Living in Shakespeare’s World
“MICRO-PRACTICES”: WHERE SUSTAINABILITY AND RECIPES MEET
Histories of sustainability have typically situated the origins of our current environmental crises at the advent of industrialism, as if locating a moment in time when things were otherwise might help to remediate our current ecological crises derived from human-induced forms of destruction: air pollution, deforestation, and others. All of these histories, that is, and for obvious and very good reasons, take as their concern large-scale practices especially rooted in moments of rupture when human practices overreach.
I propose here that we might more usefully approach sustainability, however, by taking a step back, moving from the global to the local, as they say, to focus instead on smaller-scale practices, or “micro-practices” that inform what Rosi Braidotti describes as “sustainable becoming,” or “the ethical state of becoming [that] practices a humble kind of hope, rooted in the ordinary micro-practices of everyday life” (Transpositions. Maiden: Polity, 2006: 137).
Early modern receipt books express and enact the very principles of sustainability that our histories attempt to recuperate, the “micro-practices” of the everyday; their details recount an embeddedness of human and nonhuman things, the sort of mutual dependence that sustainability initiatives today aim to recuperate and reproduce. The creation and efficacy of the recipes we find in these books depend not on discrete human/nonhuman entities but instead on the intimate “micro-practices” that constitute human/nonhuman collaborations, as we see in a recipe from the Lady Frances Catchmay book, “A very good medicen for eyes that be trobled wth a pinne and web be or with any other dymnes” (12r):
Take the oyle of a new layd egge or two, beate and clappe it well till it come to afrothe, then let it stande for a little while, and let the oyle rune into a saucer, and put the juce of daysies, with the blossomes, leaves and rootes, beinge stamped and strained into the oyle of the egges, put alittle clarified honey to it and mixt all thes together well, and let the patient take every eveninge and morninge into his eye that is greaved adroppe put in with a fether, let this be used so longe as he hathe payne.
The person preparing the remedy uses a “new layd egge or two,” which means that the cure depends on the immediacy of time, participation (at least tacit) by the chickens who produce said egg/s, human movement across ground, into henhouse to gather it. And how “new” is a “new layd egg”? Is it still warm? Can it be several hours or even days old? To know what constitutes “new layd” to prepare the medicine requires the housewife (in all likelihood) to have such intimate knowledge of egg and chicken—touching the warmth of the egg newly delivered, observing the point at which eggs go bad and are no longer fresh enough for the cure; the egg “beate[n]” and “clappe[d]” incorporate egg matter, mixing bowl, and human energy to create the new substance the resulting “frothe.” And to “put the juce of daysies, with the blossomes, leaves and rootes, beinge stamped and strained into the oyle of the egges” not only synthesizes said egg-bowl-human mingling with plant matter, but it depends on the recent human harvest of daisies, which requires human form to cross household threshold into adjoining environs (immediate or further afield) to pick fresh daisies so that they might still have juice to be strained. And again, as human feet traverse the dirt- or gravel-covered pathways outside, sights and sounds of nonhuman activity penetrate human bodily boundaries—a wooden stamper encircled by human hands “stampe[s] and straine[s]” the various parts of the daisies, daisy juice (roots, leaves, and all) mingles with frothy oil of egg mixture.
This recipe illustrates how humans and nonhumans are bound to one another in yet other ways too. The clarified honey added to the plant-egg froth recalls multiple forms of the interdependency of bee and human labor: bees gather pollen, some wild-growing and some perhaps human-cultivated, which combines with the enzymes in their saliva to activate the substance we know as honey; the honey, probably extracted from a hive (or skep, perhaps itself made of plant material) built by humans, becomes the golden, sticky substance by way of its production and storage in combs; it is then harvested and “clarified,” which would have involved separating the liquid honey from the wax and residual pollen. And after mixing yet again, the resulting concoction is “put in” the patient’s “greaved” eyes (morning and evening) “with a feather,” such that human and nonhuman animals and plants intra-act to perform the cure.
Rather than focusing on geologic indicators of fissure between humans and nonhumans or destructive large-scale practices that seem to precipitate them, we might turn our attention to alternative narratives, alternative subjects. A focus on the “micro-practices” in receipt books illustrate intimate human-nonhuman relationships in the past that challenge dominant histories of sustainability; after all, household cookery and medicine was, even if driven by necessity more than a romantic sensibility, sustainable all along.
