Skip to main content
Shakespeare & Beyond

12 Shakespeare quotes about food and drink

As Thanksgiving approaches, we rummage through the pantry of Shakespeare’s plays for quotations about food and drink. Plus, you’ll find links to recipes adapted from our collection to help you make a Shakespearean meal.

Rice—what will this sister of mine do with rice?The Winter’s Tale, 4.3.40

The Winter’s Tale is onstage now at Folger Theatre. When we meet the Shepherd’s Son in Act 4, he’s on a shopping trip. His sister, Perdita, has been named mistress of their upcoming sheepshearing feast, and she’s sent him to market with a list. So, what do you need to host a sheepshearing? The Shepherd’s Son tells us:

Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice—what will this sister of mine do with rice? … I must have saffron to color the warden pies; mace; dates, none, that’s out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o’ th’ sun.

The “warden pies” are made of warden pears—any of a number of pears that do not ripen and have to be cooked. We never do find out exactly what his sister does with rice.

Nicholas Gerwitz, as the Shepherd's Son, reads his grocery list. The Winter's Tale, Folger Theatre, 2023. Photo: Brittany Diliberto.

They call for dates and quinces in the pastry.Romeo and Juliet, 4.4.2

The Winter’s Tale isn’t the only play that gives us an insight into early modern party-planning. Romeo and Juliet features multiple scenes in which servants prepare for parties by bussing dishes, delivering firewood, and searching for ingredients.

The Shepherd’s Son doesn’t end up needing dates, but they do appear in a 17th-century potato pie recipe by L. Cromwell in the Folger’s collection (along with marrow bones).

Some pigeons, Davy, a couple of short-legged hens, a joint of mutton, and any pretty little tiny kickshaws, tell William cook. Henry IV, Part 2, 5.1.26

Actor and cook John Tufts, author of Fat Rascals: Dining at Shakespeare’s Table, writes:

This is my favorite food reference in Shakespeare because it’s an actual menu. Most food references in the plays are rhetorical; that is, they are used not literally, but comparatively, as in insults. Here, however, we get a literal menu, and the entire bill-of-fare sounds delicious.

I have drugged their possets,
That death and nature do contend about them
Whether they live or die.Macbeth, 2.2.9

Possets were common in Shakespeare’s time. “Posset is a drink similar to our modern eggnog,” Kristian S. Smith writes on our blog, “It is made by pouring heated and spiced cream over a warm mixture of eggs, sugar, and alcohol.” The most famous possets in Shakespeare’s plays are the ones that Lady Macbeth drugs and gives to Duncan’s grooms.

If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked.Henry IV, Part 1, 2.4.487

Matt Stretch, “Mr. Aynsley Cook as Falstaff.” Folger ART Box S915 no.7.

“Sack”—the word and the drink—is constantly on the lips of Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Amanda Herbert writes: “Sack is a type of sweet fortified wine originally produced in Spain and the Canary Islands. Sack fell out of use in the nineteenth century, and isn’t available in most American markets. The closest approximation to early modern sack is modern sherry.” Sack sometimes appears in early modern posset recipes.

In Shakespeare’s time, sugar would indeed become a greater fault than Sir John could have predicted. Sugar, once accessible only to the wealthy, was becoming more widely available and demand skyrocketed as middle-class cooks employed it as both sweetener and status symbol. As Before ‘Farm to Table’ fellows Dr. Neha Vermani and Dr. Michael Walkden explain,

Harvesting, juicing, and refining sugar cane was labor-intensive. Because of this, the British slave trade was driven by its sugar trade. Britain fought bloody, destructive wars, enslaved hundreds of thousands of people, and utterly changed ecologies, all to satisfy its national sweet tooth.

Falstaff’s sack and sugar come together in Khristian Smith’s posset recipe and in our Thanksgiving-ready recipe for sweet potato pudding. This pudding is so good it’ll have you quoting another line of Falstaff’s:

Let the sky rain potatoes!Merry Wives of Windsor, 5.5.19

Thift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish for the marriage tables.Hamlet, 1.2.87

Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius happened so quickly after Hamlet’s father’s funeral that the leftover meat pies for the funeral were served cold at the wedding. Scholars generally agree that the “baked meats” here are meat pies. For Shakespeare’s audience, this might have called to mind another name for a pie’s pastry shell: a coffin. Shakespeare employs this double meaning to gruesome effect in Titus Andronicus:

Hark, villains, I will grind your bones to dust,
And with your blood and it I’ll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear,
And make two pasties of your shameful heads… Titus Andronicus, 5.2.190

At the end of Titus Andronicus, Titus famously kills Chiron and Demetrius, bakes them into a pie, and feeds it to their mother Tamora. In the First Folio, a stage direction notes that Titus enters the scene attired “like a cook.” He reveals:

Why, there they are, both bakèd in this pie,
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred (5.3.61).

Titus Andronicus, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 2019.

Wherefore, o’er a brick wall have I climbed into this garden, to see if I can eat grass, or pick a sallet another while, which is not amiss to cool a man’s stomach this hot weather. Henry VI, Part 2, 4.10.7

After all those meat pies, we need a salad to cleanse the palette. In Shakespeare’s time, “sallet” could mean either a light, round helmet or a dish of mixed greens (per the Oxford English Dictionary, the helmet likely got there from the Latin “caelāta,” while our modern day salad derives its name from the Latin “sal,” salt). In this scene, Cade is on the run and hiding out in a garden, but has time to pun on the two meanings of “sallet”:

I think this word sallet was born to do me good; for many a time, but for a sallet, my brainpan had been cleft with a brown bill; and many a time, when I have been dry and bravely marching, it hath served me instead of a quart pot to drink in; and now the word sallet must serve me to feed on (4.10.10 – 16).

I had rather live
With cheese and garlic in a windmill, far,
Than feed on cates and have him talk to me
In any summer house in Christendom.Henry IV, Part 1, 3.1.166

We don’t have a recipe for cheese and garlic, but we offer this line from Hotspur as the perfect way to describe a tedious or unpleasant person. “Cates” are delicacies or choice foods, so Hotspur is saying he’d rather live in the world’s stinkiest windmill than talk with Glendower even in the most rarefied setting.

Another good line about smelly foods comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

And, most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for
we are to utter sweet breath, and I do not doubt but
to hear them say it is a sweet comedy. A Midsummer Night’s Dream,4.2.42

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and aleTwelfth Night, 2.3.114

This is one of Shakespeare’s most famous food-focused quotations, though “cakes and ale” is a proverbial image of revelry that predates the Bard. Looking to do a little reveling yourself? Try our recipe for Twelfth Night cake and pair it with your favorite ale.

What’s your favorite quote from Shakespeare about food? Tell us in the comments!