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ROSEMARY AND THYME IN LOPE DE VEGA’S “CUANDO LAS SECAS ENCINAS” Alexander J. McNair The University of Wisconsin-Parkside W hen Ophelia reappears in Hamlet 4.5 she is speaking nonsense and handing out flowers: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray, love, remember.” Scholars remind us that Ophelia, “recalling the flowers’symbolic significance,” passes them out to her brother Laertes, to Claudius, and to Gertrude not quite so haphazardly as her “madness” might require (Greenblatt 1734 n.9; Jenkins 536). Commentators disagree on exactly what the symbolic significance of a flower might be or even to whom a particular flower is offered in this context. Stephen Greenblatt, for example, in his notes to this scene conjectures that the “rue” to be worn “with a difference” goes to Claudius (1734 n.1,9) while most scholars assume it is for Gertrude (Jenkins 538). Does rue imply repentance, is it to be identified principally with the “property of abating carnal lust” (Jenkins 539-40), or is it simply a “memento of the untimely death of Polonius” (Powell 18)? There is no reason why Shakespeare should not appeal to all of these possible meanings and others that we can never hope to recover. Rather than a right or wrong sense, then, there is clearly a network of possible meanings that the scene conjures with the mention of flowers. Shakespeare’s Spanish contemporary Lope de Vega takes advantage of this connotative web as well, though the early modern medicinal and symbolic properties of the flowers and herbs he employs are largely lost on a post-industrial reading community.1 Lope criticism, however, has not seen the kind of debate—over specific flowers or herbs and their possible meanings within poetic contexts—which seems to provide so many explanatory notes in modern editions of Shakespeare. The exception to this critical blind spot is recent research on the plants in the Valencian garden of Lope’s well-known ballad “Hortelano era Belardo.” Carmen Riera Guilera comments “No estamos en ningún jardín espiritual, de los que tanto gustaron los medievales, sino en un jardín terrenal, no paradisíaco, cuyas flores y frutos han sido plantados obedeciendo más a la farmacopea que a la estética” (215).2 As Arthur Terry reminds us, the language used as raw material of Renaissance poetry is “filtered through a mass of preconceptions which differ considerably from those of a modern reader and which often CALÍOPE Vol. 9, No. 2 (2003): pages 37-60 38 Alexander J. McNair D seem remote from poetry itself” (35). This “mass of preconceptions” is known by different names to scholars of early modern poetry: for Thomas M. Greene, it is a “unique semiotic matrix” pertaining to a specific “mundus significans” (20); for Roger Moore, borrowing from the study of semantics and referring more specifically to a word’s relationship with other words, it is an “associative field” (57). Whatever we choose to call this intricate “network of associations” (Moore 57), recognizing the web of connotations, often contradictory though never mutually exclusive, within which a word will resonate is one of the keys to understanding how poets charge their poems with meaning.3 The purpose of this study is to understand the plant lore and possible associations that would have accompanied the use of rosemary and thyme in verse 29 of Lope’s ballad “Cuando las secas encinas.”4 Neither rosemary nor thyme are mentioned in “Hortelano era Belardo,” but clearly a similar associative field surrounds them. That simple verse— ”Los romeros y tomillos”—in its particular poetic context conjures a whole network of herbal/floral lore, contributing to the sensual and intellectual texture of the poem as it unfurls. 1. Botanical knowledge in the Renaissance Botany, per se, did not exist in the Renaissance.5 Since Linnaeus it has become increasingly difficult to imagine the preconceptions that a Renaissance reader or writer might have had about plants. Linnaeus’s system of botanical description is rigorous and consistent; for each plant he lists the constituent parts in table form with a description of each part which is devoid of anything but the physical characteristics that allow him to distinguish...


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