“These flowers are like the pleasures of the world” – Cymbeline
We all love combining our passions: cheese and wine; bed and breakfast; Netflix and relaxing. I’m always looking for ways to combine my love of flowers with other interests. Flowers and Literature? Sounds perfect, doesn’t it.
As we approach his Birthday (April 23rd), I find myself thumbing over some Shakespeare for my literary floral hit. Sure, he might have tried to “compare thee to a summer’s day” but spring’s his season, and there’s no better time to look at the many, many references to English flora and fauna in the plays and poetry of our National Bard.
A few favourite quotes by Bill.
“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare’s most famous Tragedy is awash with romance and with flowers – it goes to show that in the Elizabethan period flowers were as much a part of the dating scene as they are now. The line above is often quoted, pointing out that, just because Romeo is a rival Montague, it doesn’t mean she’s any less lovely to Juliet Capulet. By using a rose – the finest of all romantic flowers – Shakespeare really does let us know this is a timeless love for the ages. “He wears the rose of youth upon him” is how Shakespeare puts it in Anthony and Cleopatra – our national flower being an emblem of vitality and youthful passion. This is hot-headed, energetic romance. “Of all the flowers, me thinks a rose is best.” He writes in Two Noble Kinsmen. Swoon.
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The riotous woodland comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream is another play that is stuffed-full of floral life. From the distilled flower-juice love potion to the names of the Faries, flowers crop up everywhere. But, this description of Fairy Queen Titania’s sleeping place really does use flowers to create a picture of luscious beauty and serenity. Given the fact there were limited sets and props back in the 16th and 17th Century, Shakespeare has to paint a picture with words, brilliantly creating the impression of a forest carpeted with fabulous flowers.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance:
pray you, love, remember: and there is pansies,
that’s for thoughts.
There’s a daisy: I would give you some violets,
but they withered all when my father died.” – Hamlet
Flowers aren’t just used to denote love or rich forestry. Hamlet’s sometime admirer Ophelia hands flowers out during the scene in which she is said to go ‘mad’, each one representing a different part of her emotional turmoil. Rosemary to remember the dead, pansies represent thoughts. Fennel and columbine (not mentioned here) are said to denote infidelity and falseness. Daisies here represent innocence and violets are supposed to represent faithfulness (which is why they have withered away!). Shakespeare gives us a glimpse into the countless meanings and symbolisms these different flowers had at the time – and some even still carry today!
“When daffodils begin to peer,
With heigh! The doxy over the dale,
Why, then comes in the sweet o’ the year;
For the red blood reigns in the Winter’s pale” – A Winter’s Tale
Nobody was better at associating the passing of the seasons with our rich floral life than Shakespeare. “At Christmas I no more desire a rose, than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth” as how he put in in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Each season has its particular pleasures, but in A Winter’s Tale the sight of spring is chief among these. We’ve had daffodils in our boxes recently and I can certainly confirm that the sight of these yellow beauties as they “begin to peer” does indeed pep you up! “Sweet o’ the year” indeed.
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily
To throw perfume on the violet…
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.” – King John
Forgive me if I am gilding the lily (to use the misquote..!) but there’s room for one or two more. Shakespeare recognises the fantastic richness and luxury of flowers, seen here in King John. Lilies don’t need to be painted, they’re bright enough. Violets don’t need perfume. Just put them in your house and enjoy… and we at Freddie’s Flowers can certainly help with that side of things.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” – Troilus and Cressida
Well, we can all agree on that. Adding a bit of flower-power to your life – through a spot of Shakespeare or a Freddie’s Flowers delivery – really does soothe the soul. So this April 23rd I heartily recommend you raise a glass to our national writer and his fantastic, flowery work.