Burgundy’s vines, Ophelia’s garland, Lear’s coronet

March 13, 2023

Plants that are in Burgundy’s speech (H5), Ophelia’s garlands (Hamlet) and Lear’s coronet (King Lear):

Burgundy: Vine, darnel, cowslip, hemlock, fumitory, burnet, clover, dock, thistle, kecksy

Ophelia: crow flower, nettle, daisy, long purple, bough, weed

Lear: Fumiter, furrow-weed, idle weeds, hardock, hemlock, nettle, cuckoo-flowers, Darnel.

What immediately strikes me about these plant-heavy passages is the lack of overlap. Darnel and fumiter are the only ones repeated, and those repetitions are peculiar to these passages. (Fumiter is mentioned only in H5 and Lear, while darnel is mention in H5, Lear and H6.1.)

Henry 5 Omissions

March 11, 2023

[original] I missed some important ones here — the second of Pistol’s “figos” and the first mention of leek (also by Pistol.) Note pistol and pistil don’t seem to be etymologically related.

Barley: [3.5.14-26]. Hemp: [3.6.42-43]. “Let gallows gape for dog; let man go free,/ And let not hemp his windpipe suffocate.” Leek: mentioned abundantly in the fifth act, I missed it’s first mention by Pistol [4.1.54-55]: “Tell him, I’ll knock his leek about his pate/ Upon Saint Davy’s day.” Figo/ Fig: I missed Pistol’s second use of this [4.1.60]: “A figo for thee then!” Grass, [4.2.45-50]: “The horsemen sit like fixed candlesticks,/ With torch-staves in their hand, and their poor jades/ Lob down their heads, dropping the hides and hips,/ The gum down-dropping from their pale-dead eyes,/ And in their pale dull mouths the gimmal’d bit/ Lies foul with chew’d grass, still and motionless.”

General references: Gardeners/ roots [2.4. 38-40]: “Covering discretion with a coat of folly,/ As gardeners do with ordure hide those roots/ That shall first spring and be most delicate.” Seed [2.4.59]: “heroical seed.” Bough [3.2.17-18]: “As duly, but not as truly,/ As bird doth sing on bough.” Flow’ring infants [3.3.10-14]. Hedge, garden, burr, etc [5.2.33-59]. Sugar [5.2.278]. France again referred to as the “world’s best garden” in epilogue (7).

Plants in King Henry 4.2 omissions

November 28, 2022

Some omissions from my previous list of Henry 4.2’s plants. The image of the “withered elder” in 1.4, referring to Falstaff, somewhat mirrors that of the “withered trunk,” in 4.5, referring to King Henry 4 — both with that word “withered” and with mention of a bird in each. The only other mention of “withered” in the play is in 2.4, another plant reference, in which Prince Hal is said to have compared Falstaff with a withered apple. (It is also the Prince that compares Falstaff to a withered elder, but it is King Henry 4 who compares himself to a “withered trunk.”)

Elder: [1.4.257] [*]

General References: Orchard [1.1.4]; seed and root [3.1.80-92]; Gaultree Forest [4.1.1-2]; trunk [4.5.229]; fruit of womb [5.4.13].

Ellacombe omission

November 26, 2022

Came across another apparent omission in Ellacombe, and so think I will start making a note of them — this one an elder in Henry 4.2 — or maybe I just misunderstand the passage [2.3.257]: “Prince. Look whe’er the wither’d elder hath not his poll claw’d like a parrot.”

Some interesting things mentioned by Ellacombe about this plant: it was in myth the tree that Judas hung himself on, and it was the wood chiefly used for ancient Greek and Jewish musical instruments, from which the term Sambuke (the Greek/ Latin word for the Elder).

Mandrake in Shakespeare

November 25, 2022

When I looked into this years ago, I found six mentions of mandrake in Shakespeare’s works, same as Ellacomb, in two histories and three tragedies: two referred to its medicinal property; two referred to the myth about it shouting when pulled from the ground; and two are uttered by Falstaff as a kind of insult. And in fact the only somewhat interesting thing I find to say about the mandrake and its mentions is that they are so easily categorizable this way, without any cross-pollination of the meanings.

Using this dating of the plays, Shakespeare seems to have conservatively sprinkled his mandrake throughout almost the entire span of his career: some four years separated the first and second mention; four years the second and third; seven years the fourth and fifth; and two years the fifth and sixth; (the third and fourth both occurring in Henry 4.2.)

Ellacomb’s entry on Mandrake focuses largely on the absurdity of the myths surrounding the plant, but he also notes these fables have an ancient pedigree — that versions of them may be found in Josephus, for instance. (The actual plant is native to the Mediterranean and not Britain.)

The mandrake is supposed to resemble a man but this has nothing to do with the syllable “man” in the word “mandrake”, which is apparently of non-indo-european origin and initially entered the language as mandragora.

Final thought: there are a lot of opportunities for wordplay with the word mandrake which Shakespeare seems not at all tempted by.