William Shakespeare, English poet and dramatist, was born in 1564 in the midst of the renaissance period during the reign of Elisabeth 1st.
His birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon, due to its closeness to London, was a town buzzing with markets and fairs and exchanges where the young Shakespeare received infinite olfactory stimuli; sparkling notes from Mediterranean citrus fruits, aromatic lavender and pungent peppermint, inebriating roses and the vibrant notes of exotic spices arriving from the orient.
is also the period for the development of the processes of distillation and infusion, made famous by the Arabs, which enables the creation of lotions, aromatic solutions and essences.
These strong influences can be perceived in the Sonnet N° 5, where Shakespeare create san suggestive image in which olfactory is the protagonist:
“……..Then were not summer’s distillation left
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distill’d, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet….”
Summer flowers lose their fragrance and their beauty, but if they are treated using the process of distillation and the essence is well sealed in a bottle, they can conserve their perfume for ever.
We can also find the same concept of “eternity” of a fragrance through its transformation in an essence in the Sonnet N°6:
“…..Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distill’d:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-killed ….”
In Macbeth we can find a sign of the Arab influence on the day to day life in London in that period:
“…Here’s the smell of blood still:
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand…..”
Not everyone knows that in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare proposes another important but less known problem:
“….What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;….”