"'I Must Eat my Dinner': Shakespeare's Foods from Apples to Walrus" by Joan Fitzpatrick

    What do we know about what the early moderns ate and why? Their diet was conditioned by, amongst other factors, rank, location, and humoral theory. Early modern dietaries--prose texts recommending what one should eat and why--can tell us much about attitudes to food and diet in the period.1 The dietaries are an under-studied resource and yet are important in forming our understanding of what Elizabethans ate, how they regarded specific foods, how consumption differed according to class and nationality, and what audiences might have made of references to food in early modern drama. In the writings of Shakespeare and his contemporaries a distinct suspicion toward fruit and vegetables is consistent with advice from early modern dietaries that these foods should be consumed with caution. On the other hand, the consumption of animal flesh was broadly encouraged, although certain humoral types were advised to avoid the flesh of specific animals. Via early modern references to specific foods--in the dietaries, in Shakespeare, and in other writings--this chapter will focus on the 'dinner' Caliban insists on eating, specifically what his dinner might consist of and what this might suggest to an early modern audience.

    Caliban's assertion about his dinner, taken out of context, suggests a visceral creature who is only interested in satisfying his stomach but, as critics from Coleridge onwards have noted (Shakespeare 1892, 379-88), he speaks poetically and rationally, and thus presents a more complex figure than merely a compulsion to eat would suggest:

CALIBAN I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me and made much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in 't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee,
And showed thee all the qualities o' th' isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile -
Cursed be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you;
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king, and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o' th' island.

But it is this compulsion to eat--a compulsion that does not detract from Caliban's humanity as such since it is one shared by all humans--that I wish to focus on here. We are not told what Caliban eats for his dinner but it might well consist of the fruit that grows on the island: the berries he refers to being given by Prospero and which presumably he had found and eaten before Prospero presented them to him in water. Prospero's promise of violence against Caliban also involves food when he tells him: "Thou shalt be pinched / As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging / Than bees that made 'em" (1.2.330-332), which suggests that Caliban would know what honeycomb is and that he might consume honeycomb and indeed the honey produced by the bees on the island. In another promise of violence, this time toward Ferdinand, Prospero tells him:

I'll manacle thy neck and feet together.
Sea-water shalt thou drink; thy food shall be
The fresh-brook mussels, withered roots, and husks
Wherein the acorn cradled.

So, should he wish to consume them, mussels, roots, and acorns are also presumably available to Caliban, but what else might he eat?

    In an effort to ingratiate himself with Stephano, Caliban states: "I'll show thee the best springs; I'll pluck thee berries; / I'll fish for thee, and get thee wood enough" (2.2.159-160) and:

I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow,
And I with my long nails will dig thee pig-nuts,
Show thee a jay's nest, and instruct thee how
To snare the nimble marmoset. I'll bring thee
To clust'ring filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee
Young seamews from the rock. Wilt thou go with me?

It is not clear whether "crabs" refers to the apple or the sea creature and, as Stephen Orgel pointed out, "it has been  invariably assumed" that Shakespeare meant the former "because of the verb grow" where "crabs would be expected to 'dwell'' (Shakespeare 1987, 150n161), but when the term 'crab' is used by Shakespeare context usually implies that it refers to the fruit. Orgel further notes that "crabapples were not considered good to eat" since "their sourness was proverbial" (Shakespeare 1987, 150n161) but this does not mean that they were not eaten nor that they would not appeal to Caliban. The "pig-nuts" referred to by Caliban are the tuber of Bunium flexuosum also termed the 'earth nut' (OED pig-nut 1) and "filberts" are hazelnuts (OED filbert 1. a.). Reference to the "jay's nest" might indicate, as Orgel noted, that Caliban is "offering Stephano the eggs . . . " (Shakespeare 1987, 150n163), but he might be offering to raid the nest for its chicks. Even "the nimble marmoset" is apparently a reference to food since the creature was said in Harcourt's Voyage to Guiana to be edible (Shakespeare 1961, 68n172). Exactly what it is that Caliban promises to retrieve "from the rock" has caused much debate, with critics arguing that the word means a kind of bird or fish or limpets (Shakespeare 1892, 138n180). Theobald claimed that Shakespeare could not possibly have meant 'scamell', which appears in the Folio text, and suggested that the correct word was 'shamois', a young kid, or 'sea-malls', a bird that feeds upon fish; he also suggested a bird called a 'stannel', which is a kind of hawk (Shakespeare 1733, 39n19). More recently Benjamin Griffin argued that the word 'scamell' "is a misreading of 'Seamors', that is sea-morse or walrus, which would explain why Caliban specifically offers to get "young" creatures from the rock since "Caliban would hardly offer to retrieve a full-grown walrus" (Griffin 2006, 494).

    So Caliban's "dinner" might consist of fruit, specifically berries and perhaps apples, crabs and mussels, honeycomb and honey, nuts, roots, eggs, marmoset, fowl, fish, or even walrus. What would an early modern audience have made of such foods? The following will consider what Shakespeare and his contemporaries, specifically the dietary authors, had to say about these foods, what the early moderns might have considered is 'missing' from Caliban's dinner, and what they were likely to think he was better off without.


Fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey

    Although wild fruits such as apples, pears, and blackberries had been grown in England for hundreds of years, the early-modern period saw the introduction of new fruits--for example apricots, melons, pomegranates--from Southern Europe, which became available for the first time to those who could afford them. So too dried fruits such as raisins, currants, and figs  were imported in large quantities to serve the luxury market. In the writings of Shakespeare and his contemporaries a distinct suspicion toward fruit in general is consistent with advice from early-modern dietaries that fruit should be consumed with caution and in moderation.

    In the early modern period it was generally believed that God had ordained animal flesh as fit for human consumption only after the flood (Genesis 9:3). Thomas Moffett notes:

For whilst Adam and his wife were in Paradise, he had commission to eat only of the fruit of the Garden; being cast thence, he was enjoined to till the ground, and fed in the sweat of his brows upon worts, corn, pulse and roots; but as for flesh, albeit many beasts were slain for sacrifices and apparel, yet none was eaten of men 2240 years after the creation; even till God himself permitted Noah and his family to feed of every sensible thing that moved and lived, as well as of fruits and green herb. (Moffett 1655, E3r-E3v)

Moffett claims that the main reason for man later consuming animal flesh rather than fruit and vegetables alone was a change in man's physical make-up as well as the food typically consumed:

before the flood men were of stronger constitution, and vegetable fruits grew void of superfluous moisture: so by the flood these were endued with weaker nourishment and men made more subject to violent diseases and infirmities. Whereupon it was requisite or rather necessary, such meat to be appointed for human nourishment, as was in substance and essence most like our own, and might with less loss and labour of natural heat be converted and transubstantiated into our flesh. (Moffett 1655, E4r)

The notion that fruit was full of water and could cause a harmful imbalance in the body if consumed comes up repeatedly in the dietaries. The dietary author William Vaughan gives a detailed explanation of this view of fruit:

All fruit for the most part are taken more for wantonness then for any nutritive or necessary good, which they bring unto us. To verifie this, let us but examine with the eye of reason what profit they cause, when they are eaten after meals. Surely we must needs confess, that such eating, which the French call desert, is unnaturall, being contrary to physicke or diet: for commonly fruits are of a moist faculty, and therefore fitter to be taken before meals (but corrected with sugar or comfits) than after meales: and then also but very sparingly, least their effects appear to our bodily repentance, which in women grow to be the green sicknesse, in men the morphew, or els some flatuous windy humor. (Vaughan 1612, E4v)

Of course this did not mean that fruit was not eaten: wild fruit provided free food for the poor and, as we saw in Tracy Thong's chapter in this volume, fruit often appeared as part of a banquet course enjoyed by the better-off, but there was a general consensus that if fruit was to be consumed not a great deal of it should be eaten and not on a full stomach.

    There are numerous references to fruit in Shakespeare and there tends to be a focus on fruit as inferior or bad. In The Merchant of Venice Antonio welcomes death at the hands of Shylock, comparing himself to "The weakest kind of fruit" (4.1.114); in As You Like It Touchstone refers to Orlando's verses as "bad fruit" (3.2. 114); and in Richard 2 one of the gardeners complains about the state of the kingdom under Richard's governance:

our sea-walled garden, the whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
Her fruit trees all unpruned, her hedges ruined . . .

In Hamlet Polonius apparently refers to the French fashion of eating fruit after a meal: "Give first admittance to th' ambassadors. / My news shall be the fruit to that great feast (2.2.51-52). As noted above, Vaughan was dismissive of this French custom and it seems likely that by comparing Polonius' news--that he has found the cause of Hamlet's lunacy--to fruit, Shakespeare is suggesting that, like the fruit consumed after a meal, this news will do no good.

    But what about the apples Caliban might mean when he tells Stephano that he will bring him "where crabs grow" (2.2.166)? There was some consensus amongst dietary authors that apples should not be eaten raw because they were considered difficult to digest and were thus best eaten either cooked or when ripe or over-ripe.3 Orgel is correct to assert that "crabapples were not considered good to eat" since "their sourness was proverbial" (Shakespeare 1987, 150n161) but this would not have applied to the cooked fruit. The herbalist John Gerard is typical in his view that "Rosted Apples are alwaies better than the raw, the harm whereof is both mended by the fire, and may also be corrected by adding vnto them seeds or spices" (Gerard & Johnson 1633, Gggggg2v). The dietary author Thomas Cogan also advises against the consumption of raw apples but notes that "unruly people through wanton appetite will not refrain them, and chiefly in youth when (as it were) by a naturall affection they greedily covet them". He suggests that apples be eaten "rosted, or baken, or stewed" and "with caraways . . . or some other kind of comfits" (Cogan 1636, N2v-N3r).

