Jun 292018

On this date in 1613, the Globe Theatre, built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was destroyed by fire caused by stage effects during a production of Henry VIII. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site, and was opened in June 1614. It was closed by an Ordinance issued on 6th September 1642. Examination of old property records has identified the plot of land occupied by the Globe as extending from the west side of modern-day Southwark Bridge Road eastwards as far as Porter Street and from Park Street southwards as far as the back of Gatehouse Square. However, the precise location of the building remained unknown until a small part of the foundations, including one original pier base, was discovered in 1989 beneath the car park at the rear of Anchor Terrace on Park Street. The shape of the foundations is now replicated on the surface. Because the majority of the foundation lies beneath 67—70 Anchor Terrace, a listed building, no further excavations have been permitted.

The Globe was owned by actors who were also shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Two of the six Globe shareholders, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage, owned double shares of the whole, or 25% each; the other four men, Shakespeare, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, and Thomas Pope, owned a single share, or 12.5%. (Originally William Kempe was intended to be the seventh partner, but he sold out his share to the four minority shareholders, leaving them with more than the originally planned 10%). These initial proportions changed over time as new shareholders were added. Shakespeare’s share diminished from 1/8 to 1/14, or roughly 7%, over the course of his career.

The Globe was first built in 1599 using timber from an earlier theatre, simply known as The Theatre, which had been built by Richard Burbage’s father, James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Burbages originally had a 21-year lease on  the site where the theatre was built but owned the building outright. However, the landlord, Giles Allen, claimed that the building had become his with the expiry of the lease. On 28th December 1598, while Allen was celebrating Christmas at his country home, Peter Street, a carpenter, supported by the players and their friends, dismantled The Theatre beam by beam and transported it to Street’s waterfront warehouse near Bridewell. With the onset of more favorable weather in the following spring, the material was ferried over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globe on some marshy gardens to the south of Maiden Lane in Southwark. While only a hundred yards from the congested shore of the Thames, the piece of land was situated close by an area of farmland and open fields. It was poorly drained and, despite its distance from the river, was liable to flooding at times of particularly high tide. A “wharf” (that is, levy) of raised earth with timber revetments had to be created to keep the building above the flood level. The new theatre was larger than the building it replaced, so that even though they used the older timbers as part of the new structure, the Globe was not merely the old Theatre newly set up at Bankside. It was probably completed by the summer of 1599, possibly in time for the opening production of Henry V and its famous reference in the Prologue to the performance crammed within a “wooden O”.

On 29th June 1613 the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry VIII  when a theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams and thatching. According to one of the few surviving documents of the event, no one was hurt except a man whose burning breeches were put out with a bottle of ale. It was rebuilt in the following year. Like all the other theaters in London, the Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642. It was pulled down in 1644–45 to make room for tenements.

A modern reconstruction of the theatre, named Shakespeare’s Globe, opened in 1997, with a production of Henry V. It is an approximation of the original design, based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings, and is located approximately 750 feet (230 m) from the site of the original theatre. The Globe’s actual dimensions are unknown, but its shape and size can be approximated given that scholars have been making conjectures for the past 200 years. The evidence suggests that the Globe was a three-storey, open-air amphitheater approximately 100 feet (30 m) in diameter that could house up to 3,000 spectators. The Globe is shown as round on Wenceslas Hollar’s sketch of the building, later incorporated into his etched Long View of London from Bankside in 1647. However, in 1988–89, the uncovering of a small part of the Globe’s foundation suggested that it was a polygon of 20 sides.

At the base of the stage, there was an area called the pit or yard, where, for a penny, people (the “groundlings”) could stand on a rush-strewn earthen floor to watch the performance. During the excavation of the Globe in 1989 a layer of nutshells was found, pressed into the dirt flooring. Vertically around the yard were three levels of seats, which were more expensive than standing room. A rectangular stage platform, known as an apron stage, thrust out into the middle of the open-air yard. The stage measured approximately 43 feet (13.1 m) in width, 27 feet (8.2 m) in depth and was raised about 5 feet (1.5 m) off the ground. On this stage, there was a trap door for use by performers to enter from the “cellarage” area beneath the stage.The back wall of the stage had two or three doors on the main level, with a curtained inner stage in the center (although not all scholars agree about the existence of this supposed “inner below”), and a balcony above it. The doors entered into the “tiring house” (backstage area) where the actors dressed and awaited their entrances. The floors above may have been used as storage for costumes and props as well as management offices. The balcony housed the musicians and could also be used for scenes requiring an upper space, such as the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Rush matting covered the stage, although this may only have been used if the setting of the play demanded it.[23]

Large columns on either side of the stage supported a roof over the rear portion of the stage. The ceiling under this roof was called the “heavens,” and was painted with clouds and the sky. A trap door in the heavens enabled performers to descend using some form of rope and harness. The stage was set in the south-east corner of the building, so as to be in shade during afternoon performances in summer.

