Music, as we know, is the food of love, but in Shakespeare, the love of food is all-consuming. All jollity is rounded off with a grand feast of celebration.
Miranda Lapworth, director, drama coach an actor
Ms Miranda Lapworth who is currently writing a book on the symbolism of the different kinds of food in the plays, told us of her researches. She was also the person who co-devised the one-man play, Bharat, Blighty and the Bard – Shakespeare for Everyone with Madhav Sharma.
The text of the plays is generously stocked with food, sometimes informing us of a person's character by their likeness to a particular ingredient, or their habits of eating revealing to us some vital part of their thought-processes.
Banquet Scene in Macbeth
Miranda Lapworth opened up the dining rooms and kitchens of Shakespeare to reveal their significance for love, celebration, deception, revenge, and death.
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Miranda Lapworth is an Oxford graduate, director, drama coach, speech examiner, teacher and writer. She is currently finishing her book on ‘The Symbolism of Food in Shakespeare’s Plays.’ Her father, the late Prof.Paul Lapworth, was a Shakespeare scholar & taught at Birmingham University.
The Symbolism of Food in Shakespeare
By Miranda Lapworth
Many of us might imagine that feasts in Shakespeare’s plays are a signal that the happy ending has arrived and all exit to celebrate harmony restored. Whilst this is true in a handful of cases, notably in ‘The Comedy of Errors’ where the characters exit to enjoy ‘a gossip’s feast’, I have explored the whole range of food and feasting throughout the plays which offer significant insight to both characters and plot.
Foods and feasts fall into a number of categories, one of the most poignant being ‘Cancelled Feasts’, where we see Helena in ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, for example, denied a wedding feast while they wait for absent friends to arrive. This underscores the discomfort between the less than loving bride and groom and even at the end, when there’s a supposed happy ending, we are unconvinced about the future of these two and they still do not achieve a wedding feast.
‘The Food of Love and Lust’ is prominent throughout the plays, with ‘Antony & Cleopatra’ leading the way in seductive meals and excessive feasting. This is part of Shakespeare’s contrasting of Rome and Alexandria, where Rome and Octavius are cool, controlled and restrained, whilst in Alexandria Antony is enjoying an epicurean over-indulgent party. Which side do you come down on when watching the play: the ascetic or the bon viveur?
Titania lavishes the seductive foods of fairyland, luscious fruits and honey, on Bottom who, in keeping with his ‘rude mechanical’ status and appearance as an ass, would prefer only hay and oats.
‘Foods of Deception’ are the meals where there are malevolent undercurrents, notably the Macbeths hosting the banquet for King Duncan. He may be enjoying a fine feast, but has no idea that behind his back his hosts are sharpening the carving knives.
The giving of food denotes a benign character, one who stands up against evil: Pericles relieves the starving populace with corn, and Gloucester brings food to the storm-ravaged Lear.
Most startlingly in the plays is the connection between ‘Food and Death’. Hamlet, in particular, has Death’s shadows throughout, the language is of ‘funeral bak’d meats’ and the knowledge that we are all ‘food for worms’. In ‘Titus Andronicus’ Shakespeare illustrates the tragedy and decline of Titus and his family through a series of meals, from the ‘Love-Day Feast’ at the beginning to the dark meal of retribution at the end and that notorious pie…
In the end, I think we should all agree that Shakespeare is not all about the food of love but, in fact, hides a considerable love of food.