No Foot, No Horse
He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s oath.—Fool, King Lear (3.6.18)
Receipt books in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection contain not only remedies for human ailments but also cures for domestic animals such as horses. Such a receipt book, MS V.a.140, contains three pages of remedies (fols. 6v/7r, fols. 7v/8r, and fols. 8v/9r) for common ailments of horses. Of the seven ailments mentioned in this manuscript, four involve the horse’s feet or hooves.
There is an old saying among horsemen, “No foot, no horse.” Despite their size and strength, horses are notoriously fragile animals. Four slender legs and small hooves must bear the horse’s full weight of eight hundred to two thousand pounds. Horses were essential to the economy and society of Shakespeare’s time. British economic historian Peter Edwards, author of Horse and Man in Early Modern England (2007), has written extensively on the importance of horses in early modern England. Not only were they a source of transportation, horses were also essential to mounted warfare, agriculture, and courtly pastimes such as tournaments, hunting, and manège riding (dressage). Therefore, horse owners paid particular attention to the care of their horses’ feet and hooves. Read More…
‘What’s up with those grey dots?’ you ask.
Most online transcription projects allow you to see or even review other people’s transcriptions, but Zooniverse projects (Operation War Diary, Ancient Lives, AnnoTate and Shakespeare’s World, to name a few) ask you to transcribe on your own. Rather than generating transcriptions and waiting for each one to be vetted by an expert, we try to harness what James Surowiecki calls ‘the wisdom of the crowd’—in this case multiple transcribers and their aggregated responses—to identify what is on a page without then doing a manual review of each page. If our small research team had the time to manually review every transcription, we would probably have the time to do it ourselves! But the dataset is much too large for that.
Multiple individuals’ responses are aggregated using two different algorithms. The first is a clustering algorithm, which uses the blue dots to identify where a line or word is, and the second is MAFFT alignment which is traditionally used for amino acid or nucleotide sequencing, and has been deployed by our friends over on Notes from Nature (see blog).
Aggregating multiple people’s responses minimizes the burden of transcription, as well as the burden of accuracy, on the individual. It’s unlikely that any two people, much less three, five or a dozen volunteers reading the same word or line will make exactly the same mistakes. But asking multiple people to do each page independently has its perils, as we have discovered on other projects: if a page is dense or the handwriting is hard to read, the average person will do a bit on the top third of the page, but often can’t complete the whole page because they don’t have the time or inclination (life happens!).
Many moons ago, when I was first thinking through how to make text transcription efficient in a system that relies upon multiple independent transcribers who can’t see one another’s work, it occurred to me that we could use a visual clue that a line or word had already been completed. Hence the grey dots that started to appear this month.
When you come across grey dots, this means that the section or line they are surrounding has been fully retired, but there may be more to do on a page. If you see a page where every line is encompassed by grey dots, this means you should click ‘I’m done’ and ‘yes, everything is transcribed’. Once three people have said a page is complete on the basis of having done the whole thing themselves or seeing the grey dots, the page will stop showing up in the transcription interface.
Shakespeare’s World, meet Shakespeare Documented
You may have noticed by now that there are a dearth of manuscripts by or about Shakespeare among the thousands of images in Shakespeare’s World. As far as we know, he does not make an appearance in any of the thousands of recipes or letters currently available for transcription (but please prove us wrong!). One letter to Shakespeare does in fact survive, from Richard Quiney in 1598, but the letter is at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and therefore does not appear in Shakespeare’s World.
That will change when we add the genres “miscellanies” (blank books filled with poems, notes, copies of letters, and just about anything worth writing down) and “commonplace books” (blank books with extracts arranged by theme or category) to the site later this year. If you are a close reader of the Bard, you will likely encounter extracts from Shakespeare’s plays and poems, copies of William Basse’s elegy on Shakespeare, and perhaps passages that scholars at the Folger Shakespeare Library have not yet discovered. It will be exciting for Shakespeare enthusiasts to be able to read these references and allusions in the context of the manuscript volumes in which they appear, and to think further about how early modern readers digested their Shakespeare.