If you are used to plays on modern stages or on film, a play staged in the reconstructed Globe can be an eye opener I expect, but I treat such things as fodder for tourists rather than serious investigation into the Elizabethan stage. I spent decades studying original documents from Elizabethan times in my research concerning stage dances, and have no trouble reconstructing aspects of Elizabethan drama without having to have an actual theater built and real actors performing on it. What I can’t do – no one can – is recreate the living culture of Elizabethan England. You can find numerous YouTube videos about the experience of doing Shakespeare in the reconstructed Globe (including an excruciatingly large number that talk about “most unique” and “very unique” experiences – which drives me nuts). I expect actors can learn something about Elizabethan theater practices by acting in plain daylight with the audience at their feet, but they can get a similar experience by performing at an outdoor rock concert. And . . . modern actors are playing to modern audiences. These audiences are all attentive and engaged by the reconstruction. Elizabethan audiences were nowhere as easy to please. When they disliked an actor they threw things at him as well as booing and jeering. Elizabethan audiences shouted comments at the actors, and all the actors were male. The women’s parts were played (mostly) skillfully by boys and young men. They were so good, in fact, that one Elizabethan courtier who saw women playing women part’s in Italy wrote back home saying that they were surprisingly good – almost as good as English boys !!! Elizabethan audiences did not have all the movie special effects that we are bombarded with, and sated by. The effect that burned the Globe down would have been a real marvel to them, and, as Henry V’s prologue tells us, they had to use their imaginations so much more. In the video above, I like the playful cutting between the Elizabethan stage and modern movie effects. It makes my point.

The Globe has, I am glad to say, experimented with Elizabethan pronunciation of the lines, and this video is instructive:

Just as we cannot recreate the world of Elizabethan theater, we cannot really duplicate Elizabethan cooking because we do not have their skills, their tastes, their kitchens, nor their ingredients. We do have their recipes, however, and we can make a stab at them. I have talked about the pitfalls of trying to recreate historic dishes from contemporary recipes many times before. This site gives all the recipes from Thomas Dawson’s Good huswifes jewell (1587). The printed title is, The good husvvifes ievvell VVherein is to be found most excellent and rare deuises for conceits in cookerie, found out by the practise of Thomas Dawson. Whereunto is adioyned sundry approued reseits for many soueraine oyles, and the way to distill many precious waters, with diuers approued medicines for many diseases. Also certaine approued points of husbandry, very necessarie for all husbandmen to know. The recipes are given in slightly modernized spelling, so they are a bit easier to read than the original, but the instructions are skimpy. Here, for example, is a bread recipe:

To make fine bread.

TAke halfe a pound of fine suger well beaten, and as much Flower, and put thereto foure Egges whites, and being very wel beaten, you must mingle them with Anniseedes bruised, and being all beaten together, put into your mould melting the sawce ouer first with a litle butter, and set it in the Ouen, & turne it twice or thrice in the baking.

This looks more like an angel cake than bread, but worth a try. This recipe for veal breast is also a little cryptic:

To make a pudding in a breast of Veale.

TAke Peresely, Time, washe them, pricke them, and choppe them small, then take viii. yolkes of egges grated bread and halfe a pint of creame beeing verie swéete, then season it with Pepper, Cloues, and Mace, Saffron, and Sugar smal Raisons and Salt, put it in and Roste it and serue it.

I am assuming that you make up this mixture, wrap a breast of veal around it, and roast it. In other words, it is a kind of stuffing.

Mar 272016


World Theatre Day was initiated in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI). Each year someone is chosen to reflect on the worldwide importance theatre and a culture of peace. The first World Theatre Day International Message was written by Jean Cocteau  in 1962. This year’s message was written by Anatoly Vassiliev. The full message is here:


Here’s an excerpt:

To hell with gadgets and computers – just go to the theatre, occupy whole rows in the stalls and in the galleries, listen to the word and look at living images! – it is theatre in front of you, do not neglect it and do not miss a chance to participate in it – perhaps the most precious chance we share in our vain and hurried lives.

Indeed. Television, movies, internet, etc. cannot match the power of living theater. Despite all manner of technological innovations, live theater will not die because the power to connect person to person is immortal.  It is also international.

I first started acting in South Australia at the age of 11 and was immediately hooked. Despite professional conflicts, I’ve found the time to act, write, or direct most of my life. I’ve also witnessed theater in a great array of forms worldwide. Here’s my head shot from the time I acted with the Beaconsfield New Theatre Group:


My first and favorite part with them was as Stanislas, the revolutionary young poet/assassin in Cocteau’s An Eagle with Two Heads.  The immense challenge of this part is that Stanislas enters, bleeding and fainting, in the first act and remains mute on stage for the rest of the act whilst the queen pleads with him, berates him, toys with him in a torrent of words – all of which he endures without uttering a word. There’s a palpable frisson of release in the audience when he first speaks in the second act. I had my first stage kiss in this part too.

If I had to recount the various forms of theater I’ve  witnessed or taken part in, I’d be writing all day.  Here’s a sample gallery instead:

wt2 wt11 wt10 wt9 wt8 wt7 wt6 wt5 wt4 wt3

Cast parties after opening night are always wonderful. I’ve been to no end of them, but the first always remains imprinted in memory because it was the first time I had steak tartare (as well as a glass of red wine, which my mother was none too pleased to hear about the day after – I was only 11).  Steak tartare is easy to make. The main issue is that you need the very freshest ground sirloin. Because the beef is served raw there’s no room for error here.**


Make sure your butcher knows what the meat is for, have him grind it fresh on the day you are serving it, and keep it refrigerated until then. Make sure the meat is very lean.  Serve the beef on individual platters to guests with a whole raw egg yolk on top, and a side plate of toasted French bread slices. The garnishes to serve alongside the beef are your choice, but chopped cornichons, shallots, and capers are standard. You should also provide salt and a pepper mill. Guests mix the meat with the yolk and garnishes to their taste and eat it heaped on the toast.

** Be aware of the health risks of eating raw animal products. I still eat raw eggs, meat, and fish, but I no longer serve them to guests.


