--Roland Barthes (1)
"DO I DARE TO EAT A PEACH?"--that we know, or imagine that we know, what this question means calls attention to food as a system of communication. (2) Food occupies a liminal situation between material and symbol, perception and intellection; as Robert Appelbaum writes, "the subject of food ultimately requires us to think about everything that is human, everything that is meaningful, everything that is subject to interpretation." (3) It conveys the heavy load of politics, economics, medical theory, culture, identity, and social status. To examine the subject of food is to examine human history and the human in history. But in reconstructing histories we often look at the surplus or shortage of food, or at the movement of commodities. (4) The everyday details of it do not often arrest our scholarly attention. The migration of meanings that attach to food out of context, however, corrupts the sense--as is the case with any language system. A system of communication so freighted with significance requires that we parse its language data: how food is acquired, prepared, and preserved, and how this process is repeated daily, is literally the stuff of life.
On some level the subject of food suffers from the quotidian. The combination of eggs, flour, and milk in different proportions makes either a pancake or a biscuit: does it matter if nutmeg is added? How long did it take to bake bread in an early modern household? Routine affairs can be mistaken for pedestrian ones, and mundane tasks can appear, literally and literarily, unremarkable. Certainly the study of food provisions and preparation has been hampered by attitudes towards domestic work and workers. But as Ken Albala and Robert Appelbaum have shown, the fact that piecrust functioned less as pastry and more as preservative in the early modern period--"coffins" for the mince inside--endows Hamlet's "funeral baked meats" (1.2.187) with much of their meaning. (5) To overlook the values and practices related to food--cooking, conservation, and consumption--is to disregard a system of meaning to which an early modern audience was exquisitely attuned.
It would be difficult to find a culture more invested in the adage that we are what we eat than that of Shakespeare's England. (6) Galen was the dominant medical paradigm of the period. Early modern physiology comprehended the body and mind as prone to humoral balances. "It standeth [upon] euery man," Levinus Lemnius declares in the opening of his Touchstone of Complexions (trans. 1576), "perfectly and thorowly to know the habite & constitution of his owne bodye, which consisteth in a temperament & mixture of foure qualities, hoate, moyst, cold and dry." (7) These four qualities were poised in the body through the distribution of humors: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. That early moderns took the charge of regulating their humoral constitution seriously is indicated in the analysis of Paul Slack. In "Mirrors of Health and Treasures of Poor Men," Slack details the proliferation of vernacular medical texts and regimens circulating in England in the sixteenth century: there were seventeen works on theory and practice in medicine from 1486-1604, and thirty-three explanatory textbooks and regimens. Slack estimates that the printed editions of these texts reached their greatest numbers between 1585-1590. (8) Since Thomas Elyot's The Castle of Health (1534) set the standard for regimens, "incorporating humoral theory, dietary advice and a few practical remedies," these particular works contended exclusively with the Galenic humoral model. (9) The number of editions produced indicates a circulation of some one hundred forty thousand medical texts that trafficked in the theories of Galenic humoralism; or, as Slack succinctly puts it, "one for every twenty people or so, had they been equally distributed." (10) Both dietary advice and practical remedy attempt to use foodstuffs in the regulation of constitution. Food is the "non-natural" that most immediately controls the complexion of humors; humors are effected in the body through the concoction of food. (11)
For early moderns, the regulation of temperament was both a personal and public concern. The significance of temperance as an English virtue needs no rehearsal after Spenser. But the physical technologies that produce the virtue are not always apparent to us. Neither is the operation of food in the manufacture: not only the gluttony and abstinence represented in the Cave of Mammon, but the meats, vegetables, fruits, and spices that are the substance of English dietaries and receipt collections. These regimens served the purpose of ordering both the individual and society under the rubric of health. While diet addresses all of the "non-naturals" that affect the disposition of the body (food and drink, intake and expulsion, sleep, motion, air, and passions), medical texts and regimens are overwhelmingly preoccupied with foodstuffs. Gervase Markham's 1615 English Huswife is exemplary: the first third of the book provides instruction on home remedy; the second, cookery; the third, bread baking, brewing, and churning. All of these household occupations use provisions that we would generally class as food. But Markham's book begins with a list of the temperate virtues that an English housewife should possess. The implication is that once she had "digested the things of [the] booke," her temperance, or proper humoral regulation, would be assured. (12)