    Apples are twice associated with the young or immature in Shakespeare. In The Tempest Gonzalo is made fun of by Sebastian and Antonio when, discussing the recent marriage of the King of Naples' daughter, they quibble over Gonzalo's assertion that Tunis can be equated with Carthage. Antonio asks "What impossible matter will he make easy next?" to which Sebastian replies "I think he will carry this island home in his pocket, and give it his son for an apple" (2.1.88-89). It is suggested that Gonzalo does not understand the world around him. It is also possible that Gonzalo is to be imagined exchanging the island for an apple, thus suggesting an ironic inversion: he and not his son is child-like and, specifically, gullible. In Twelfth Night Malvolio describes Cesario as "Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy; as a squash is before 'tis a peascod, or a codling when 'tis almost an apple" (1.5.152-153). The codling is a variety of apple but "the name seems to have been applied to a hard kind of apple, not suitable to be eaten raw; hence to any immature or half-grown apple" (OED codling 2. 1.a). Context suggests specific reference to the crab-apple in The Taming of the Shrew: it is presumably what Katherine has in mind when she refers to the sourness of the crab (2.1.226-28). It is also what is meant by Robin Goodfellow when in A Midsummer Night's Dream he reports on the tricks he likes to play upon others:

And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
And on her withered dewlap pour the ale. (MND 2.1.47-50)

The 'crab' referred to is probably the crab-apple because an apple would be more likely than a crab to "bob" in water.

    An audience might be expected to associate apples with childishness, impetuous youth and unruly, wanton appetite, characteristics that are especially pertinent to Caliban who is naive enough to believe that Stephano would make a good master and whose wanton appetite is evident in his attempted rape of Miranda and possibly also in his eagerness to drink the wine offered to him by Stephano. If Caliban is to be imagined eating  raw apples then it might well be suggested that he is harming himself through this ill-advised diet; such a diet would, by extension, also harm others since it was believed (rightly as it turned out) that what one ate effected behaviour. Of course it is possible that Caliban would realize that apples should be cooked since he has already benefited from the influence of culture in Prospero's preparation of the raw materials that exist on the island: the berries that are put into water to form a kind of fruit-juice.

     The generic term 'berries', as well as references to specific types of the fruit, occurs several times in Shakespeare. As Vaughan and Vaughan indicated, the drink Prospero gives Caliban might allude to that made from cedar-berries and drunk by those who survived the shipwreck in Strachey's account of Bermuda--an account which likely influenced Shakespeare when writing The Tempest--or perhaps it is wine since 'grapes' was "a synonym for berries, especially in Old English" (Shakespeare 1999, 173-174n335). Significantly, although Prospero presented Caliban with "Water with berries in't" (1.2.334) Caliban offers to "pluck . . . berries" for Stephano, with no suggestion that they'll be prepared in the same manner; it is not clear whether Caliban is unable or unwilling to prepare the berries as he has been shown, but Prospero later says that  he is "a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick" (4.1.188-189). Elsewhere in Shakespeare eating berries suggests a kind of animalistic feeding or at least a feeding that is unsophisticated and especially close to the natural world but this is problematized by context. In Timon of Athens the First Thief complains to Timon: "We cannot live on grass, on berries, water, / As beasts and birds and fishes" but Timon's reply suggests the thieves are more barbaric than they realize and it is not their diet of berries that defines them but their attitude to humanity: "Nor on the beasts themselves, the birds and fishes; / You must eat men" (4.3.424-427). In Titus Andronicus Aaron tells the child created by himself and Tamora: 

Come on, you thick-lipped slave, I'll bear you hence,
For it is you that puts us to our shifts.
I'll make you feed on berries and on roots,
And fat on curds and whey, and suck the goat,
And cabin in a cave, and bring you up
To be a warrior and command a camp.

The animalistic nature of the child's diet, reinforced by the use of the words "feed", "fat", and "suck", are undercut by the fact that he will be nurtured as a commander of men.

    Aaron's bastard child will feed "on roots", a foodstuff also available to Caliban on the island since Prospero tells Ferdinand that he will be compelled to eat "withered roots" (1.2.466). In Timon of Athens Timon's foraging for roots would have struck an early modern audience as distinctly bestial, indeed pig–like. Ruth Morse observed that here "Timon’s world has narrowed to the point where only food counts, and that food the lowest and least appropriate food fit for men, roots" (Morse 1983, 146). Presumably  Prospero would think such a foodstuff  fit for Caliban, whom he regards as animalistic, describing him as "A freckled whelp, hag-born - not honoured with / A human shape" (1.2. 284-285); indeed there is a suggestion that Prospero regards Caliban as distinctly pig-like since Caliban complains "here you sty me / In this hard rock" (1.2.344-345), the term "sty" usually used in reference to pigs (OED sty v. 2). Yet as with the berries--food in its raw state that is prepared by Prospero-- roots do not of themselves suggest bestiality and might benefit from the application of culture. This happens in Cymbeline when Innogen, disguised as Fidele, prepares food for her brothers and Belarius in a cave in rural Wales:

GUIDERIUS But his neat cookery!
[BELARIUS] He cut our roots in characters,
And sauced our broths as Juno had been sick
And he her dieter. (4.2.50-53)

To present the roots as letters of the alphabet does more than Roger Warren suggests in his comparison with modern alphabet soup. The characters not only "make the food more interesting [for children] and so tempt them to eat" (Shakespeare 1998, 196n51) but blur the distinction between nature and culture in much the same way that Caliban's assertion that he must eat his dinner, suggesting the visceral, is undercut by the articulate and reasoned outburst that immediately follows. Eating roots also suggests simplicity. Before Timon's friends abandon him, the misanthropic Apemantus warns Timon to beware of culinary indulgence:

Here's that which is too weak to be a sinner:
Honest water, which ne'er left man i' th' mire.
This and my food are equals; there's no odds.
Feasts are too proud to give thanks to the gods.
(1.2. 57-60)

For Apemantus, the eating of basic food signals a healthy distance from the corruption located in sophisticated feasts that require money and preparation as opposed to food in its natural state, something that Timon shows he has learned when he presents his parody of a feast: the meal of stones and steaming water that he places before his false friends. As John Jowett pointed out, "stones and water can be seen as equivalent to the bread and wine of the Communion. Christ’s first miracle was to turn water to wine, and in the desert Satan tempted Christ to ‘command this stone that it be made bread’ (John 2:1–11; Luke 4:3)" (Shakespeare & Middleton 2004, 257n84.2). When Apemantus states "Rich men sin, and I eat root" (1.2. 70) we get the message that sinners eat fancy foods, specifically food that has been prepared. If we apply this logic to The Tempest then Caliban's offer to gather berries for Stephano is not inferior to the preparation of berries in water presented to Caliban by Prospero, indeed Shakespeare is suggesting quite the opposite.

    Caliban also offers to dig nuts for Stephano, and Prospero says he will force Ferdinand to eat the husks of the acorn. Nuts are mentioned numerous times in Shakespeare but of the specific nuts available on the island it is only the acorn that appears elsewhere in the plays as a foodstuff. In Shakespeare's time acorns were generally considered fit only for animal-feed, although it seems that humans still ate acorns in times of dearth.  It was thought that acorns were ordinarily eaten by humans in the Golden Age but were replaced by cereal crops and, thus, bread. Acorns were usually fed to pigs but other animals also benefited: the dietary author William Vaughan advises "You may feed turkeys with bruised acorns, and they will prosper exceedingly" (Vaughan 1612, D4v). Francis Bacon was typical in the view that "Acornes were good till bread was found" (Bacon 1639, Aa7v), a point also made by the dietary author Levinus Lemnius:

Men well enough know the Beech . . . and other mast trees, which in the old time (before the invention of tillage and the use of corne) ministred competent food and nourishment. Whereupon afterward grew a proverb; It is a mere folly, when we have corn, still to eat acorns. (Lemnius 1587, P5v)

Roger Ascham believed that for men to eat acorns was barbaric: "But now, when men know the difference, and have the examples, both of the best, and of the worst, surely, to follow rather the Goths in Ryming, than the Greekes in true versifiyng, were even to eate acorns with swine, when we may freely eate wheat bread amongst men" (Ascham 1570, R4r). In Thomas Heywood's play The Golden Age the Clown claims that Saturn--the new king who has usurped his elder brother Tytan upon the death of their father Uranus--has many virtues: "he hath taught his people to sow, to plow, to reape corne, and to skorne Akehornes with their heeles, to bake and to brue [brew]: we that were wont to drinke nothing but water, haue the brauest liquor at Court as passeth" (Heywood 1611, B4r). However, Holinshed points out that the poor often had little choice about what to eat: 

The bread through out the land is made of such graine as the soile yeeldeth, neverthelesse the gentilitie commonlie provide themselues sufficientlie of wheat for their owne tables, whilest their household and poor neighbours in some shires are inforced to content themselues with rie, or barlie, yea and in time of dearth manie with bread made either of beans, peason, or otes, or of altogither and some acornes among, of which scourge the poorest doo soonest tast, sith they are least able to prouide themselues of better. (Holinshed 1587, P5v)

Thomas Cogan compares acorns to chestnuts and notes that Galen was ambivalent about them but that if roasted they "will soone stay a laske [looseness of the bowels], as I learned of an old woman, which therewith did great cures in the flix [flux]" (Cogan 1636, Q1r).

       Acorns seem to have been ordinarily eaten by humans in early modern Spain: the herbalist John Gerard cites Carolus Clusius or Charles de L'Écluse, the influential sixteenth century horticulturist, who reported that "the Acorne is esteemed of, eaten, and brought into the market to be sold, in the city of Salamanca in Spaine, and in many other places of that countrey . . . . Moreouer, at this day in Spain the Acorne is serued for a second course" (Gerard & Johnson 1633, Vuuuu5r). But in England only the poor ate acorns and only when necessity compelled them.