Jan 142016


Today is the birthday (83 BCE) of Marcus Antonius, commonly known in English as Mark or Marc Antony, Roman politician and general who played a critical role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the autocratic Roman Empire – usually called the Roman Revolution. Mark Antony has shown up in posts here before, particularly as a critical player in the deaths of Cleopatra https://www.bookofdaystales.com/cleopatra-and-the-asp/ and Cicero https://www.bookofdaystales.com/cicero/ The waning moments of the Roman Republic were exceptionally turbulent times with powerful figures rising, then falling, left and right. Mark Antony, friend and ally of Julius Caesar, was the last of the shooting stars to ascend and burn out before Octavian/Augustus ultimately triumphed, making Rome a dictatorial, hereditary empire. This period is, without question, the most studied point in ancient Roman history.


Antony was a supporter of Julius Caesar, and served as one of his generals during the conquest of Gaul and the Civil War with Pompey https://www.bookofdaystales.com/crossing-rubicon/ Antony was appointed administrator of Italy while Caesar eliminated political opponents in Greece, North Africa, and Spain. After Caesar’s murder by a faction – the Liberatores – led by Brutus and Cassius in 44 BCE, Antony joined forces with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, another of Caesar’s generals, and Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, forming a three-man dictatorship known to historians as the Second Triumvirate. The Triumvirs defeated the Liberatores, at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, and divided the government of the Republic between themselves. Antony was assigned Rome’s eastern provinces, including the client kingdom of Egypt, then ruled by Cleopatra VII Philopator, and was given the command in Rome’s war against Parthia.

Relations among the Triumvirs were strained as the various members sought greater political power. Civil war between Antony and Octavian was averted in 40 BCE, when Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Despite this marriage, Antony carried on a love affair with Cleopatra, who bore him three children, further straining Antony’s relations with Octavian. Lepidus was expelled from the triumvirate in 36 BCE, and in 33 BCE disagreements between Antony and Octavian caused a split between them. Their ongoing hostility erupted into civil war in 31 BCE, as the Roman Senate, at Octavian’s direction, declared war on Cleopatra and proclaimed Antony a traitor. Later that year, Antony was defeated by Octavian’s forces at the Battle of Actium. Defeated, Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt, where they committed suicide.


With Antony dead, Octavian was the undisputed master of the Roman world. In 27 BCE, he was granted the title of Augustus, marking the final stage in the transformation of the Roman Republic into an empire, with himself as the first Roman emperor.

Antony features in two of Shakespeare’s plays – Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra. Julius Caesar, despite its title, focuses on Antony’s defeat of Brutus and the conspirators after Caesar’s murder, with Antony’s funeral oration being the most famous segment. In it Antony skillfully appears to condemn Caesar as a tyrant and praise Brutus as a man of the people, but in reality turns the crowd against Brutus and in favor of his own ambitions as successor to Caesar. Despite a certain degree of poetic license, Shakespeare stays fairly close to historical fact.


Caesar’s funeral was held on 20th March (five days after his murder). Antony, as Caesar’s faithful lieutenant and reigning Consul, was chosen to preside over the ceremony and to recite the eulogy. During a demagogic speech, he enumerated the deeds of Caesar and, publicly read his will, which detailed the donations Caesar had left to the Roman people. Antony then seized the blood-stained toga from Caesar’s body and presented it to the crowd. Worked into a fury by the bloody spectacle, the assembly rioted. Several buildings in the Forum and some houses of the conspirators were burned to the ground. Panicked, many of the conspirators fled Italy. Under the pretext of not being able to guarantee their safety, Antony relieved Brutus and Cassius of their judicial duties in Rome and instead assigned them responsibility for procuring wheat for Rome from Sicily and Asia. Such an assignment, in addition to being unworthy of their rank, would have kept them far from Rome and shifted the balance towards Antony. Refusing such secondary duties, the two traveled to Greece instead.


Despite the provisions of Caesar’s will, Antony proceeded to act as leader of the Caesarian faction, including appropriating for himself a portion of Caesar’s fortune rightfully belonging to Octavian. Antony enacted the Lex Antonia, which formally abolished the Dictatorship, in an attempt to consolidate his power by gaining the support of the Senatorial class. He also enacted a number of laws he claimed to have found in Caesar’s papers to ensure his popularity with Caesar’s veterans, particularly by providing land grants to them. Lepidus, with Antony’s support, was named Pontifex Maximus to succeed Caesar. To solidify the alliance between Antony and Lepidus, Antony’s daughter Antonia Prima was engaged to Lepidus’s son, also named Lepidus. Surrounding himself with a bodyguard of over six thousand of Caesar’s veterans, Antony presented himself as Caesar’s true successor, largely ignoring Octavian. So the stage was set for Antony and Octavian to defeat the conspirators, and for Octavian subsequently to turn on Antony.

Here’s a recipe from Apicius that could have graced Antony’s table at some point. Molded aspics are attested in Roman texts as fancy centerpieces. I used to make a chicken aspic as a party piece once in a while when I was much younger. They weren’t very popular, so I stopped making them. The principle is simple – lightly grease a fancy mould with a clear oil. Pour a thin layer of aspic in the mould and let it gel slightly. For my aspic I used a clarified stock plus the requisite amount of gelatin dissolved in the warmed stock. Then put a decorative component on the bottom. Fill up the mould with meat, vegetables, or whatever, so that you have pretty layers – leaving a small gap between the filling and sides of the mould. Then fill up the mould with aspic and let set in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Unmould by immersing the mould in warm water for a few minutes, being careful not to let the water flow into the mould. Place a serving plate on top of the mould, say a prayer, and invert. With luck it will come out clean. Serve immediately.


The following recipe is a translation which I have edited. It gives you some ideas for what you might use as a filling. If I were to use this recipe I would place the dressing in the base of the mould.

