A few weeks ago we held another of our Book Talks here at Charlecote. They were very well attended and we are planning to run more in April 2016 (more info will soon appear on the website about that). One of our guests on the book talk has written this lovely post on The Shakespeare Blog.
December isn’t the coldest month of the year, but it’s the darkest, with days getting progressively shorter most of the month. Earlier this week I visited Charlecote Park, the stately home near Stratford-upon-Avon, and couldn’t help thinking how much the lack of light must have affected people before electricity. Even with its huge windows, the great hall of the house was dark and gloomy.
Like most of us Shakespeare often relates December to the great festival of Christmas towards the end of the month. In his Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, countryman Thomas Tusser remarks that winter is the time “to spende as we neede” all that has been set aside during the months of plenty. There are still jobs to do: caring for the animals, feeding the bees to keep them alive, threshing grain, stacking dung and chopping wood for the fire for warmth and cooking:
Get grindstone and whetstone, for toole that is dull,
or often be letted and freat bellie full.
Preparations for the holidays went on for weeks. In his work Fantasticks, Nicholas Breton writes about getting ready for a fashionable Christmas in the city:
It is now December, and he that walks the streets shall find dirt on his shoes, except he go all in boots: Now doth the lawyer made an end of his harvest, and the client of his purse: New Capons and Hens, beside beef and Mutton, must all die for the great feast…Now plums and spice, Sugar and Honey, square it among pies and broth,…Now are the tailors and Tire makers full of work against the Holidays, and Music must be in turn, or else, never: the youth must dance and sing and the aged sit by the fire…the Tapster, if he take not heed, will lie drunk in the cellar: the prices of meat will rise apace and the apparel of the proud will make the tailor rich…: and if the cook do not lack with, he will sweetly lick his fingers…To conclude, I hold it the costly Purveyor of Excess, and after breeder of necessity, the practice of Folly, and the Purgatory of Reason.
Henry Peacham, too, in his book of Emblems, described how December should be represented in a picture: “December must be expressed with a horrid and fearful aspect… instead of a garland upon his hand, three or four night caps with a Turkish turban over them. His nose red, his mouth and beard clogged with icicles”.
Back to Charlecote, I was there on what would otherwise have been a depressing December day for one of their new sessions about the house’s Library, one of the most important cared for by the National Trust.* Apparently one of the most common questions asked of guides at Charlecote is “Did the family actually read the books in the Library?”
Our thanks to Sylvia Morris for this post.