    In  As You Like It the love-sick Orlando, spread-out under a tree and described by Celia as "like a dropped acorn" (3.2.227) is, according to Rosalind, fruit dropped from "Jove's tree" (3.2.226-229). The allusion is to the Golden Age when men "Did live by . . . apples, nuts and pears . . . And by the acorns dropped on ground, from Jove's broad tree" (Ovid 1916, 1, 119-21) but also to the New Testament: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (Matthew 7:18). The Forest of Ardenne is a kind of Golden World but it is one informed by the Christian ideals of charity and forgiveness.

    The low status afforded to acorns in early modern culture would explain why Prospero forcing Ferdinand to eat the mere husks of the acorn is so severe a test of his love for Miranda. Caliban has access to acorns and eating them would further reinforce his bestiality, as does offering to dig nuts from the ground for Stephano. The connection between eating acorns and bestial impulses is evident in Cymbeline when Posthumus imagines that the chaste Innogen has had sex with his Italian rival:

This yellow Giacomo in an hour - was 't not? - 
Or less - at first? Perchance he spoke not, but
Like a full-acorned boar, a German one,
Cried `O!' and mounted; found no opposition
But what he looked for should oppose and she
Should from encounter guard.

As Roger Warren pointed out "In Topsell's History of Four-footed Beasts (1607), the swine of Lower Germany are said to be 'fierce, strong, and very fat' (p. 514). The phrase suggests the gross animalism of Giacomo's intercourse with Innogen" (Shakespeare 1998, 151n168). That Giacomo is Italian is perhaps also relevant: as Gerard noted above, the Catholic Spanish ate acorns and Shakespeare's audience might be expected to have spotted connections being made here between mere animals and the Italians who, like the Spanish, are religious and political rivals. Female sexual continence also preoccupies Prospero in The Tempest: in his desire to test Ferdinand in case "too light winning" of his daughter" might "Make the prize light" (1.2.454-455) and his disgust at Caliban's attempted rape of her, an attempt he gleefully admits: "O ho, O ho! Would 't had been done! / Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans (1.2.351-353).

    Caliban does not mention honey but Prospero does when he tells him: "Thou shalt be pinched / As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging / Than bees that made 'em" (1.2.330-332), so honeycomb and honey is a likely source of food on the island. Honeycomb does not appear elsewhere in Shakespeare and in the dietaries it is honey rather than honeycomb that features. Honey is generally praised for its medicinal powers and for being nutritious. Thomas Elyot is typical of the views expressed about the food: "Honey as well in meat as in drink, is of incomparable efficacy: for it not only cleanseth, altereth, and nourisheth, but also it long time preserveth that uncorrupted, which is put into it . . . " and continues "Of this excellent matter, most wonderfully wrought and gathered by a little bee, as well of the pure dew of heaven as of the most subtile humour of sweet and vertuous herbs & flowers, bee made liquors commodious to mankind, as mead, metheglin, and oximel" (). Yet, as with most foods it seems that the humor of the person consuming the honey ought to be taken into account, at least according to William Bullein who noted: "honey is hot and dry in the second degree, and does cleanse very much, and is a medicinable mea[t] most chiefliest for old men and women. For it doth warm them & convert the[m] into good blood" but he warns that it "It is not good for cholerick persons because of the heat and dryness" (Bullein 1558, P7v).

    Shakespeare too was ambivalent about honey. As Gordon Williams noted, honey was a synonym for "sexual sweets" and could also refer to semen and the vagina (Williams 1994a, 'honey'). Shakespeare repeatedly refers to honey's sweetness but often in the context of sexual indulgence, for example in Troilus and Cressida Priam tells Paris that while he is distracted by Helen, others must fight: "Like one besotted on your sweet delights. / You have the honey still, but these the gall" (2.2.142-143); in Titus Andronicus Tamora tells her boys, Chiron and Demetrius, to get rid of Lavinia after they have enjoyed her sexually: "But when ye have the honey ye desire / Let not this wasp outlive, us both to sting" (2.3.131-132); and in The Rape of Lucrece Tarquin, before his attack upon Lucrece tells her "I know what thorns the growing rose defends; / I think the honey guarded with a sting" (492-493) and afterwards she laments on behalf of her husband Collatine: "In thy weak hive a wandering wasp hath crept, / And sucked the honey which thy chaste bee kept" (839-840). Ironically it is Caliban's failure to rape Miranda that results in pinches "As thick as honeycomb" and "more stinging / Than bees that made 'em"; here honey and bees suggest not sex but the consequences of seeking it.


