Springtime in Stratford with Shakespeare and Chaucer

This year, 2017, the blossom trees in Stratford-upon-Avon seem to me to be even more glorious than ever, and Easter has come at just the right time to enjoy the spectacle at its finest. It always seems a pity that Shakespeare would never have seen the full blowsy beauty of a flowering cherry tree, but he obviously loved what he did see, and the apple blossom, coloured delicately blush-pink and white, is certainly spectacular.

For those of you not lucky enough to be able to experience Stratford in its spring glory I’m posting a few recent photos taken by my husband of some of the beautiful blossom trees, and one of our favourite swan, nesting once again this year downstream of Lucy’s Mill. Last year this pair successfully brought up two cygnets that have only recently left their parents. It has been delightful to watch them as a family group over the past nine months, and hopefully we will be able to do so again this year.

Shakespeare was a keen observer of the natural world including both flowers and birds and spring is the season about which he comments most frequently. Blossoms, though beautiful, are used as a metaphor for thwarted ambition by Richard III while Duke of York:
Thus are my blossoms blasted in the bud
And caterpillars eat my leaves away;

and in Henry VIII they remind Wolsey that as the promise of fruit may be destroyed by cold weather so his success was ended by losing the favour of the King.
This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hopes; to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
And, when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,
And then he falls, as I do.

Another author who loved the spring was Geoffrey Chaucer, and one of my regular readers has drawn my attention to a website which is making available digitised images of many medieval manuscripts, including an early manuscript of The Canterbury Tales.

The opening of the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales: Harley MS 7334, f. 1r.

This is the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site, which has a welcoming, newsy blog that provides access to what is a rather dry main site aimed at academic researchers.. Here is the Chaucer blog, and the link to the actual digitised images. In the image here you can see the famous opening lines, which read,  ‘Whan that aprille with his schowres swoote / The drought of marche haþ perced to þe roote’ [When that April with his showers sweet/ The drought of March has pierced to the root’].

On the subject of plants, the same site includes images of one of the British Library’s  earliest illustrated herbals, a book of plants that include details of herbal remedies for a range of illnesses, and an astonishing 1000 years old. Here is part of their description: “This manuscript (Cotton MS Vitellius C III) is the only surviving illustrated Old English herbal, or book describing plants and their uses. (There are other, non-illustrated manuscripts of the same text, for example in Harley MS 585.) The text is an Old English translation of a text which used to be attributed to a 4th-century writer known as Pseudo-Apuleius, now recognised as  several different Late Antique authors whose texts were subsequently combined. “

This link is to the blog post and this to the digitised images.

There is much else to enjoy on this terrific site which continues to grow as more and more of these extraordinary manuscripts are digitised and made available. Happy browsing, and Happy Easter!

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