Food was then, as it is now, political. But with a notable exception: it was thought to order the nature of human beings--and, by extension, the body politic. (Indeed, Markham's title page declares his "A worke very profitable and necessary for the generall good of this kingdome.") In The Boke named the Governour (1531), Sir Thomas Elyot's recommendations for the rearing of the infant children of English nobles focuses attention upon their inherited constitution. He concentrates upon the choice of a wet nurse, advising that the selection for noble children must be dictated by the distribution of the humors expressed in her milk. The nurse, Elyot claims, "shoulde be of no seruile condicion, or vice notable. For as some auncient writers do suppose often times the childe souketh the vice of his nourise, with the milk of her pappe." (13) Few noble women nursed their own children, and so Elyot's intention was to safeguard against the contamination of noble bloodlines through their inevitable mingling with the blood of servants. Since breast milk was considered blood in another form, the "complection" of the wet nurse must be "of the right and pure sanguine." She must not be "seruile," or, of low status, must be of a young and healthy age, and must express the attributes of a strong moral character. (14)
Both mind and morals stood within the ambit of the body's organic temper. (15) The constitution of noble subjects was thought to be in equilibrium, and numerous regimens (Elyot's Boke named the Governour is a case in point) assisted the nobility in harnessing the environment to the purpose of maintaining the presumed superiority of their natures. As Lemnius observes: "we see the common sorte and multitude, in behauiour and maners grosse and vunnurtured whereas the Nobles and Gentlemen (altering theyr order & diet, and digressing from the common fashion of their pezantly countreyme[n]) frame themselues & theirs, to a verye commendable order, and ciuill behauiour." (16) Of course, such declarations naturalize a social hierarchy already in place through a fantasy of physiological superiority. They also underscore the extent to which virtue and morals come within the compass of early modern physiology. Dietary regimens routinely reproduced these essentialized notions of social order. They instructed the nobility on how to achieve, or preserve, the requisite moral constitution for control of the kingdom. But the number of dietaries in circulation tells us (contra Lemnius) that many early modern subjects fashioned themselves to social purposes--and that they saw food as the most direct route to their moral and physical rectitude.
In early modern terms, then, food conveyed a particular set of public meanings. While food always functions as a system of meaning, the meanings are crucially affected when a people understand food as shaping them to the public good. In one of his earliest pieces on the semiotic and symbolic power of food, Barthes lays out a valuable methodology for the study of food: "Information about food must be gathered wherever it can be found: by direct observation in the economy, in techniques, usages, and advertising; and by indirect observation in the mental life of a given society." (17) What does such a methodology imply for the study of early modern food consumption? How have practitioners in our field gathered information about food as a system of communication in Shakespeare's work? What have we gleaned about the foodways of early modern subjects in the process and what does this imply for our critical practice?
The field itself seems ripe for such a line of questioning and a general reflection on methods. It has been close to a decade since Shakespearean scholars like Ken Albala, Robert Appelbaum, and Joan Fitzpatrick, (18) all of whom are contributors to this issue, first invited us to chart the intersections between food studies and Shakespeare studies. Since then, new work on diet and identity in Shakespeare's England continues to emerge from a range of scholars, who have charted different points of entry into the field. Their work on food has variously emerged from theoretical paradigms in feminist studies, materialist studies, ecocritical studies, colonial, and postcolonial studies. Their objects of inquiry have been wide-ranging. If some have chosen to focus on particular foodstuffs, others have demonstrated a broader interest in dietary regimens associated with food in general. If some have documented the consumption of food in the early modern English domestic unit, others have been interested in its procurement overseas and the resultant formation of trade routes and colonial economies. The raw and the cooked, the fasting and the feasting, have all received attention. In addition to drama, scholars have mined the archive for genres such as receipt collections, bills of fare, treatises on health and medicine--forms of writing that have much to tell us about food, its use and production, in early modern England.