Salacattabia Apiciana (Apician Jelly)

Put in the mortar celery seed, dry pennyroyal, dry mint, ginger, fresh coriander, seedless raisins, honey, vinegar, oil and wine; crush it together in order to make a dressing of it. Place 3 pieces of Picentian bread in a mould, interlined with pieces of cooked chicken, cooked sweetbreads of calf or lamb, [ewe’s] cheese, pine nuts, pickled cucumbers, finely chopped dried onions, covering the whole with jellified broth. Bury the mould in snow up to the rim; unmould, sprinkle with the above dressing and serve.

Sep 072015


Today is the birthday (1533) of Elizabeth I, queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death in 1603. She was sometimes called The Virgin Queen (for which Virginia was named), Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, and, because she was childless, was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Her reign, now known as the Elizabethan era, has been the subject of endless debate by historians, although I believe there is less to discuss than you might think. The main virtue of Elizabeth’s reign was that it was long (44 years). It was not a Golden Age in the way it is often discussed by focusing on such highlights as the defeat of the Spanish Armada or the dawning of great theater under Shakespeare and Marlowe. Elizabeth’s reign was plagued by court intrigue, domestic religious insurrections, foreign wars, debt, and royal indecisiveness. All of this was glossed over when James VI & I ascended the throne. The people had high hopes for him, which were quickly dashed, leading people to look back on Elizabeth’s reign with a sentimental reverence that was ill deserved.

One of Elizabeth’s primary achievements was the cementing of the Protestant Reformation in England. When I was an undergraduate I took a special schools paper on the Reformation, and a key essay my tutor asked me to write was “Why was the ‘Elizabethan Settlement’ Protestant?” At the time I thought “duh !!!” and still do. It’s a stupid question. It’s a simple matter of political expediency. Her father, Henry VIII, broke with the pope because he wanted a divorce. He was desperate for a legitimate son and heir, to sustain the stability established by his father, Henry VII, following the disastrous Wars of the Roses, which Katherine of Aragon, his wife, seemingly could not produce. She did indeed bear three sons, but all died in early infancy. Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother, seemed at the time to be a better option. The attempted divorce (or annulment) caused a rift with the pope, and Henry assumed the headship of the church which allowed him to grant himself the divorce (and in the process making his only surviving child, Mary, illegitimate). Having the pope as head of the church had been a thorn in the side of many European monarchs for whom the Reformation was a convenience. Henry was not in the least interested in actually reforming the church, but he did seize the opportunity to take over the church, and dissolve a large number of monasteries and religious foundations to fill his coffers, making it very difficult for his daughter, Mary, to reinstitute Catholicism. His young and frail son, Edward VI who succeeded him, and died young, was swayed by senior clerics to reform the Prayer Book to solidify the Reformation, and, thus, keep their heads on their shoulders – for the moment.


When Mary, as eldest daughter, succeeded Henry she had to be Catholic to secure her right to inherit (by nullifying the divorce of her mother). In truth, she was actually a devout Catholic, following the teaching and tradition of her mother. She married the Catholic Philip of Spain, further entrenching Catholicism in England and guaranteeing his ire when Elizabeth became a Protestant queen. During Mary’s reign she executed 280 prominent Protestants, mostly by burning at the stake, but ruled for only 5 years before she died. Then Elizabeth enters the stage. Would she be Catholic or Protestant? An absurd and pointless question to my mind. To be queen she HAD to be Protestant. The pope had declared her illegitimate and, hence, could not be queen as a Catholic. Case closed.

Many Protestants had fled England to the continent under Mary where they were influenced by great reformers such as Luther and Calvin, and upon their return were intent on being much more radical than the tepid, almost-Catholic, reformers of Henry’s and Edward’s days. So Elizabeth had trouble on all fronts, from both old-school Catholics, and from Protestants who were divided between old (English) Episcopalians and new (European) Presbyterians. The Protestant battles lasted down to the time of Charles I and Cromwell, and Elizabeth had a difficult time of it keeping all these factions in check.

liz1  liz2

Add to all of this the endless jockeying for power within the court which often led to people losing their heads, and the constant threat of invasion by Spain under Mary’s husband, Philip, who wanted his throne back. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was achieved by a combination of brilliant leadership by Francis Drake and the fortunes of weather (many Spanish ships were wrecked in storms off Scotland and Ireland). Nonetheless, war with Spain continued until after Elizabeth’s death, leading the queen to forge an alliance with Morocco in order to harass Spain on two fronts.


So . . . in sum, I would not call Elizabeth’s reign a time of peace and stability: just the opposite. The queen kept a huge network of spies and secret agents so that she was always aware of trouble brewing. It was possible to be in favor one minute and in prison the next. As Elizabeth aged, the country became concerned about a successor since she was childless, and refused to name an heir. But, in keeping with the tenor of the times, no one wanted to be at risk of meeting the chopping block by speaking up. Consequently Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar (1599) to point out that Caesar died without an heir and this prompted civil war. By setting the issue in ancient Rome, Shakespeare avoided an accusation of sedition and treason, but Elizabeth got the point.


Cooking in Elizabethan times was undergoing changes because of the introduction of new cultigens, such as tomatoes, corn, and potatoes, from the New World. Too much can be made of this change. Tomatoes and potatoes, for example, were initially considered poisonous and did not come into regular usage for several generations despite initial enthusiasm. A BOOK OF COOKRYE by A. W. published in 1591 provides a wealth of choices.


Here’s an assortment of stewed capon recipes:

To stue a Capon.

