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Shakespeare’s Birthday! Celebrating with the Flowers of Shakespeare’s Plays

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 23rd, 2021

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Shakespeare loved flowers and it is well known that he used them in his plays.  Flowers conveyed meaning and symbolism in Shakespeare’s day.  Each mention of a flower or tree would provide a clue to the readers of his plays.  Let’s take a look at some of the flowers and plays where they are mentioned.  I’m sure Shakespeare would be happy to celebrate his birthday with a bouquet of flowers!

All of the flower portraits you see here come from a set of books in the Rare Books collection, William Woodville’s Medical Botany.  Published in 1832 in five volumes, each with beautiful images of flowers and other plants illustrated with hand colored plates. 

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.’

Romeo and Juliet

Botanical illustration of a rose

Are our carnations and streak’d gillyvors,
Which some call nature’s bastards: of that kind
Our rustic garden’s barren; and I care not
To get slips of them.’

The Winter’s Tale

Botanical illustration of a carnation

 ‘The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend,
To strew him o’er and o’er!’

The Winter’s Tale

Botanical illustration of an iris

‘Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.’

Othello

Botanical illustration of a poppy

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

If you’d like to see Shakespeare’s works or Woodville’s Medical Botany, contact me, Stewart Plein, to schedule a visit to the Rare Book Room. 

Resources:

Carnation image

Rose image

Iris image

Poppy image

Quotes

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