Food in Hamlet
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Humanities 309: Final Project Kate Golden Dr. J. Green April 28, 2002 Humanities 309 Part I: Food in Hamlet Unlike some of Shakespeare's other plays Hamlet doesn't seem to contain as many references to food. When researching food in reference to The Merry Wives of Windsor, it was easy to see much of the symbolism behind the many references. One of the most interesting references to food in Hamlet we discussed in class. I found it really interesting how Shakespeare used posset as a way to describe poison clotting in the ear. Unfortunately though, references like this are few and far between in Hamlet. One scene that I found fascinating was in act four, scene five. This is the scene where, apparently mad, Ophelia begins to distribute various flowers. These flowers, some of which double up as herbs and spices, carry specific meaning and symbolism. In the text it is unclear to whom Ophelia is distributing the flowers and herbs to. However, if you take a closer look at their meanings along with what is going on in the plot of the play, it is possible to make an educated guess as to who the flowers and herbs are intended. The first herb that Ophelia distributes is rosemary, which she cites as being for remembrance. It is unclear in the stage direction whether she hands these over to the King, the Queen, or her brother Laertes.
The first course is meant to be lighter than the second course. It is composed of numerous sallats. The excellent boiled sallat will be presented first because it is the most impressive of all the other sallats. There will be simple sallats like radish roots and carrots and because of their cost there will be plenty of these. There will also be light fricassees like collops and eggs. As for meat in the first course there will be a small variety, keeping various tastes in mind. The first will be roasted mutton with oysters. This is a little heavier and contains spinach as well as other herbs and spices. Next is the roasted fillet of veal with sauce. While it is prepared similarly to the mutton it doesn't contain seafood, which may be a turn off for some guests. Veal is a leaner meat than Mutton and that might appeal to some of the guest that don't enjoy dark heavy meats. This dish also contains a sauce made with oranges and lemons, among other things, which will give it a lighter flavor, contrasting with the heavy mutton. The third, and final, meat will be a chicken pie. This dish is completely different from the other two meat dishes. First it is baked in a crust. Second, it has a sweeter flavor because it is made with fruits like raisins and prunes; and spices like cinnamon and sugar.
I also realized how much I rely on salt and pepper as well as other spices. I could not image salt as a luxury that should not be squandered away. Differences like this gave me a whole new appreciation for the early modern cook and the struggles they must have faced trying to put food on the table. Unfortunately, I was not feeling well at the actual dinner. I was disappointed that I missed out on all the wonderful and interesting foods prepared by my classmates. Like everyone else in the class I have had vegetables and cheese before, but I really missed out on things like the venison, that I have never before tried. What I did learn, however, was a whole new appreciation for things like Sprite, which helped to settle my stomach and Advil to help my headache. If I were present at a dinner in the early modern period I would have had to try to use one of the medications in The English Housewife. And while I'm sure their food was good, even by our standards, I do not think I would trust their medical treatments, even for something simple like a stomachache. As a whole, I have had an enlightening experience with early modern cookery, to say the least. I now have a whole now outlook and respect for cooks in the early modern kitchen and for the cooks of today. I also should say that I now realize how important modern medicine, a hot shower and comfortable bed can be when you are sick.
This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Hamlet section.
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