Take the best of the Broth of the pot, and put it in a pipkin, and put to it Corance and great raisins, Dates quartered and onions fine minced, strayned bread & time, and let them boile well togither: when they be well boyled, put in your prunes, season it with cloves, mace, pepper and very little Salte, a spoonfull or two of Vergious, and let it not be too thick. And your Capon being boyled in a pot by it selfe in fair water & salt to keepe it faire, and thus you may boyle a Chicken, vele, beef or mutton after this sort.

To stue a Capon in Lemmons.

Slice your Lemmons and put them in a platter, and put to them white Wine and Rosewater, and so boile them and Sugar til they be tender. Then take the best of the broth wherin your Capon is boyled, and put thereto whole Mace, whole pepper & red Corance, barberies, a little time, & good store of Marow. Let them boile well togither til the broth be almost boiled away that you have no more then will wette your Sops. Then poure your Lemmons upon your Capon, & season your broth with Vergious and Sugar, and put it upon your Capon also.

To boyle a Capon in white broth.

Boile your Capon in faire licour and cover it to keepe it white, but you must boile none other meat with it, take the best of the broth, and as much vergious as of the broth if your Vergious be not too sower, and put therto whole mace, whole pepper, and a good handfull of Endive, Letuce or borage, whether of them ye wil, small Raisins, Dates, Marow of marow bones a little stick of whole Sinamon, the peele of an orenge. Then put in a good peece of Sugar, and boile them well togither. Then take two or three yolkes of egges sodden, and strain them, and thick it withall, & boile your prunes by themselves and lay upon your Capon poure your broth upon your Capon.

Thus maye you boyle any thing in white broth.

An other to boyle a capon in white broth.

First take Marow bones, breake them and boyle them and take out the marrowe. Then seethe your Capon in the same licoure. Then take the best of the licoure in a small Potte to make your broth withall. Then take Corance, Dates and prunes, & boyle them in a pot by themselves till they be plum, then take them up and put them into your brothe, then put whole Mace to them and a good quantitie of beaten Ginger & some Salt. Then put the Marow that you did take from the bones, and strain the yolkes of Egges with Vinager, and put them into your broth with a good peece of Sugar but after this it must not boyle: then take bread and cut therof thin sippits, and lay them in the bottom of a dish. Then take sugar and scrape it about the sides of the dish and lay theron your Capon, and the fruit upon it and so serve it in.

To make Sops for a capon.

Take Tostes of Bread, Butter, Claret wine and slices of Orenges, and lay them upon the Tostes and Sinamon Sugar and Ginger.

You get the idea that you poach the capon (or large chicken)in broth with dried fruits and sweet spices, such as cloves, cinnamon, mace nutmeg, and ginger, then reduce some of the broth to serve as a sauce with the capon and fruits over a bed of sops (soaked bread or toast).

Apr 262015


William Shakespeare, English poet, playwright, and actor, was baptized on this date in 1564. Many, perhaps wishful thinking, scholars would like to believe that he was born on the 23rd, thus making his birthday and day of death the same, also coinciding with St George’s Day (patron saint of England — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-george/).


Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who was at the time 3 months pregnant with their daughter, Susanna. They went on to have twins, Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613 at age 49, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others. Given his stature such speculation is natural; the stuff of Ph.D dissertations. I find it all utterly tedious.

Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613.His early plays were mainly comedies and histories and these works remain regarded as some of the best work produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.


Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two friends and fellow actors of Shakespeare, published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognized as Shakespeare’s. It was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Shakespeare is hailed, presciently, as “not of an age, but for all time.”

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

There are many false notions about Shakespeare’s English. One is that he is hard to read because he wrote in “Elizabethan English.” Well, yes, he wrote in Elizabethan English – he was Elizabethan !! But that is not the problem. His plays are in poetic form, not prose. When he – rarely – uses prose for dramatic effect – it’s pretty much like the English of today as in this bit from Hamlet when Hamlet is confronting his mother:


Now, mother, what’s the matter?


Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.


Mother, you have my father much offended.

I’ll spare you the discourse on why she uses “thou” to him and he uses “you” to her. If you know some French or Spanish you’ll understand. Anyone have trouble with “Now, mother, what’s the matter?” (I probably should add another question mark here, but it looks silly.)

No, the problem is that besides being in verse, Shakespeare’s plays contain literally thousands of words he made up. If you read my post on the Oxford English Dictionary (https://www.bookofdaystales.com/oxford-english-dictionary/) you’ll know quotes from his works outnumber those of an other author in that work. Some of them became everyday, household words we still use. The following table from http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html gives many of them. Click on a link to see the context.


academe accused addiction advertising amazement
arouse assassination backing bandit bedroom
beached besmirch birthplace blanket bloodstained
barefaced blushing bet bump buzzer
caked cater champion circumstantial cold-blooded
compromise courtship countless critic dauntless
dawn deafening discontent dishearten drugged
dwindle epileptic equivocal elbow excitement
exposure eyeball fashionable fixture flawed
frugal generous gloomy gossip green-eyed
gust hint hobnob hurried impede
impartial invulnerable jaded label lackluster
laughable lonely lower luggage lustrous
madcap majestic marketable metamorphize mimic
monumental moonbeam mountaineer negotiate noiseless
obscene obsequiously ode olympian outbreak
panders pedant premeditated puking radiance
rant remorseless savagery scuffle secure
skim milk submerge summit swagger torture
tranquil undress unreal varied vaulting
worthless zany gnarled grovel

By contrast, this site talks about words he invented that never took root (but should have).


If nothing else, Shakespeare is a philologist’s delight.

In the Merry Wives of Windsor (Act V, Scene 5) there is this exchange:


   Sir John! art thou there, my deer? my male deer?


   My doe with the black scut! Let the sky rain

   potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Green

   Sleeves, hail kissing-comfits and snow eringoes; let

   there come a tempest of provocation, I will shelter me here.