Flesh, Fish and Fowl

    What might an early modern audience have made of the suggestion that Caliban eats the marmoset or monkeys that populate the island? Those playgoers who knew what a marmoset was would have found the notion of eating monkey-flesh exotic and it is unlikely they would have had any experience of it; the same is true of 'seamors', that is seamorse or walrus (if Benjamin Griffin is correct and that is what is meant by 'scamels'), but they ate the flesh of other animals with enthusiasm when they could afford it. In the early modern period the consumption of animal flesh was encouraged: the standard early modern view, as discussed above, appears to have been that eating meat was divinely ordained and more healthy than a vegetarian diet, although there were lots of factors to be taken into consideration before consuming it, including whether or not a specific meat was suited to one's humour, occupation, and even nationality.4 As Erica Fudge noted, the eating of animal flesh "held a more powerful position in theological terms than any attempt to regain the vegetarian innocence of Eden" since such a diet signified human dominon over animals. A vegetarian diet "would take away a point of humiliation for humans that was vital to their understanding of their place in the universe" where the eating of animal flesh "represents both death (human mortality) and power (human dominion)" (Fudge 2004, 75). However, the eating of monkey-flesh might have struck an early-modern audience as unnerving, given the disconcerting physical similarities between man and ape. As James Knowles pointed out, "the ape raised questions about the boundaries of the human and animal, a highly uncertain and contested limen. There existed a real fear that men (and, more likely, women and boys) might easily contintue the postlapsarian trajectory of decay and metamorphose toward the animal" (Knowles 2004, 139). Anthony Pagden noted that Europeans who travelled to the New World were disturbed by native eating habits: "the Indians not only ate men, who were too high in the scale of being to be food, they also ate creatures which were too low", something that "was a sure sign of their barbarism because by such unselective consumption the Indian revealed . . . his inability to recognise the division between species in the natural world and the proper purpose of each one" (Pagden 1982, 87; Fudge 2004, 79).

    Aside from the marmoset, no mention is made of eating animal flesh in The Tempest but Caliban tells Stephano "I'll fish for thee" (2.2.160). Fish was generally considered inferior to animal flesh, specifically red meat, because it was believed to be less nourishing. ‘Fish days’, implemented for economic reasons--to encourage the fishing industry and bring down the high price of meat--were apparently unpopular. For many Protestants eating fish was associated with Catholicism, specifically the practice of abstaining from animal flesh on Fridays. The fish was an early Christian symbol and the connection between fish-eating and Christ, especially via the biblical story of Christ’s miraculous multiplying of loaves and fishes (Mark 6: 35–42), was used by some Catholics to suggest that eating fish was superior to eating animal flesh. As Edward Jeninges indicates in his prose tract promoting the eating of fish and the fishing industry, many people considered laws advocating abstinence from the eating of meat reminiscent of those "made and used in the time of Papistrie, and by ancient authoritie of the Pope, who we should not in anything imitate, but rather in all thinges by contrarie" (Jeninges 1590, D3r); it does not follow, argues Jeninges, that this law is wrong since "many good lawes and ordinances in the time of Papistrie was by them made and ordained" (D3v). Discussing the relative merits of flesh and fish, Thomas Moffett criticizes those "filthy Friars" who think fish superior to meat because Christ fed upon it, arguing that Christ himself adhered to the laws of Moses and forbade the Israelites to eat fish with neither scales nor fins (Moffett 1655, H3r). In the monasteries, meat was only eaten occasionally: the Benedictine rule stated "let the use of fleshmeat be granted to the sick who are very weak, for the restoration of their strength; but, as soon as they are better, let all abstain from fleshmeat as usual" (Benedict 1952, 91; chapter 36). Thomas Moffett concludes that "all fish (compared with flesh) is cold and moist, of little nourishment, engendring watrish and thinn blood" (Moffett 1655, U1v) and William Bullein, citing Galen, claims "the nourishments of flesh is better than the nourishments of fish" (Bullein 1595, K5v).

   Fish is referred to repeatedly in Shakespeare. In 2 Henry 4 Sir John criticizes Prince John for eating "many fish meals" (4.2.89) thus suggesting that he is weak. Denouncing Prince John for eating fish would be in keeping with the historical figure upon whom Sir John was apparently based: the proto–Protestant martyr Oldcastle.  In King Lear the disguised Kent says to Lear

I do profess to be no less than I seem, to serve him truly that will put me in trust, to love him that is honest, to converse with him that is wise and says little, to fear judgement, to fight when I cannot choose, and to eat no fish. (1.4.13-17)

As Stanley Wells pointed out, the reference to eating no fish is "Self–deflatingly anticlimactic" but might also suggest that Kent is "a loyal Protestant who does not fast on Fridays" (Shakespeare 2000, 126n14–15) or, as Gordon Williams noted, that he avoids the company of whores (Williams 1994b, , 'fish'). Fish was often associated with sex, specifically female flesh and genitalia (Williams 1994b, , 'fish'). In Hamlet the prince calls Polonius "a fishmonger" (2.2.170) before asking him "have you a daughter" (2.2.179). Critics often interpret this as Hamlet calling Polonius a bawd or a pander but Harold Jenkins argued convincingly that it demonstrates Hamlet's antipathy to mating and procreation due to "the supposition that the womenfolk of fishmongers have a special aptitude for procreation" (Jenkins 1975, 117). In John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan Mary Faugh announces that although she is a member of the Family of Love, a sinner, and considered a bawd she is "none of the wicked that eat fish on Fridays" (1.2.16-20), which suggests that for all her faults at least she is not Catholic.

