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Archive for the ‘Anne Ophelia Dowden’ Category

Here’s another floral gem of a book about flowers and their names and uses, Shakespeare’s Flowers by ShakespearesFlowersJessica Kerr and illustrated by Anne Ophelia Donden. Let’s recap for a second, though. We have Who Named the Daisy, Who Named the Rose by Mary Durant and A Garden of Words by Martha Barnette.

Kerr, an expert of flowers in Elizabethan England, picks a dozen or two flowers, prints excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and explains what it means, what the flowers were used for and how they might have made their ways into English gardens. As you can see from the illustrations shown here, they are marvelous.

ShakespearesFlowers1For instance, did you know that the rose, shown here, was mentioned in Two Noble Kinsmen, Love’s Labors Lost, The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet as well as Romeo and Juliet? As a matter of fact, Shakespeare mentions it 70 times in his plays and sonnets. It is so beloved that it never had another name? And the dew from rose petals was used ┬áin making costly cosmetics. And of course, the rose is symbolic of the 32 year War of the Roses.

Kerr covers the well known flowers such as daisies, ShakespearesFlowers2violets, and marigolds and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and spearmint. She also picks less common ones, such as rue. She even discusses weeds. When you rue something you regret it or want to repent. This is associated with bitterness and rue has a bitter, sour flavor. Herbs such as rosemary and rue are still carried in the processions of the Lord Mayor of London, a carryback to when it was thought of as a preventative against the plague and “…a little nosegay of rue is placed beside a judge in court to this day.”

I find it fascinating how flowers and herbs all had medicinal value ‘in the old days’ and sometimes I wonder how much better off we really are with big pharmaceuticals. It is amazing the traditions and rituals that arose from the belief in the medical, spiritual and superstitious powers of flowers.

To close this, if you are at all interested in flowers and the etymology of their names, Shakespeare’s Flowers would be a welcome addition to your library.

 

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