If you’re anything like me, you spend the majority of your late-winter walks scouring the ground for the first sign of spring. It always starts out slow with one or two small green shoots poking out of the brown dirt that has only just begun to thaw. Before you know it, your cool, quiet, monochromatic winter strolls explode with new life. Suddenly, your eyes are met with shades of green, pink, yellow, purple! The abundance of white during the winter was snow, but now it’s the ruffled petals of daffodils and the blossoms on a crab apple tree. Your once quiet strolls become gleeful jaunts accompanied by the symphony of birdsongs. Your introspective reflections turn outwards as the earth wakes up from its slumber and encourages you to take part, once again, in the joyful union of humanity and the natural world.

The excitement and the surge of energy that is often felt in springtime is not, by any means, unique to our modern view of the world. Nature has always provided humans with nutrients, medicine, joy, and inspiration. One person, whom we’re quite fond of at the ASC and who found much inspiration from the natural world was, of course, William Shakespeare. The fact that Shakespeare drew great inspiration from botanicals probably won’t come as much of a surprise since some of his most quotable verses reference plants. For example,

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet (Act II, sc. 2)

Joe Mucciolo as Puck in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM 2024. Photo by October Grace Media.


Roses alone are referenced around one hundred times in Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. The rose was a popular flower in England during the medieval and early modern periods, and its powerful place in the historical imagination of England was not missed by Shakespeare (1). But what about all of the other plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s works, the ones not commonly found in London or in England at all? It is obvious to us that Shakespeare had an interest in botanicals, but how he gained this knowledge is, while speculated, quite ordinary. I say speculated, because we don’t know much about Shakespeare, however, we are pretty certain that he was not a farmer or an apothecary. We do feel confident in saying that he was a curious individual with a desire to learn.

During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, early modern London saw a rise in media consumption in many forms (theatre, books, music, etc.). Because of this increased interest in media, a miniature printing boom happened making print media more available to the general public. Among the many published works were ones dedicated to botanicals. Since it was no longer just church officials, nobility, and the rich consuming print media, many books, like those on gardening, were written in the common vernacular. The frequent printing and the use of common vernacular made knowledge more accessible. Shakespeare greatly benefited from this, and it is believed that he gained a good deal of his botanical knowledge from a popular gardening book by John Gerarde called Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes.

For a complete look at all of the botanicals mentioned by Shakespeare in his plays and sonnets, I turned to Gerit Quealy’s book, Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium of All the Flowers, Fruits, Herbs, Trees, Seeds, and Grasses Cited by the World’s Greatest Playwright. This is a gorgeous book stacked with illustrations by Sumie Hasegama-Collins that feature all of the botanicals referenced by Shakespeare. Luckily for us in the northern hemisphere, it is spring and quite a few of the trees and flowers mentioned by Shakespeare are in full bloom.

For those of us in Virginia, I have compiled a list of a few botanicals that can be spotted on our daily spring walks or during the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week happening THIS week through April 27th. During this highly anticipated week, the Garden Club of Virginia hosts tours of some of the state’s most beautiful and historic gardens. Staunton, the home of the American Shakespeare Center, is lucky enough to have its own chapter called The Augusta Garden Club which hosted tours this past Saturday, April 20th. A perfect spring day in Staunton would most definitely include a stroll around Staunton during the day and a show at the Blackfriars Playhouse in the evening. Props to anyone who can match up a plant they saw during the day with Shakespeare’s reference to the plant during the show in the evening!

The list below is a compilation of the referenced botanicals in Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Macbeth. These all happen to be plays either currently playing at the Blackfriars Playhouse or coming up in our Summer/Fall Season.

Julius Caesar


I have seen tempests when the scolding winds
Have rived the knotty oaks.
– Caska in Act I, sc. 3

A Midsummer Night’s Dream


O, how ripe in show
Thy lips, those kissing cherries,
tempting grow!
– Demetrius in Act III, sc. 2

Cowslip (Virginia Bluebell)

The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their saviours;
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
– Fairy in Act II, sc. I


And sometimes 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 wither’d dewlap pour the ale.
– Puck in Act II, sc. I

Pansy (aka Love-in-Idleness and Cupid’s Flower)

Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with Love’s wound,
And maidens call it Love-in-Idleness.
Fetch me that flower: the herb I show’d thee once;
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
– Oberon in Act II, sc. I



The devil damn thee black,
thou cream-faced loon!
Where got’st thou that goose look?
– Macbeth in Act V, sc. 3


Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark.
– Third Witch in Act IV, sc. 2

The Merry Wives of Windsor

There will make our beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies.
– Song [Parson Evans] in Act III, sc. I

Happy spring to everyone! We hope to see you at the Blackfriars Playhouse soon!

  1.  It was so popular in fact that two important English houses, Lancaster and York, bore red and white (respectively) roses on their familial crests. Their feuds over the English crown, which effectively transitioned England from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern period, were called The Wars of the Roses.If these wars and the battle for claim over the English throne appeal to you in any way, I highly recommend pairing Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3 and Richard III with Dan Jones’ The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors.
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