mystery ingredient ‘elf’s foot’, or anything else, please check out our Shakespeare’s World blogs  by some great guest authors!

Also catching volunteers’ eyes were birch twigs used as whisks, pomegranate pill (the rind) used to make ink, and powders for childbirth. Timely for summer was a sunburn remedy from the diaries of John Ward, vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon from 1662 to 1681. He recommends a concoction of honey, nettle seed and daffodil roots.

Fall/Autumn

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Folger MS V.b.232, folio 11 verso

Moving into September, we were delighted that our number of registered users continued to grow. As the days grew shorter and the leaves changed color, the Shakespeare’s World community rounded up our favorite booze recipes, and the Folger received some excellent volunteer amendments to our catalogue records.

So far over 2,500 people have registered to take part in Shakespeare’s World (we have many more unregistered contributors as well). Together, we have transcribed 91,000 lines on over 3,000 pages. Shakespeare’s World’s #OED work also continues apace. The findings of our volunteers are particularly valuable because although OED lexicographers have considerable access to early modern printed material, they don’t have the same access to manuscript sources. We look forward to these word findings being incorporated into the OED in due course.

Please join us at shakespearesworld.org, if you haven’t already done so! Not only will you love the conversations on Talk, but you will also be helping to transform thousands of digital images of early modern manuscripts into a readable and searchable corpus on EMMO.folger.edu (coming soon in beta). We can tell you from experience that transcribing on Shakespeare’s World is strangely and satisfyingly addictive, like peeking into someone’s mail and Moleskins from four centuries ago. Surprises and discoveries are to be found on every page!

A huge thank you to all of our resident ‘experts’ & to you our community of valued volunteers, citizen humanists, transcribers, volunpeers…whichever term you prefer. Some familiar names on Talk are the brilliant moderators @mutabilitie & @jules – & of course our fantastic volunpeers @parsan, @Greensleeves, @IntelVoid, @Christoferos, @kodemonkey, @Cuboctahedron, @cdorsett, @Tudorcook, @Traceydix, @kerebeth, @Dizzy78, @mmmvv1, @fromere @ebaldwin @Blaudud  -but this list is nowhere near comprehensive.

Whether you chime in on Talk, or transcribe anonymously, we couldn’t do it without you. All of us at the Shakespeare’s World team look forward to greeting you back here next year!

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Folger MS F.c.21, fol 1r

Follow us on twitter @ShaxWorld

 

 

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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.

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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!

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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.
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Folger Shakespeare Library: V.a.388

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

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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.

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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

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