OK, look up the words you don’t know. It’s potatoes falling from the sky I want to focus on. Potatoes had a rocky start in Britain. They (and tomatoes) were considered poisonous at first. In 1589 Sir Walter Raleigh, English explorer and historian known for his expeditions to the Americas, first brought the potato to Ireland and planted them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork. Legend has it that he made a gift of the potato plant to Queen Elizabeth. The local gentry were invited to a royal banquet featuring the potato in every course. Unfortunately, the cooks were uneducated in the matter of potatoes, tossed out the lumpy-looking tubers and brought to the royal table a dish of boiled potato stems and leaves (which were poisonous). These promptly made everyone deathly ill, and potatoes were hence banned from court.

Potatoes eventually became common – mostly due to food shortages in the 18th century. So finding a 16th century recipe is a bit of a lost cause. Hints from literature, though, suggest they were cooked much as we cook them – boiled, roast, baked, mashed, and fried. This quote from General Douglas MacArthur harks back to Elizabethan days:

Found a little patched-up inn in the village of Bulson. Proprietor had nothing but potatoes; but what a feast he laid before me. Served them in five different courses-potato soup, potato fricassee, potatoes creamed, potato salad and finished with potato pie. It may be because I had not eaten for 36 hours, but that meal seems about the best I ever had.

Potato soups of various kinds are an English mainstay. One of my all time favs is leek and potato soup – not the puréed hot vichyssoise wannabe, but a hearty and chunky English classic. I first had it in a country restaurant in a neighboring restaurant in the Catskills with a superb chef. Sadly it closed because the locals were not foodies and balked at the prices. No matter, the recipe was easy to recreate. It’s very plain and simple, but delectable.

Sorry! No kitchen, no photo of mine.  Here’s Kenwood’s.


© Tío Juan’s Leek and Potato Soup

All you need are 2 potatoes, 2 fat leeks, 1 onion, rich chicken stock, parsley, and salt and black pepper. Scub the potatoes well then dice them (without peeling). Split the leeks, clean them well and cut off the tougher outer green leaves. Cut into fat slices. Peel and dice the onion. Bring a quart of chicken stock to the boil, add the leeks, onions, and potatoes, and simmer uncovered. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste plus a small handful of chopped parsley. I use no salt and a lot of pepper. I don’t cook wit salt but you can add it to taste if you wish. Simmer until the potatoes are soft (but not falling apart). Serve in deep bowls with a garnish of parsley.

If you want you can mash a few bits of potato to thicken the broth. Of course, you can add what herbs you want. I prefer the simple freshness of parsley. Some people add a minced clove of garlic. Always cook’s choice.

Aug 152013


On this date in 1057, Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (anglicised as Macbeth, and nicknamed Rí Deircc, “the Red King”), died in battle (the same day he killed Duncan I in battle in 1040 to become king). Macbeth was king of the Scots from 1040 until his death. He is best known as the subject of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth and the many works it has inspired, although the play presents a highly inaccurate picture of his reign and personality. Let me try to set the record straight. Some of what follows is disputed by historians because contemporary (or near contemporary) sources are biased and conflicting.  At the very least it is much closer to the truth than Shakespeare’s play.

Macbeth was the son of Findláech mac Ruaidrí, mormaer of Moray. His mother, who is not mentioned in contemporary sources, is sometimes supposed to have been Donada, a daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm II (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda). At the age of 7, Macbeth was sent to a Christian monastery to be educated by monks—a requirement for all chieftains’ sons. At age 15, Macbeth’s cousins, Malcolm and Gillecomgain, killed his father, possibly for being too close to Malcolm II, and potentially limiting their own royal aspirations. Macbeth reappears in annals around 1032 when his cousin, Gillecomgain, was killed by order of Malcolm II for his killing of Macbeth’s father. Macbeth was then elected mormaer of Moray, married Gillecomgain’s widow, Gruoch, and adopted her son, Lulach. The marriage strengthened his claim to the throne.

On November 24, 1034, Malcolm II died of natural causes (not very common for Scottish kings!). One month later, his son, Duncan MacCrinan, was elected king. For six uneasy years, Duncan ruled Scotland with a thirst for power that was undermined by his incompetence on the battlefield. In 1038, Ealdred, earl of Northumbria, attacked southern Scotland, but the effort was repelled and Duncan’s chiefs encouraged him to lead a counterattack. Duncan also wanted to invade the Orkney Islands to the north. Over the objections of all of his advisers, he chose to do both at the same time.

The attack on the Orkneys was led by his nephew, Moddan, while Duncan led a force toward Northumbria. Both armies were soon routed and pursued by Thorfinn, mormaer of Orkney. Macbeth joined Thorfinn and, together, they were victorious, killing Moddan. On August 15, 1040, Macbeth defeated Duncan’s army, killing him in the process. Later that month, Macbeth led his forces to Scone, the Scottish capital, and, at age 35, he was crowned king of Scotland. So, although Macbeth did kill Duncan, as per Shakespeare, it was not an act of treachery.  Neither was Duncan an old man at the time. He was described in the annals as young and vigorous.

Duncan I

Duncan I

For 17 years, life was peaceful and prosperous under Macbeth. He ruled with an even hand and encouraged the spread of Christianity. He enacted several good laws, among them one that enforced the Celtic tradition requiring officers of the court to defend women and orphans anywhere in the kingdom. Another allowed daughters the same rights of inheritance as sons. The only domestic disruption was in 1045, a rebellion by Duncan I’s supporters that was soon suppressed.

