The Master of Metaphor
April 23, 1564
Today is the birthday of the English author, poet, and playwright William Shakespeare.
A lover of gardens and the science of botany, William Shakespeare included hundreds of references to flora and fauna in his plays and sonnets. And each flower would have conveyed symbolic meaning to his audiences. In addition, William was a master of metaphor.
Since William’s death, there have been many books written on the elements of nature mentioned in Shakespeare’s works.
In 1906, the garden author and illustrator Walter Crane created beautiful anthropomorphized plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays as people in his 1906 book, "Flowers from Shakespeare's Garden."
In 2017, a book called Botanical Shakespeare by the Shakespeare historian Gerit Quealy was published. The subtitle for the book is An Illustrated Compendium of All the Flowers, Fruits, Herbs, Trees, Seeds, and Grasses Cited by the World's Greatest Playwright.
And, by the way, this book is gorgeous - the watercolor illustrations are incredible, and I love all the quotes and insights provided by Gerit. Helen Mirren wrote the forward.
Today, Shakespeare fans and gardeners delight in Shakespeare Gardens, and there are roughly 50 of these specialty gardens around the world that only cultivate plants mentioned in William’s work.
There's a lovely semi-hidden Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco. There’s another Shakespeare Garden with over 50 flowers on the Evanston campus of Northwestern. Central Park has a little Shakespeare Garden located between 79th and 80th Streets. And in 1914, the Dunedin Botanic Garden in New Zealand established a Shakespeare Garden, including a replica of Shakespeare’s Boxwood Knot Garden in Stratford on Avon.
Here are some favorite flower quotes from Shakespeare:
Sweet flowers are slow, and weeds make haste.
— William Shakespeare, Richard III
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance
pray, love, remember:
and there is pansies.
That’s for thoughts...
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet
I know a bank where the wild thyme grows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine...
– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream