The Bard & His Blooms
Little is known about William Shakespeare, the most famous writer of all time. Few records remain to track his existence, even his date of birth is only a guess at best, and his personal life remains even more of a mystery. What books did he read? Who were his closet confidents? Did he rise early to work or prefer to stay up late and write by candlelight?
But we do have his literary works, a total of 37 plays and 154 sonnets that give us a glimpse into his inner world. We know Shakespeare was a brilliant mind, had a wicked sense of humour and was a deeply sensitive creature. He was a master of not just the English language but also of the human condition, his writing rhythmic with elaborate metaphors and rhetorical questions that both perfectly articulates human emotion and provokes it in his audiences. And woven throughout all his writing, often at the very root of his stories, is Shakespeare’s strong affinity for nature and his intimate knowledge of flowers and gardens.
In his life work, Shakespeare alludes to over 200 different types of plants, with the delicate rose being mentioned upwards of 100 times. Often at the very crux of his plays lies a garden scene, and peppered throughout are abundant references to botanic life and plant lore, revealing his profound insight into growth, pruning, grafting, weeding and decay. It is this that allows us to imagine that perhaps Shakespeare was not just a master of language, but also of horticulture, or at the very least an avid gardener.
You may have inhaled the waft of a rose many times before, but through Shakespeare’s writing you can experience this tiny moment of beatitude anew. He had the great ability of being able to communicate to others, in but a few simple words, the pleasure that he himself felt in the presence of nature.
Why should we, in the compass of a pale,
Keep law and form and due proportion,
Showing as in a model our firm estate, rose
When our sea-walled Garden, the whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowroseers choked up,
Her fruit-trees all unpruned, her hedges ruin’d,
Her knots disorder’d and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars?
Richard II, act iii, sc. 4 (40).
There is a Willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
There on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke.
Hamlet, act iv, sc. 7 (167).
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Romeo and Juliet, act ii, sc. 2 (121)
Now ’tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted;
Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden,
And choke the herbs for want of husbandry.
2nd Henry VI, act iii, sc. 1 (31).
On the rose:
The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour that doth in it live.
The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the Roses,
Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly
When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses;
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d and unrespected fade;
Die to themselves—sweet Roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,
By chance or natures’s changing course untrimm’d