In 1050, Macbeth and his wife traveled to Rome for a papal jubilee, giving alms to the poor and donating to the Church. However, upon his return, Macbeth faced political turmoil brewing outside his realm. In 1052, Normans living in England fled the strife between Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Edward the Confessor into Scotland. Celtic custom held that all travelers were welcome in Macbeth’s court. However, this act of kindness did not sit well with the English nobility. Around the same time, Duncan’s 21-year-old son, Malcolm, was lobbying English lords, claiming that it would be in their interests if he were king of Scotland.

In time, Malcolm’s efforts led to action. In 1054, Siward, earl of Northumbria, accompanied by Malcolm, led an army north into Scotland. Meeting little resistance from the southern provinces, they continued north. On July 27, 1054, Macbeth’s forces met the invaders in Dunsinnan, close to the capital in Scone. By the end of the battle annals report that 3,000 of Macbeth’s forces had fallen (3,000 being a round number in the annals meaning “a lot”).  The invaders only lost 1,500 (that is, “many, but fewer”), and the outcome was indecisive. Macbeth retrenched his army near Scone, and Malcolm moved south to control Cumbria, the southernmost province of Scotland.  Note that this is Shakespeare’s battle at Dunsinane, but without the leafy camouflage and without the death of Macbeth. It was a setback for Macbeth, not a disaster.



Over the next three years, Macbeth and his army were under constant assault by Malcolm, but he was able to stave him off. In 1057, Macbeth lost the support of two key allies, Pope Leo IX and the bishop of St. Andrew, Maelduin MacGille-Ordain, both of whom could have put pressure on England not to support Malcolm. Macbeth also lost his chief general, Thorfinn, ruler of the Orkneys, who had recently died.

On August 15, 1057, Macbeth was killed at the Battle of Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire by Malcolm’s men as he tried to return to Moray.



Macbeth’s body was buried in the holy isle of Iona, where many other Scottish kings were buried. A few days after his death, his stepson, Lulach, was elected high king. Lulach ruled for seven months before being killed by Malcolm’s agents. Finally, on April 25, 1058, Malcolm MacDuncan became high king of Scotland.

Unlike later writers, no near contemporary source remarks on Macbeth as a tyrant. The Duan Albanach, which survives in a form dating to the reign of Malcolm III, calls him “Mac Bethad the renowned”. The Prophecy of Berchán, a verse history which purports to be a prophecy, describes him as “the generous king of Fortriu,” and “the red, tall, golden-haired one/ he will be pleasant to me among them/ Scotland will be brimful west and east during the reign of the furious red one.”

Shakespeare used the 2nd edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) for inspiration, but, even so, much of the plot and character portrayal in Macbeth is his own invention, not to mention the fact that Holinshed is grossly inaccurate. Holinshed mentions creatures of the woods as Macbeth’s otherworldly visitors – youthful nymphs or fairies with a benign nature – but Shakespeare converts them to old, ugly, and malevolent hags.  Holinshed says nothing of Macbeth’s personal nature, so the villainous, gullible, overreaching, tragic hero is also Shakespeare’s invention. The character of Lady Macbeth (one of the great stage roles of all time) is also a complete fabrication. About all we can do now is keep historical reality and Shakespearean storytelling at arm’s length from one another. Probably just as well to do the same for Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Richard III, and all the rest of his plays based on historical figures.


Scottish cooking gets much the same undeserved bad rap as English cooking does from people who don’t know what they are talking about.  I would defy anyone to taste an Arbroath smokie or Scottish smoked salmon or Lanark blue cheese and not declare them exquisite. You are allowed to be indifferent to haggis, although I love it, but Scotch Broth is superb and is not open for discussion.  I tire of defending a cuisine that needs no defense. Criticism is based solely on ignorance.  Here is a recipe for Scotch Pie, a common pub or lunch snack in Scotland as well as in England.  Traditionally these pies are made with mutton, but lamb works just as well.  They are made with hot water pastry which is very versatile for pies.  It makes a solid (yet flaky) crust that can be baked without a tin (although you can get them), and that allows you to pick up the pie and eat it without it falling apart.  Unlike other hot water pastry pies, such as pork pie, or veal, ham, and egg pie, this one should be eaten hot. They are usually made with the lid sunken slightly so as to hold gravy if eaten on a plate.


Scotch Pie


Meat Filling:

1 pound (500g) lean lamb, ground
1 tsp mace or nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup (150ml) gravy (preferably from lamb drippings)

Hot Water Pastry:

1 pound (500g) all purpose flour
6 ounces (175g) lard (NO substitutes)
6 fluid ounces (225ml) approximately water
pinch of salt
milk for glazing


Preheat the oven to 275°F/140°C

Combine the meat filling ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside, covered.

Sift the flour and salt into a warm bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour.

Melt the lard in a scant measure of the water in a small pan, and when it is bubbling add the hot liquid to the flour, working quickly to mix thoroughly. Keep the bowl and pastry warm otherwise you will not be able to work it.  I usually put it on the hob over the stove.

You are going to make 8 pies and lids, so you will have to gauge how much pastry you will need for each pie. Take enough dough for one pie and make it into a flattened ball. Grease the base of an inverted glass or glass jar 3-3½ inches (7.5-8.5cm) in diameter, and, working quickly, shape a pie shell over the base and down the sides. If the pastry cracks, pinch the crack together. You can trim the top of the pie shell with a knife to even it up. When the pastry has cooled (which will be quite quick). Remove the glass and place the pie shell, right side up on a greased baking tray. Repeat until you have 8 shells.

Fill the shells with meat and gravy, divided evenly into 8. There should be a space between the top of the filling and the top of the shell.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cut lids for the pies using the mouth of the glass.