Until then, you can get your fill of Shakespeare at Shakespeare Documented, an online exhibition convened by the Folger Shakespeare Library, with contributions by over thirty institutions. Also, many of the actual manuscripts related to the famous literary figure are on display in the current exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Great Hall: Shakespeare, Life of an Icon.
Shakespeare Documented includes high-resolution images, descriptions, metadata, and in many cases, transcriptions, of approximately 500 references to William Shakespeare and his family in their lifetimes, as well as editions of, and references and allusions to, Shakespeare’s works, in his lifetime and in the years following his death in 1616. If we discover anything Shakespeare-related in Shakespeare’s World, we would be thrilled to add it to Shakespeare Documented, and are eager to see this new resource grow and evolve!
The great bunne bakeoff (I)
A few weeks ago volunteer @SarahtheEntwife posted her modernized recipe for caraway bunnes, followed by an image of the result!
It looks good, so I’ve decided to give it a go as well over this coming weekend. Would you like to try your hand at this recipe and share the results here on our blog or Talk? We’re always keen to try new things, and hear what you’re up to as well. Images of baked goods and other culinary delights are most welcome.
Some more finds for the OED: portugall farts, fussie smalligs (again), and receitpts
This recipe “To make mackroones or portugall farts”, not surprisingly, raised some eyebrows after it was spotted by @kodemonkey:
The mackroones are macaroons, and the spelling mackroon is already recorded by the OED for the 1600s and 1700s. The portugall farts appear to be the same thing as the “farts of Portugal” which the OED records for the sixteenth century as a specific culinary use of fart (in its usual, embarrassing meaning):
The parallel that French pet (also literally ‘fart’) is similarly used to denote a doughnut or similar air-filled treat suggests strongly that we are indeed looking at a humorous use of the familiar word, giving an insight into the different ideas of decorum – and indeed of what might or might not put someone off eating a pastry – of another age. In fact French dictionaries record (in medieval French spelling) pets d’Espaigne, literally ‘Spanish farts’, dating back as far as 1393. The keen eyes of the Zooniverse community have given us an important pointer for expanding the coverage of this item for OED and a stimulus to include this word soon in OED’s rolling revision programme. (The current version of fart in the dictionary dates back in essentials to 1895 – revising the OED is a Sisyphean task!)
It’s also worth highlighting a few of the less immediately arresting things coming out of Shakespeare’s World that nonetheless get lexicographers and linguists excited. @LWSmith’s blog post On Close Reading and Teamwork drew attention to fussy smalligs probably meaning ‘fuzzy smallage’, as originally spotted by @parsfan. As Laura points out, the spelling fussy for fuzzy isn’t yet in the OED. But looking again at Gervase Markham, OED’s current earliest source for fuzzy (spelt fuzzie) in the very early 1600s, shows that he also wrote about a soft fussie and vnwholsome mosse and about clay of a fussie temper (in contrast to stiffe blacke clay), all of which suggests that another close look at the early history of fuzzy is thoroughly merited. Again, Zooniverse researchers and volunteers have pointed the way for what will be important revision work for the OED.
Finally, @jules spotted the spelling receitpte in a recipe heading:
The word receipt was originally spelt with no p, spellings such as receit being common in early use. It comes ultimately from Latin recepta, but was borrowed into English via Anglo-Norman and Middle French, in which it had forms such as recette or (in Anglo-Norman) receite. From an early date spellings with a (silent) ‘etymological’ p are found in Anglo-Norman and Middle French and also in English, reflecting awareness of the word’s Latin origin. The hitherto unrecorded spelling receitpte spotted by @jules, with an additional t in front of the p, is really illuminating. This writer clearly knows that the word is written with a silent p. Perhaps receitpte is the result of getting so far in writing the word, remembering about the silent p, and leaving the first t as an uncorrected error. Or perhaps (I suspect more likely) this is a belt-and-braces way of signalling loudly and clearly “you spell this word with a p but pronounce it as though it just had a t”. It would be great to know whether any other –tpt– spellings are lurking in these manuscripts. Transcriptions on Shakespeare’s World, and especially lively discussions on Talk, are just the way we’re going to find that out.
On Close Reading and Teamwork
The tale of Bunchfussy begins with @parsfan’s comment:
‘The second recipe is a guest appearance by another hand, perhaps Mrs Bunchfussy herself, who sounds like a refugee from a Dickens novel.’
