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Welcome to Episode #115 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

Like so many of Shakespeare’s words, even a single line can have an elaborate history. When it comes to the word “orange” there is just such a history to be found if you know where to look. 

For the 16th century, oranges were a staple item for seasonal eating on tables from the average person all the way to the nobility. While the real “rage” in history for it being fashionable to have orange houses called orangeries in England would not hit in full force until after Shakespeare’s lifetime, the orange, the lemon, and sour oranges were in existence in Shakespeare’s lifetime, and they show up in his plays. 

Interestingly, William Shakespeare may not have had the same kind of oranges we use today for our morning orange juice or to buy at a local grocery store, but not only did he have them, there were several varieties. Here to help us explore where oranges came from, how they arrived in England, adn what Shakespeare is talking about when he mentions an “orange wife” as well as going “to the orange” is our guest, Dorian Fuller.

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Dorian Fuller is an archaeobotantist that specializes in the history of plants, including oranges. Dorian is Professor of Archaeobotany at University College London. He works on past agricultural systems and plant domestication through archaeological research in several regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, the Near East, South Asia and China. He has directed archaeological fieldwork in Sudan, Iraqi Kurdistan and India. He has carried out archaeological fieldwork in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, China, Turkey, Iraq, Morocco, Ethiopia and Sudan and archaeobotanical laboratory analyses even more widely. He co-authored Trees and Woodlands in South India: Archaeological Perspectives (2008) and has published more than 300 articles and chapters. He received a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Grant on “comparative pathways to agriculture” (2013-2018) and several major grants from the UK Natural Environment Research Council. See a more complete list of Dorian’s latest research and links to where you can learn more about him and his work in the show notes for today’s episode.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Dorian Fuller about :

  • For Shakespeare, was there a distinction made between types of citrus like pomelo, oranges, limes, and lemons or did they all run together as just “citrus”? 

  • Classical sources like Pliny the Elder, which Shakespeare uses as a source for some of his plays, makes mention of the “citron”, meaning the orange. Pliny’s references show there was a Roman understanding of oranges and while that makes sense to me given Italy’s climate being much more hospital to oranges than England, I wonder if, when Shakespeare came across these references, would he have had a personal understanding of what an orange was?

  • In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice uses the sarcastic phrase “civil as an orange” which is a pun on the Seville orange from Seville, Spain. Were oranges primarily imported from Spain in 1598 when Much Ado About Nothing was written?

  • … and more!

Download this Recipe for Candied Orange Peels

My friend Brigitte Webster, a professional Tudor food and culinary historian, adapted John Patridge's 1591 recipe for candied orange peels. I tried it out on (and you can watch how that goes on YouTube here) and then I added some modern measurements and temperatures. In this recipe, you can cook in a modern kitchen to recreate one of the most popular Tudor desserts, candied orange peels, just like Shakespeare would have enjoyed. Subscribe to That Shakespeare Life weekly emails to download the recipe here:

you wear out a good wholesome forenoon
in hearing a cause between an orange wife
and a fosset-seller;

Menenius Agrippa

Coriolanus (II.1)

1622 painting showing a woman selling produce. Pears can be seen poking up over the basket in front of her. “Still Life with Two Figures”, by Pieter Cornelisz. van Rijck. Dated 1622. North Carolina Museum of Art via Google Cultural Institute. w148 x h126 cm. Oil on canvas. Source

An Orange Wife and the Fosset Seller

 In Coriolanus, which is set in Italy where these “mediterranean fruits” like oranges were often sourced and imported, Shakespeare has a character refer to “hearing a cause between an orange wife and a fosset-seller” (II.1). 

Dorian explains that a fosset seller was someone who was selling wine. A fosset was a decanter for selling wine, and as we learned in our episode with Rosie Wilmot about aqua vitae, oranges are a popular addition to alcholic beverages including not just aqua vitae, but several other ales and beverages as well. So the fosset seller was usually someone at a market peddling this kind of beverage and either selling the entire fosset or using one to dispense beverages from it. 

An “orange wife” is a term that could have been applied to any woman who was selling oranges. Dorian explains that the word “wife” can be applied to a woman in a general sense, so Shakespeare could be just referring to a market woman selling wares of oranges. However, since oranges are used in the production of wine, it is equally possible that this reference is to a married man and woman who are at the market together, the one selling oranges while the other sells wine made from the oranges. Shakespeare could be applying this trope of a bickering married couple. 

Either way, the reference does demonstrate that, despite being grown in foreign (and warmer) climates than England, oranges were very present in the regular marketplace and considered a common food item.

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Give not this rotten orange to your friend;

Claudio

Much Ado About Nothing (IV.1)

1566. “The well-stocked kitchen” by Joachim Beuckeleer (aka Beuckelaer) Showing a well stocked kitchen, including a bowl of lemons with olives in the front lower right. This painting is a religious painting, with Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary shown in the background. Described by the Rijks Museum as “The main theme of the painting is not the lavish display of vegetables, fruit, meat, poultry and dishes that these kitchen maids present to us. That is the visit of Jesus to Mary and Martha, discreetly depicted in the background. In contrast to the foreground and background, the lesson of the painting lies: do not succumb to earthly temptations.” (Source for description | Source for Image )

Citrus Fruits Were a Staple Kitchen Item

As this 16th century painting shows, citrus fruits like lemons and oranges were popular at English tables across all levels of society. 