Wet the edges of the lids, place them over the meat and press down lightly so that the lid rests on the top of the filling. Pinch the edges of the lid with the top of the shell so that it is completely sealed. Poke a small hole through the center of the lid.

Brush the surfaces of the pies with milk and bake for about 45 minutes.

The pies should be eaten straight from the oven, but can also be stored in the refrigerator for several days.

Yield: 8 pies

Jul 312013


In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet there is this line:

“Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen” (Act 1 sc iii)

Lammas is August 1, so today (Lammas Eve) is Juliet’s birthday.

Romeo and Juliet was one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays (written some time between 1591 and 1595). It was a popular audience pleaser throughout his career, and remains one of his most popular plays down to this day. The plot, concerning “star-crossed lovers,” is virtually timeless in the Western world.  Shakespeare’s play is based on an Italian tale, translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562, and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from both, but added several characters, such as Mercutio, to give the story line more depth as well as to be able to inject comedy into the tragedy.  His development of the personalities of the main characters is also distinctive.  Here I will focus on Juliet who stands out from all the rest.

Juliet’s age (13) was at one time given little emphasis in modern stage productions because the part was played by fully adult women. In such productions the complexity of Juliet’s character was obscured.  When Katharine Cornell played Juliet in 1893 she was 41. Most of the famous 20th century Juliets were in their late 20’s and early 30’s.  Franco Zeffirelli astounded the world when he cast 16 year old Olivia Hussey for his 1968 film –rather a bold move given that in his 1960 London stage production he went with convention and cast a 26 year old Judi Dench.  With Hussey appearing as a convincing 13 year old the whole tenor of the play was transformed. The focus shifted from thwarted love in general to the multifaceted nature of Juliet’s character. She is both a naïve girl and a mature woman.


The play is set two weeks before Juliet’s 14th birthday. Count Paris comes calling, asking Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet, for her hand in marriage.  Certainly in noble houses in Europe at the time, girls marrying at 14 was not unheard of, but 16 was more usual.  The common belief in Elizabethan England was that motherhood before 16 was dangerous. Popular manuals of health, as well as observations of married life, led Elizabethans to believe that early marriage, and its consummation, permanently damaged a young woman’s health, impaired a young man’s physical and mental development, and produced sickly or stunted children.  (Shakespeare married at 18).

Given that Romeo and Juliet was written for an English audience, Capulet’s initial response to Paris that he should wait two more years would have been in keeping with general norms of the time, and the idea of a 13 year old girl marrying would have been as difficult for them to accept as it is for modern audiences. But Juliet would have been played by a boy actor, so the representation of her as a young girl would have been easier for Shakespeare than for modern companies.  Juliet was first played by a woman, Mary Saunderson, in the 1660’s after the laws forbidding women on stage loosened under Charles II.

Shakespeare’s Juliet is a headstrong and intelligent character in spite of her young age, though she sometimes reverts to a passive, docility out of respect for her parents (and sometimes to deceive them). She is considered by many scholars and critics to be the true hero of the play, acting as a sounding board and a balance against the impulsive Romeo. It is Juliet who sets the boundaries of behavior in her relationship with Romeo: she allows him to kiss her, she pledges her commitment before he does, and it is she who suggests their marriage. Her sexual directness and desire have won her praise by modern feminist critics. Juliet’s forgiveness of Romeo after he kills her cousin Tybalt indicates her mature nature in contrast to his passionate impulsiveness (and that of all the men in the play). Her philosophical musings, especially during the balcony scene, are astute and apt. Furthermore, Juliet lies and clandestinely subverts her family’s wishes, a truly rebellious action against traditional Italian society. These actions, and the choices they require, establish Juliet as a far more complex character than her family, or even Romeo, appreciate. For Elizabethan society Juliet was a truly subversive and revolutionary role: she undermined the very foundations of patriarchal culture. All the characters (male and female) in Romeo and Juliet play out conventional Elizabethan roles, except Juliet.  She is a rebel.


For today’s recipe I have chosen Mock Pears (my name) adapted from Shakespeare’s Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook by Francine Segan. This is a kickshaw (Anglicized from the French – quelque chose, meaning “something), that is, a curious trifle.  These pear-shaped meatballs pair the artistic and the tasty. Segan says that in Elizabethan fine dining each course should have an element of surprise. The surprise here is the juicy-sweet pop of a grape hidden in the center of the savory. I have modified the recipe to emphasize the color of the “pears” and, thus, enhance the element of surprise. They go well served over white rice with a saffron cream sauce (a simple  béchamel cooked with a few saffron threads).


Mock Pears

8 ounces twice ground pork or chicken
¼ cup dried white bread crumbs
1 large egg
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
2 tbsps finely chopped parsley
½  tsp salt
12 small green seedless grapes
12 sage leaves, with stems
4 or 5 saffron threads

Beat the egg with the saffron threads and let steep until the egg is deeply colored by the saffron.

Combine the ground meat, breadcrumbs, egg, thyme, parsley, and salt in a bowl.  Make sure the mixture is evenly colored.

Divide the mixture into 12 equal portions. Wrap each portion of meat around a grape and form a pear shape. Refrigerate, covered, if not ready to cook them immediately. If refrigerated bring them to room temperature before cooking.

Preheat the broiler. Place the “pears” upright on a well-greased pan. Broil 4-5 inches from the heat for 4-6 minutes, or until done, rotating the “pears” during the cooking process to be sure of even cooking. You are aiming for a light stippling to imitate a speckled pear.

Using a toothpick, gently embed a sage leaf into the top of each pear.

Serve warm.

Yield: 12 pears