This wide and universal theatre presents more woeful pageants than the scene wherein we play in.
September 28, 2006 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Shakespeare/Elizabethan History Filter: I am writing a story set within As You Like It.

I need to know what sorts of clothing foresters (of the Robin Hood variety, not what we mean by the word today) would wear in the very late 1500s/early 1600s (if anybody can point me to paintings or drawings that would be great) - what colors and how dyed, what material and how cut, what sort of footwear, etc. How much variety would there have been in the clothing in use at the time?

I also need to know what sort of wood they would have been in. Would it have been a generic English wood (since presumably Shakespeare never actually visited France, where the play is set) or would people in England have known what sort of trees were present in France? Shakespeare mentioned oaks. Would the forest have had only one type of tree? Underbrush? Birds? Has there been any change in the flora of England and France between then and now or can I assume that a forest 400 or so years ago would have been substantially the same as a forest now?

Finally, what sort of fruit did they eat, and did they call it by the same names we do?
posted by joannemerriam to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Lots of information on Elizabethan clothing (with pictures, patterns, etc.) here.
posted by trip and a half at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2006

Best answer: Being a child of Shakespeare's country (leafy Warwickshire), I can tell you all about the Forest of Arden, which he may or may not have based the forest on. I'm no expert, but I have spent time in woods in France and the UK, and they don't seem that different too me. Whether Shakespeare knew that 400 years ago or not, I don't know.

The Forest of Arden is now mostly lost underneath the urban spawl of the West Midlands. But it was mixed broadleaf deciduous woodland, mostly oaks (they like the soil (lots more information about Arden in that link)). There is more information that you could possibly need about British woodland here. The bits of the forest that are still around today are very similar to how they would have been in Shakespeare's day.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:02 PM on September 28, 2006

Response by poster: This is very helpful info. Thanks!
posted by joannemerriam at 3:08 PM on September 28, 2006

Best answer: Re the fruit question: that's an interesting one! Presumably you're limiting yourself to fruit that would be found in an English or French woodland-- that means no citrus, no bananas or pineapples, and probably no grapes (though there may be a pun on , the French word for grapes, in As You Like It II, vii: "An you'll not be answered with reason (raisin), I must die.")

One big question is "what season is the play set in?" Directors make their own choices about this, and so can you. If, for example, we're in late summer to early autumn, then we've got berries of all kinds, especially mulberries, currants and blackberries (sometimes also called "brambles.") There's a close English relative of the blueberry called bilberry or whortleberry. There are all kinds of Elizabethan words for apples: "pippin" (a young, ripe apple); "crab" (an older, wrinkled one) or just "apple." Confusingly, "crab" also meant "crabapple," but of course you can't eat those raw. Also around, but not eaten raw, were quinces, which can be stewed or made into jelly. Pears, plums, greengages (plums that stay green when ripe) and damsons (small dark fruit also called "damask plums") are also good traditional English fruits.

The medlar is a fruit that gets mentioned a lot in Shakespeare, including in As You Like It, but they're not edible till after the first frost, or when early rot has softened them. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare implies that a slang name for the medlar was "open-arse." This kind of makes sense when you look at it, and remember that when eaten, it would be brown inside.

High summer was the season for cherries and apricots (called "apricocks" by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.) There are probably others too that I've forgotten.

Of course, tree fruits like apples, pears and plums probably wouldn't have grown wild; your characters will have to buy them from a farmer, or raid someone's orchard. It's frowned on to pick fruit growing on someone else's tree, but a windfall (a fruit that's on the ground) is free pickings for anyone. (hence "windfall" meaning "unexpected good luck".) Berries, however, can be found and foraged just about anywhere.

Good luck with this!

posted by Pallas Athena at 7:37 PM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Written a few generations after Shakespeare, but perhaps of some use to you, might be John Evelyn's Sylva, 'or a Discourse of Forest-Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesties Dominions'. For him, the oak, elm, beech and ash were the most important timber-trees. Besides the medlar, one other fruit widely used in Elizabethan times, but seldom eaten today, is the quince.
posted by misteraitch at 11:13 PM on September 28, 2006

Response by poster: I know it's a bit silly to mark every answer as the best one, but this really has been extremely helpful to me.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:51 AM on September 29, 2006

« Older What are the best options for a very cheap used...   |   How can I decrease FM reception for my car? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.