That would be delightful! Unfortunately, as I spotted immediately, this was the Mrs Dunch who had been mentioned in several other recipes. But… what WAS that word immediately after her name? Team Bunchfussy’s quest to identify the word reveals a lot about the importance of close reading and teamwork.
Since I’ve started transcribing recipes online (first with EMROC and now with Shakespeare’s World), the way that I read them has changed. As a busy researcher, I ordinarily would have skipped over a mystery word like this one. In the interests of maximising research time and ploughing through lots of sources, I probably would decide that identifying the word was unimportant. There was already plenty of information: a name, an ailment, a list of ingredients. Missing this word out would not be a problem.
Transcribing online is different, though. The Shakespeare’s World system, which only presents one decontextualized page at a time, forces the transcriber to read closely. The handwriting can be difficult and, without an entire manuscript for reference, the only clues to decode an excerpt are on that page. Every letter, every mark, every word is important. And the transcriber is compelled to linger, focusing on the details and considering the possibilities.
Close reading is usually solitary, but on Shakespeare’s World, it often becomes collaborative. Perplexing examples are posted on Talk by transcribers where we puzzle over them together.
@mutabilitie joked that ‘it looks like “pissy” to me, but I suppose we can safely rule out that reading.’ Except… it did look rather like pissy.
The debate on the page initially focused on whether the first letter was a ‘p’ or an ‘f’, with contributors mustering evidence about letter shapes elsewhere in the recipe.* The general consensus was ‘f’. Perhaps it might be ‘firstly’ or ‘fully’ or even ‘fussy’? @S_Powell reported back that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), fussy would not have yet been in use. Then @elaineleong suggested ‘fissy’, but didn’t think it made much sense. She also suggested that we were all might be on the wrong track. What if the word belonged to the first recipe line rather than the title and attribution?
Indeed, what if it went with the word directly under it? Fussy smalligs. Fuzzy smallage!!! A quick check of the OED revealed that fuzzy was in use in the seventeenth century. And suddenly we had an answer. It may not have been Bunchfussy, but the second word was indeed fussy after all.
An individual researcher might have skipped over a seemingly unimportant word, but ‘fussy’ turned out to provide a surprising amount of information that would have otherwise been missed. The knowledge that fuzzy smallage rather than plain old smallage was included in the recipe is interesting in two ways. First, the fuzziness might indicate its particular stage of growth—perhaps when in flower. That might indicate the timing (late summer) for preparing the recipe. Alternatively, it might be specifying use of the leaves rather than the stalk. Either way, this was a clue that would have been left out of a quick read of the recipe. Second, ‘fussy’ has not yet been listed in the OED as a variant of ‘fuzzy’.
Close reading, perseverance, and teamwork are rewarding. In an age of perpetual busy-ness and fast reading on the web, that the internet can also bring opportunities for slowing down fills me with delight.
*In addition to those named above, thank you to @Hannebambel @Greensleeves @Cuboctahedron for their contributions, which included points of clarification and transcriptions.
ffor Heavens sak, whi wolde a pson euer spelle yt yt waye?
The title question above might be more recognizable as the following in a semi-diplomatic version:
ffor Heavens sak, whi wolde a person euer spelle yt that waye?
Or, in a modernized version: For Heaven’s sake, why would a person ever spell it that way?
If you spend any time reading (or trying to read) early modern manuscripts, you will quickly discover that it is best to forget much of what you have learned about modern spelling. The standard forms and rules for English in the twenty-first century—such as they are—do not apply! Most early modern writers saw no need to follow a strict orthography, and little in the way of such a thing existed in any case (a push for standardization came later). This pitfall feature of sixteenth and seventeenth century English manuscripts confounds many transcribers today, at least at first. Admittedly, the randomness of the spelling in these texts takes some getting used to, but a freedom of thought and language shows in the way words were put to paper in these manuscripts. This laissez-faire quality conveys a wonderful sense of the time as well as a certain beauty.