Some of the most popular Tudor recipes include 16th centry foods and desserts featuring oranges, like candied orange peels, or even marmalade (a favorite of Anne Boleyn). 

Climatically, oranges and lemons need a Mediterranean climate to flourish, but by Shakespeare's lifetime there was a well established trade and import of oranges and other various citrus fruits. As Dorian explains, the kinds of oranges Shakespeare most likely ate would have been somewhat different in specific variety than we have today because the starting location of importing oranges has changed. Today, many of the world's oranges come from Florida in the United States, and while Spain is still famous for their oranges, for Shakespeare, it was highly unlikely anyone was getting their oranges from Florida, at least not primarily. 

Therefore, when Shakespeare talks about oranges he could be referring to any number of citron. Commonly they had what is known as sour oranges, but as we see in Much Ado ABout Nothing, he also was familiar with Seville oranges from Spain. Dorian explains that Shakespeare was likely familiar with lemons, but he would have likely had a type of citrus that is called in English, the Citron. It is a cousin of the lemon and popularly used in flavoring. It grows naturally in Greece, and popular liquors are made from it. The citron is very Mediterranean. In development, the lemon comes after this as a hybrid of a citron and a sour orange. 

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The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor
well; but civil count, civil as an orange, and
something of that jealous complexion.
Beatrice

Much Ado About Nothing (II.1)

15th C painting showing fresh oranges in the window seal. Dr. van der Meer's paper on Citrus describes this painting as “Jan van Eijck, the Arnolfini Portrait, 1434. Several oranges lie on top of the windowsill and chest” and goes to explain “The second painting, the “Arnolfini Portrait”, depicts the extremely wealthy Italian merchant Giovanni Arnolfini and his bride, probably in their house in Bruges. Several oranges are depicted behind the groom. These are thought to represent Arnolfini’s great wealth, but could also be understood as general symbols of marriage and fertility” van der Meer, Wouter. “The history of Citrus in the Low Countries during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age”. Zech-Matterne, Véronique, and Girolamo Fiorentino. AGRUMED: Archaeology and history of citrus fruit in the Mediterranean: Acclimatization, diversifications, uses. Naples: Publications du Centre Jean Bérard, 2017. Web. <http://books.openedition.org/pcjb/2197>.

Oranges as Medicine

In 1554, the medical doctor Dodonaeus wrote that oranges and lemons have a medicinal benefit, and some 15th century paintings depict doctors seeming to recommend oranges to patients.

Dorian shares that  oranges were”Definitely” recommended by doctors to patients.  “[They were] recognized as a medicinal plant species.
Dodonaeus' volume treatise on materia medica, includes citrons and lemons. Medicinal plants has widespread uses in other regions as well. Chinese medicine, ayurvedic medicine, popular medicine.”

Citrus, and oranges in particular, were thought to be fever reducers, prevent plague, and provide fortitdue to both the stomach and heart. In addition to aleviating a hangover, they could help with dizziness and prevent bath breath. Some of the preserved versions of oranges where the peels and juice were prepared, were used to fight of scurvy. (Source)

The orange as well as the lemon were not only considered symbols of fertility (the meaning ascribed to the ones in the painting above) but also as an effective measure against plague. Commonly sailors would take lemon or oranges on board ship to ward off scurvy and other ailments which grow in close confinement.

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…Or thou goest to the orange or mill.
Mopsa

Winter's Tale (IV.4)

“William III of Orange as a child next to a potted orange tree, painted by Adriaen Hanneman in 1654. William is dressed in girls’ clothing, as was the Dutch custom for male children at the time.” – van der Meer, Wouter. “The history of Citrus in the Low Countries during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age”. Zech-Matterne, Véronique, and Girolamo Fiorentino. AGRUMED: Archaeology and history of citrus fruit in the Mediterranean: Acclimatization, diversifications, uses. Naples: Publications du Centre Jean Bérard, 2017. Web. <http://books.openedition.org/pcjb/2197>.

William of Orange

During Shakespeare’s childhood, William of Orange was the main leader of the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish Hapsburgs which would ultimately lead to the Eighty Year’s War.

“Orange” was the name which was given to this section of the Netherlands over which he was regent. This historical note indicates that “orange” was a word well known during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and in use well before he was born even. As Dorian explains this week, however, it seems as if the word orange actually came over from France as an anglicized version of “orange” which had nothing to do with fruit at all. Instead, this is a region in the South of France. 

Linguistically overall, it was the fruit which came first as opposed to the word. As with any linguistics, the names and meanings have a complicated story, but for William of Orange he takes his name from Orange in Southern France.

For Shakespeare, it was a well established word and fruit in his lifetime so he was not really borrowing it from anywhere. 

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Books & Resources Dorian Fuller recommends:

 

Books Cassidy Thought You Might Enjoy:

These first three are titles by Dorian Fuller, which are worth reading (if not specifically about oranges.)

This book is about the overthrow of King James II of England by William of Orange.

Download this Recipe for Candied Orange Peels

My friend Brigitte Webster, a professional Tudor food and culinary historian, adapted John Patridge's 1591 recipe for candied orange peels. I tried it out on (and you can watch how that goes on YouTube here) and then I added some modern measurements and temperatures. In this recipe, you can cook in a modern kitchen to recreate one of the most popular Tudor desserts, candied orange peels, just like Shakespeare would have enjoyed. Subscribe to That Shakespeare Life weekly emails to download the recipe here:


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