    Although Caliban might be referring to fruit when he tells Stephano "I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow" (2.2.166), he might be referring to the sea-creature and Prospero mentions "The fresh-brook mussels" (1.2. 466) Ferdinand will eat and which would also be available to Caliban. According to William Bullein "Crauises [crayfishes] and crabs be very good fishes, the meat of them doth help the lungs, but they be hurtful for the bladder, yet they will engender seed". With 'seed', that is semen (OED seed n. 4), there is the same association with sex that we've seen for fish. Bullein warns that "muscles and oysters would be well boiled, roasted, or baked with onions, wine, butter, sugar, ginger, and pepper, or else they be very windy and phlegmatic. Choleric stomachs may well digest raw oysters, but they have cast many a one away" (Bullein 1558, P4r). Thomas Cogan thought crab, lobster, and shrimp "of the same nature" as crayfish which he thought  very nourishing, and doth not lightly corrupt in the stomacke. Yet is it hard of digestion . . . " (Cogan 1636, Y1v).

    Crab is referred to by Shakespeare in the plays but not explicitly as a foodstuff. In Love's Labour's Lost and Hamlet the focus is on the action of the crab: Hamlet refers to the crab going backward (HAM 2.2.205-206) and Holofernes to the crab falling (4.2.3-7). Crab is also the name of Launce's dog in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which might be a comment upon his character: he is crabbed, that is, froward. The only other reference to mussels occurs in The Merry Wives of Windsor where Falstaff calls Simple "mussel-shell", which T. W. Craik. explained as follows: "Either because Simple is gaping in expectation", as noted by Samuel Johnston in his 1765 edition of the plays, "or because he is insignificant", as noted by H. C. Hart in his 1904 Arden edition of the play ().

    The notion that crabs will encourage the generation of sperm is pertinent to Caliban as is the belief that muscles must be well cooked. Again there is an association between the food Caliban eats and his sexual potency, something that is a direct threat to Miranda, and again the issue of whether of not Caliban prepares his food or eats it in a raw state is pertinent.

Birds and Eggs

It is not clear whether Caliban eats birds, the young of birds or their eggs. As Stephen Orgel noted, Caliban's reference to the "jay's nest" might indicate the bird's eggs (Shakespeare 1987, 150n163), but he might also be alluding to its young ,whilst the 'seamew' is a seagull but other meanings are possible. As mentioned earlier, Theobald suggested that 'scamel' is a printer's error for 'shamois', meaning a young kid, specifically an antelope, or 'sea-mews', a bird that feeds upon fish, or that it might mean . . . . 'stannel', a kind of hawk. Theobald further noted "It is no matter which of the three readings we embrace, so we take a word signifying something in nature" (Shakespeare 1733, 39n19). But it might well matter which kind of bird is intended.

    The dietary authors were not full of praise for wild birds. Thomas Cogan was of the opinion that "tame birds (as Isaack saith) do nourish more than the wylde, and be more temperate" (Cogan 1636, T3r). William Bullein on the subject of "the flesh of herons, bittors, and shouellers" announced

These fowles bee fishers, and be very rawe, and fleugmaticke, like vnto the meate whereof they are fedde: the young be best, and ought to bee eaten with pepper, synnamom [cinnamon], sugar and ginger, and drinke wine after them for good digestion: and thus do for al water foules. (Bullein 1595, K3r-3v)

If, as Theobald suggested, 'scamel' is a printer's error for 'stannel', a kind of hawk, then a colonial dimension is added to Caliban's choice of foodstuff. Fynes Moryson, discussing the effects of Lord Deputy Mountjoy's campaign against Irish rebels in 1602, describes how burning the rebels' corn reduced them to cannibalism and forced them to eat other undesirable foods ". . . they besides fed not onely on Hawkes, Kytes, and vnsavourie birds of prey, but on Horseflesh, and other things vnfit for mans feeding" (Moryson 1617, Bbb2r). There is a sense in which the extenuating circumstances of the famine become obscured by the fulfilment of what the English suspected all along, that the Irish are savages; later in his description of the Irish diet Moryson is appalled that they seem to enjoy the taste of horse-flesh (Moryson 1617, Sss2v). If Caliban is to be imagined consuming what Bullein termed "water fowl" then an early modern audience would presumably have thought him less savage than if, like the Irish, he eats hawkes.The only gulls that appear in Shakespeare are human fools and, not surprisingly, there is no reference to eating hawk. 5