Aesthetics aside, the non-standardized spellings of words in these manuscripts may provide important nuggets of information for study. Along with identifying new word variants in the OED, tracking usage is useful for scholars in many ways as they research how language and thinking shifts over time, not to mention the idiosyncrasies of individual writers. A reflection of regional pronunciations is one factor to consider. For example, in the letter below, one can see the word “shute” on the ninth line as a form of “suit,” perhaps suggesting a dialect in play.
Such spellings do present headaches, but a transcriber can often sound out a word from the letters she/he sees on the manuscript page. Of course, the letters should always be entered as they appear (with expansions for common abbreviations), but understanding the meaning of a word in a sentence is also important for the transcriber. Making your own modernized version, even if it’s only in your head, can help as you work through a page.
See this great discussion thread about the different values of original and modernized transcriptions on Talk. Sharing your transcriptions or modernized versions of them on Talk is often helpful to other transcribers (and yourself). It’s also an excellent way to get a discussion going and spark ideas.
Another key factor to keep in mind about early modern spelling is that a large number of new words were entering the English language during this period, either absorbed from other languages or simply created. Shakespeare is credited with generating several hundreds of neologisms in his works, and he spelled them as he pleased. Other well-known (or lesser-known) writers did the same. Their printed publications are the evidence. Those who study manuscripts wonder if at least some of the presumed neologisms identified in print had actually already appeared in manuscripts. As transcription work continues in Shakespeare’s World and elsewhere, answers to such questions may come to light.
Finally, people have asked me about finding patterns in early modern spelling to make things easier or speed up the transcribing process, and I have heard various theories put forward. Clearly, as one sees how a scribe forms particular letters—some hands are quite distinct—that knowledge aids subsequent identifications. However, I caution transcribers about putting too much confidence in a supposed pattern. Writers often do not spell the same word in the same way even on the same page. Again, the best rule is to limit assumptions and transcribe letters as you see them. Easy shortcuts for early modern spelling do not really work, but here are a few specific points to keep in mind if the spelling of a word is giving you trouble:
- the “v” and “u” letters are often used almost interchangeably, but the “v” is more common at the start of words even where one might expect a “u,” e.g., “vp”
- the “u” and the “n” letters look the same; as do some “e” and “d” letters; context is often the only way to figure out which is right
- the letter that looks like a “y” is sometimes a thorn (for “th“) but other times a “y” that serves as a vowel like the modern “i,” e.g., “ys” (“is”)
- what one might consider extra letters (e.g., an “e” at the end of a word) commonly appear, but letters we expect might also be missing (e.g., “mony” for “money”)
- words often break in unexpected places, either at line breaks or within lines; again, context will help you figure out the meaning, but transcribe the words as they appear
- remember to check for abbreviated forms on the interface and in the Shakespeare’s World Guide and to expand such words with the tags provided
- ask for help on Talk if you’re stuck
Early modern spelling is a massive topic, and this post just scratches the surface. Look for more in future posts and continuing discussions on Talk.
by Paul Dingman @pding001
It’s been nearly five weeks since we embarked on Shakespeare’s World and so far quite a few transcriptions have been submitted. So first of all, thank you to everyone who has participated on the project. In addition to the transcriptions being generated on the project interface, it’s been great to see so much discussion on Talk where subjects range from recipe ingredients, to horses, to the fate of petitioners to the crown, to the questions about our research methodology and project design.
So, in the spirit of openness and trying to keep you updated about our collective progress, here are some early numbers.
24,252 transcriptions have been submitted. This can be anything from one word, to a few words in a row, to a whole line, to marking a graphic or indicating a page is blank.
2,333 ‘subjects’ (in Zooniverse parlance) have been worked on. This includes images of single or two page spreads from manuscripts in the Folger collection of recipes and letters. Of these 628 have been completely retired.*
Since launch there have been 23,165 sessions logged by 13,876 unique visitors to the site, and ~80,700 pageviews.
The top ten contributing cities are mapped here: London is in the lead, followed by ‘unknown’, New York, Washington, D.C., and Oxford, UK. Australia is gaining on the USA and UK though, so the top five spots are up for grabs.
We hope you’re enjoying the project or that you’ll be making you way over to http://www.shakespearesworld.org/ today to get involved.
* In an email to all participating users in mid December I stated that ~1400 images had been retired, as in fully transcribed by three people, but this was not the case. ~1400 images had been worked on by at least three people.