Today – the 23rd April 2016 – is the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. Recently, I went to see the amazing National Theatre Live performance of As You Like It (starring Rosalie Craig as Rosalind). The imaginative and daring staging of the forest did full justice to the ambiguity of Shakespeare’s vision of the Forest of Arden. The dim lighting, the sharp angles of the trees, and the ominous sounds of woodland animals evoked a strong sense of the anti-pastoral within which the characters celebrated their pastoral freedom from the court. Within this indeterminate space – where the “winter wind” bites sharply – a group of lords fleeing the urban world gather for a meal of wild fruit. This meal is both a recognition of nature’s provision and of the difficulty of surviving only on what can be scavenged. This is one of the reasons why I love Shakespeare – he can never be pinned down within a neat web of interpretation. There is always something to debate and discover about his imaginative worlds.
There is no recipe this week. Instead, we have a quick quiz to test your knowledge of Shakespearean sustenance. Which of these foods actually appear in his plays?
1. Peacock and swan stew
2. An ill roasted egg
3. Cheese and garlic
4. Fish with chickpeas
6. Pigeons, hens and mutton – in one meal!
7. Sea urchins
8. Dates and quince in pastry
9. Saffron pies
10. Ostrich, cumin and honey
Answers: all these foods were eaten in the Renaissance period, but they don’t all appear in Shakespeare’s plays. The ones which do are: an ill roasted egg; cheese and garlic; pigeons, hens and mutton; dates and quince in pastry; and saffron pies.