    When Shakespeare refers to 'fowl' as a foodstuff the term is often used in the context of hunting and there is usually a distinct sympathy for the bird. In Measure For Measure Isabella's response to the news that her brother Claudio will die "tomorrow" is "O, that's sudden! Spare him, spare him! / He's not prepared for death. Even for our kitchens / We kill the fowl of season" (2.2.85-87). She later refers to Angelo as one who "Nips youth i' th' head and follies doth enew / As falcon doth the fowl" (3.1. 89-90). In Much Ado About Nothing Benedick says of the lovesick Claudio "Alas, poor hurt fowl, now will he creep into sedges" (2.1. 190-191) and later Benedick is the fowl 'stalked' by Claudio and his friends when they discuss within his hearing how Beatrice is in love with him (2.3.93). Sir John Falstaff describes the men he has recruited for battle in 1 Henry 4 to be "as such as fear the report of a caliver [gun] worse than a struck fowl or a hurt wild duck" (4.2.19-21). The innocent Lucrece, when confronted in her bed by the rapist Tarquin, is compared to the fowl that trembles for fear of the falcon (The Rape of Lucrece 505-512).

    If Caliban intends to steal the jay's young from their nest then this would suggest an unnatural barbarity, a behaviour that is clearly uncultured; certainly both the chicks and the eggs would have been considered strange foods in the period and, as is clear from references to 'fowl', it seems that Shakespeare was alert to the cruelty of any living creature being hunted and killed. As I have argued elsewhere (Fitzpatrick 2007, 57-67; 76-80), Shakespeare may have had what his contemporaries would have considered a strange sympathy for vegetarianism, especially in those plays where pastoralism features. In As You Like it Duke Senior and his followers hunt animals for food but the shepherds who also live in the forest do not. Corin’s focus is on the self–contained industry of the pastoral life and the pleasure he gains from witnessing the nourishment of his flock: "Sir, I am a true labourer. I earn that I eat, get that I wear; owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness; glad of other men’s good, content with my harm; and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck" (3.2.71–5). Corin does not kill his sheep for food but, rather, facilitates their feeding. It is only  those courtiers who misunderstand the essence of pastoral life who eat meat. So too in The Winter's Tale those most in tune with pastoral living do not consume the flesh of animals: when the Clown is sent by Perdita to get ingredients for the sheep-shearing feast  his shopping list suggests that the feast will be vegetarian (4.3.35–48).

    So what does Caliban's diet tell us about Shakespeare's conception of him and what an early modern audience might have made of this curious figure? Berries and roots, at first glance, suggest the bestial but upon closer examination these foods are amenable to culture via preparation. The same is true of apples, which are associated with wanton youth, especially when raw, but are less harmful if cooked. So too Caliban problematizes simplistic notions of barbarism versus culture, as is evident when demands about filling his stomach are quickly followed with an eloquent and reasoned outburst against Prospero's violence. Shakespeare's sympathy for hunted animals would suggest that killing the marmoset, the walrus, or wild fowl for food is barbaric but consuming fish was also problematic since it was considered less healthy than animal flesh and was also considered a 'Catholic' food. Caliban's consumption of fish and perhaps also acorns might, for a typical early modern playgoer, align him with the religious and political enemy as would the hawk that Theobald suggested is meant by 'stannel'. Crab-meat and honey were considered healthy: eating crab was thought to enhance sexual potency but that's worrying in a would-be rapist and honey too was aligned with sex and sexual fluids. A recurrent feature here is ambivalence toward the foods represented in the play which in turn signal ambivalence toward Caliban himself:, in the final analysis, Caliban is neither clearly bestial nor clearly cultured.


1In general, the earliest edition available in English is used as evidence here, although where a subsequent edition adds substantially to the dietary it is preferred. Also, a later edition is preferred over an earlier if it is available as electronic text from the Text Creation Partnership (TCP) at the University of Michigan. Research on the dietaries has been hindered by their frequent use of black-letter typefaces that are hard to read, especially on over–inked leaves with show-through from the previous page. Not only are the electronic texts easier to read, but they also enable rapid searches to see how a particular food is represented in each. Some dietaries have indices, but these searches revealed detail easily missed even by the most careful reader, and the Text Creation Partnership is to be applauded for providing scholars with new ways to work on these old books.

2All quotations of Shakespeare's plays are from Shakespeare 1989.

3The 'apple-john', a distinct variety of apple, was said to keep for two years and be in perfection when shrivelled and withered (OED apple–john).

4Beef is an interesting example: Andrew Boorde claims that "Beefe is good meate for an Englyssh man" if it is of a high quality and if it comes from a young, male cow. He asserts that old beef and the flesh of cows causes melancholy and leprosy but if the meat is well salted, in order to get rid of thick blood, "it doth make an Englysshe man stro[n]ge the educacyon of him with it co[n]sydered" (). William Bullein also thought that beef should be young and male and that it is difficult to digest. He specifies that the meat that should be consumed by those engaged in manual labour and that "Much béefe customably eaten of idle persons, and nice folkes that labour not, bringeth many diseases . . . " (Bullein 1595, I4v).

5For example, Malvolio is referred to as a gull in Twelfth Night (3.2.65); a 'gull' was also a joke or trick, as in Much Ado About Nothing (2.3.117).

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