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The Folger Spotlight

ENCORES: 'Recipes for Thought' Lecture by Wendy Wall (2011)

Folger ENCORES, red theater seats fading into darkness
Folger ENCORES, red theater seats fading into darkness

Folger Public Programs is pleased to present ENCORES, a weekly online series highlighting past performances and recalling the rich history of programming on the historic Folger stage. These ENCORES provide a way to connect and revisit the breadth of Folger offerings with a wider audience.

ENCORES presents

The Shakespeare Birthday Lecture
‘Recipes for Thought: Shakespeare and the Art of the Kitchen’
Delivered by Wendy Wall on April 25, 2011
Read about this event on Folgerpedia

Listen to the full lecture here (full transcript available here). Listen to a related podcast—and try your hand at early modern cooking—here. You can also explore the related exhibition, Beyond Home Remedy: Women, Medicine, and Science.

Lecturer: Wendy Wall is Professor of English Literature at Northwestern University. She has a wide-range of interests, which include editorial theory, gender, national identity, the history of authorship, Renaissance poetry, food studies, housework, theatrical practice, and Jell-O. Professor Wall is author of Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance and Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama, which was a finalist for the James Russell Lowell prize awarded by the MLA and a 2002 Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award Winner. A former trustee for the Shakespeare Association of America, she is currently at work on a book entitled Strange Kitchens: Knowledge and Taste in English Recipe Books, 1550–1750.

Read the introduction by a co-director of “Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures,” David Goldstein:

Hello and welcome to Folger ENCORES. I’m David Goldstein. It’s my pleasure to be speaking with you today. The Folger has been sharing selections from our archive of plays, music, talks, and readings with you in this ENCORES series. This week we’re excited to bring you a selection from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Birthday lecture series.

This talk, delivered in 2011 by Professor Wendy Wall, the Avalon Professor of the Humanities at Northwestern University, was entitled “Recipes for Thought: Shakespeare and the Art of the Kitchen.” In her talk, which introduces ideas that helped shape her most recent book, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen, Professor Wall examines the world of recipe-writing in early modern England to show the unexpected ways that kitchen work presents forceful recipes for thought, both on and off the Shakespearean stage. She draws connections among common domestic tasks like seasoning, preserving, and distilling, and then shows how they lead us directly into questions about art, nature, knowledge, and time. These arguments feel just as fresh and as well-seasoned as they did when they were presented almost a decade ago.

Professor Wall has been at the forefront of the investigation of early modern recipe writing since the publication of her second book, Staging the Renaissance: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama, which demonstrates the deep connections between professional drama and the mundane work of the household. The book came out just as I was writing my dissertation, and for me it opened up a whole new set of possibilities for studying Renaissance foodways. Wendy showed her readers that one could use the techniques of literary analysis to explore the rhetoric of recipes while still respecting the fact that what the early modern’s called “receipts” aren’t the same as novels or poems. They are, in some ways similar, but they also do different really exciting things, providing unique windows into women’s experience, domestic life, the writing and rhetoric of the commonplace world, household contributions to early modern science, and into what and how people ate in the period.

Wendy’s work has, in turn inspired us here at the Folger as well. As one of the co-directors of “Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures,” the inaugural project of the Folger Institute and the Mellon Initiative in collaborative research, I’ve found Professor Wall’s scholarly inquisitiveness so generative as our project team has developed our own research questions and collaborations. The goal of “Before ‘Farm to Table'” has been to develop interdisciplinary knowledge about food and foodways in the early modern world. To that end, we asked Wendy to join us as an associated scholar, in which capacity she generously shared her wisdom about early modern recipes while thinking with us in new ways. It was scholarship at its best: open communication, the free and interested flow of ideas, the encouragement and celebration of voices long quieted and marginalized.

In the section of the Shakespeare’s Birthday talk that you’re about to hear, Professor Wall takes us on a tour of the use of the word “season” in Shakespeare, touching on a number of plays, but coming to rest in All’s Well that Ends Well, with its astonishing attunement to the lived world of recipes. In the full talk, also shared here, you’ll find a broader discussion of the meanings and functions of the early modern recipe that shows us just how crucial this form is for understanding life and thought in Shakespeare’s England.

Please be sure to join us again for these weekly episodes of ENCORES, highlighting all that the Folger has to offer. Thank you so much.

Encores LogoCheck back each Friday for a new “from the archives” performance, introduced by some of our favorite artists, showcasing the best of Folger TheatreFolger ConsortO.B. Hardison Poetry, and lectures.


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