Our volume presents a rich cross section of this work. The eight essays included in this forum inaugurate very different conversations about diet and identity in Shakespeare's England, even as they speak to each other in important ways. Together, they exemplify Barthes's insistence that food "transmits a situation; it constitutes an information; it signifies." It is, anthropologically speaking, a "first need," yet this need is part of a structure in which food substance, food preparation, food habits all become part of a system of signification. As soon as this happens, Barthes argues, "we have communication by way of food." (19)
Our opening essay examines this system of communication and its implications for art and life in Shakespeare's work. Like the other essays in this section, Robert Appelbaum's is concerned with a particular scene, a particular moment in a play--"a gastronomic interjection," to use the phrase he so appositely coined in Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup for recurring moments in the Shakespearean text when characters make an interjection about food. What does this interjection tell us "about the writer, the character, the writing, the culture? What does it tell us about food? About food and culture? About literature, food, and culture?" Appelbaum asks in the introduction to his monograph, a line of questioning he continues here in an essay entitled "'Lawful as Eating': Art, Life and Magic in The Winter's Tale." (20) Taking up the scene where Hermione's statue comes to life, Appelbaum analyzes the linguistic resonances of Leontes's "puzzling analogy": "If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating." What does this analogy imply for eating, for the law, for food, for the magic that inspired the interjection about food? In grappling with these questions raised by a single line in the play, Appelbaum provides a richly detailed reading of art, life, and magic in the play as a whole.
Our second essay is also concerned with an interjection and its place in a larger system of political thought and communication. "On a Bank of Rue; Or Material Ecofeminist Inquiry and the Garden of Richard IF' compels us to rethink the garden scene in Richard II and the environs in which it unfolds. In this work Rebecca Laroche and Jennifer Munroe build on the "material turn" that has been the focus of much recent feminist and ecofeminist work, which emphasizes the joint "materiality of the human body and the natural world," and connect it with food studies as a way to better understand gender and the garden scene in Shakespeare's Richard II. (21) This scene has been discussed almost exclusively as metaphor, but Laroche and Munroe resist this "metaphorization" and instead explore a materialist reading of the garden in the play, the gendered implications of the garden where the scene takes place, and the plants in it. Doing so, they suggest, allows us to re-read the queen's role in the play. The Gardener does not call to our attention the fact that Richard (or anyone else for that matter) neglected imagining England in metaphoric terms as a garden but rather that Richard would have ruled the kingdom better had he taken a cue from those who work outside with the land. Laroche and Munroe argue that it is in the work with the land, and subsequently in the kitchen or stillroom in the making of medicine, that food studies, too, may become part of the "material turn."
If the first two essays share a concern with kingship, authority, and the rule of law in the kingdom, Hillary Eklund's "Revolting Diets: Jack Cade's 'Sallet' and the Politics of Hunger in 2 Henry VI" is concerned with their very antithesis--sedition, disorder, and insurrection and their relationship with forms of alimentary scarcity and excess. Eklund's essay is an important reminder that hunger, privation, and food inequities fall crucially within the purview of food studies. It explores the connections between dietary regimens and political regimes in Shakespeare's 2 Henry VI. In particular, it addresses how scarcity and excess inform political positions that challenge traditional associations between poverty, vagrancy, and hunger on the one hand, and disorder, sedition, and insurrection on the other. Eklund then takes us back to food as "the first need," but reminds us that it is still part of a system of political communication. As Barthes puts it, "People may very well continue to believe that food is an immediate reality (necessity or pleasure), but this does not prevent it from carrying a system of communication." (22)
If the first three essays hone in on individual scenes, the next two present a broad overview of diet and identity in the plays of Shakespeare. Food historian Ken Albala proposes a new empirical methodology for unraveling Shakespeare's culinary metaphors: "direct reference to contemporary cookbooks and food texts and if necessary hands-on experiments to clarify the procedures." In "Shakespeare's Culinary Metaphors: A Practical Approach," Albala recommends using historic equipment and ingredients to make recipes with which Shakespeare was familiar; such a method "might lend insight into the meaning of the texts that would otherwise remain obscure or conjectural" and would provide culinary historians the opportunity to "make better use of Shakespeare to understand the prevailing aesthetic of the era." Albala goes on to demonstrate the broad range of references to baking, pickling, kneading, and seasoning in Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, and other plays--and how these references give specific meaning to Shakespeare's drama.
Like Albala, Joan Fitzpatrick's method is grounded in the experiential writings of Shakespeare's predecessors and contemporaries. In "Diet and Identity in Early Modern Dietaries and Shakespeare," Fitzpatrick's focus is on a particular genre: dietaries--texts that recommend what one should eat and why. This relatively neglected form, Fitzpatrick argues, "has much to tell us about attitudes to nationality, gender, social rank, and age that might usefully inform our reading of Shakespeare's plays." She guides us through dietary literature on everything from milk to venison to pottage, suggesting ways in which it might enrich our understanding of a range of references in the comedies, tragedies, and histories. Fitzpatrick gives practical demonstration to one of this forum's central claims: that identity for the early moderns is grounded in dietary choices and their humoral / corporeal ramifications.
Diane Purkiss's essay, "The Masque of Food: Staging and Banqueting in Shakespeare's England," shares Fitzpatrick's interest in a food-related genre--the feast. But Purkiss's interest in the feast is specifically political, as a demonstration of political and economic power. "It is right to speak of the feast as a genre: it is governed by laws on which its meanings depend," Purkiss argues. Her essay is about excessive consumption as political display: it tracks the excessive nature that the feast assumed and how this excess is represented in dramatic form. Early modern drama seemed preoccupied with the cost of such indulgence: the English banquet seems to enact a grotesque of the virtue of hospitality; the rise in sugar as a commodity meant a corresponding rise in slave labor to support its consumption. The cannibalizing of human beings, then, appears as an analogy in English drama for both the trade that provided increasingly exotic goods to the English (noble) table, and the increasingly de-humanized act of conspicuous consumption.
Fittingly, Purkiss's essay takes us into a section on the global networks of trade and the colonial economies associated with particular foodstuffs. In " 'More natural to the nation': situating Shakespeare in the 'Querelle de Canary,'" Barbara Sebek surveys the origins and widespread circulation and consumption of Spanish wines in England. Her argument might pithily be summed up as follows: "Like Falstaff's tavern reckoning in Eastcheap, his weapon case at Shrewsbury, and his ample body everywhere, sixteenthand seventeenth-century English bodies and English literary culture were replete with an 'intolerable deal of sack.'" Sebek takes up for discussion texts that are concerned with the ways in which drinks travel across political and geographical borders and circulate in trade. In the process, she introduces us to a literary debate that she appropriately calls the "querelle de canary"--a range of texts in a wide array of genres that dispute the relative merits of sack, ale, and beer and explore their effects on the humoral body and the body politic.
In the final essay of our forum Gitanjali Shahani traces the intricate trajectories of what Salman Rushdie has infamously called "the hot stuff." In "The Spiced Indian Air in Early Modern England," Shahani explores a particular set of responses to the early modern spice trade--a conflicted discourse of fear and desire that attached itself to commodities like pepper, nutmeg, mace, and cloves as they infiltrated the English marketplace, via the newly formed East India Company. The fear of heathens, the threat of racial contamination, the dread of what we might retrospectively term miscegenation, variously coalesced onto these spices, even as they continued to remain highly coveted objects of conspicuous consumption in the early modern household. Like other contributors to the forum, Shahani takes up food related genres such as receipt collections and domestic manuals, in addition to Shakespearean drama. Her culminating argument on "the spiced Indian air" of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the silenced Indian Boy therein, asks us to think about diet and identity well beyond Shakespeare's England and the early modern moment, tracing as it does the "social life" of a food commodity that would result in a monumental colonial encounter between two worlds.
In tracing the early modern system of communication that is food through England, we end up tracking methods of procurement, practice and use: how food is obtained and circulated, the techniques by which it is manipulated and prepared for human consumption, and the meanings associated with its ingestion. The rich and varied contributions to this forum throw into relief the language of food--and how this language conveys a cargo of early modern provision, production, and politics. That food is able to carry so much makes it a thriving dramatic language in the early modern period. Like the pack animals and ships that brought provisions to English shores, the language of food transports a range of issues--both foreign and domestic--into the drama of Shakespeare's time. The offerings here only give a taste of the range of meanings released by the use of food in early modern English drama. We invite you to dig in.
We are grateful to the Shakespeare Association of America for providing us with the opportunity to organize a seminar on "Diet and Identity in Shakespeare's England" in 2011, which then became the basis for this forum. In addition, we would like to recognize the generosity of certain organizations: Kimberly Coles would like to thank The School of Advanced Study, University of London, for a fellowship--jointly held at the Institute of English Studies and the Warburg Institute--that afforded her the time and resources to work on this forum. Gitanjali Shahani would like to thank the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at San Francisco State University for a grant that supported her work on this project.
(1.) Roland Barthes, "Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption," in Food and Culture: A Reader, ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2008), 28-35; 29.
(2.) T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1952 repr.), 1. 122.
(3.) Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 9.
(4.) Given the consequence of the rise in commodities such as sugar, histories have understandably devoted considerable attention to the demand, procurement, and circulation of these commodities. A notable example would be Sidney Wilfred Mintz, Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking, 1985).
(5.) See Ken Albala's essay, "Shakespeare's Culinary Aesthetic," in this forum; and Robert Appelbaum, Aguecheek's Beef, 15-27.
(6.) Ken Albala, Eating Right in the Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002).
(7.) The touchstone of complexions generallye appliable, expedient and profitable for all such, as be desirous & carefull of their bodylye health (STC 15456), sig. Air.
(8.) "Mirrors of Health and Treasures of Poor Men: the Uses of the Vernacular Medical Literature of Tudor England" in Health, Medicine and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Charles Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 237-73; 243.
(9.) Elizabeth Spiller has argued that these texts, while maintaining a predisposition to Galenic medical theory, shift in practice from a maker's knowledge model to a brand of empiricism informed by Paracelsus. But she identifies the shift as occurring after 1618. See Seventeenth-Century English Recipe Books: Cooking, Physic and Chirurgery in the Works of Elizabeth Grey and Aletheia Talbot (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2008), introduction; and "Recipes for Knowledge: Maker's Knowledge Traditions, Paracelsian Recipes and the Invention of the Cookbook, 1600-1660," Renaissance Food: Cultural Readings and Cultural Histories, ed. Joan Fitzpatrick (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010), 55-72.
(10.) Slack, "Mirrors of Health and Treasures of Poor Men," 239. With the addition of other texts such as herbals and plague tracts, most of which also used humoralism as the medical model, Slack estimates (assuming a life of about thirty years per book) some 166,000 vernacular medical books still in circulation in 1604.
(11.) See Appelbaum, Aguecheek's Beef, 50-52; and Spiller, Seventeenth-Century English Recipe Books, xvii.
(12.) Countrey contentments, in two bookes ... The second intituled, The English husvvife (STC 17342), sig. Q1v.
(13.) The Boke named the Governour (STC 7635), sig. 16v.
(14.) Jean Feerick, Strangers in Blood: Relocating Race in the Renaissance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 60. In her second chapter, "Uncouth Milk and the Irish Wet Nurse," Feerick examines this rhetoric and what she terms "the politics of breasts" in the degeneracy of noble bloodlines (55-77).
(15.) These are complicated issues, as the dedicatory epistle of Timothy Bright's 1586 Treatise of Melancholie (STC 3747) makes clear: Bright denies that reason, or the higher faculties of the rational soul, might come within the purview of the body. Such thinking presented serious doctrinal problems, particularly for the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace. But the treatments for melancholy, which assumed an organic cause (an excess of black bile), made such thinking inevitable. Disturbances of the mind--even in Bright's treatise--are assumed to be the product of a humoral imbalance. Separating the rational soul from the organic operations of the mind became increasingly difficult with the advance of medical treatment.
(16.) The touchstone of complexions, sig. B8v.
(17.) Barthes, "Towards a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption," 29.
(18.) See Ken Albala, Eating Right in the Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002), Robert Appelbaum, Aguecheek's Beef (2006), and Joan Fitzpatrick, Food in Shakespeare: Early Modern Dietaries and the Plays (London: Ashgate, 2007).
(19.) Barthes, "Towards a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption," 29-30.
(20.) Aguecheek's Beef, xiii.
(21.) Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman, eds. "Introduction," Material Feminisms (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), 1, 6.
(22.) Barthes, "Towards a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption," 30.
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|Title Annotation:||FORUM: Diet and Identity in Shakespeare's England|
|Author:||Coles, Kimberly Anne; Shahani, Gitanjali|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2014|
|Previous Article:||What You Will: Gender, Contract and Shakespearean Social Space.|
|Next Article:||"Lawful as eating": art, life, and magic in The Winter's Tale.|