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Shakespeare, roses and shaving!


I am taking a class in introductory British litterature at the University of Oslo, and we're just starting up.

(This is not a formal inquiry on the behalf of the university in any way, this is just me as a private student trying to ignite a conversation)

As a part of the class, naturally we are doing Shakespeare. The matter at hand regards his Sonnet 130. For those of you unfamiliar with it (that's no shame, I just recently learned of it through the class), here it is:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red ;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Now, what does this have to do with a shaving forum? Look at the following lines for a minute, if you will:

I have seen roses damask, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

An argument can be made that Shakespeare develops the argumentation or reasoning in the second quatrain from the sight of roses, to the smell of perfume. Presumably - or should I rather say possibly -to the smell of roses.

Whether or not this is correct, and it very well may not be, I will be damned, gentlemen, if I, as the clever young man I percieve myself to be, can not add anything new or thoughtful to the interpretations and comments to Shakespeare's work that have already be worked at for hundreds of years! Yes, you all heard me. If you're shaking your head already, feel free to peruse another thread. If you are intrigued, please read on...

We all know that roses are eternally connected to love in some form, way or shape. There is no denying it. However, what does the discussion relate to when we, gentlemen, talk of roses? Exactly! Rose scents, rose scents in shaving soap and creams. All the traditionally British suppliers carry some for of rose. And yet while roses are traditionally seen as connected to love, and femininity, we too have a tradition. The tradition of floral scents as masculine to the original, British gentleman! How does this compare to Shakespeare?

Or rather... how did it compare?

I say "did", because floral scents such as rose are no longer associated with how a gentleman should smell. Your enthusiasm and love not forgotten, but let's be honest. It is not "mainstream" anymore, gentlemen, and I suspect it has not been for hundreds of years, at least decades.

Here is my question to you: when were floral scents, as discussed, popular with gentlemen of previous times? My gut says the middle 1800's, would this be correct? I have a reasoning for this, but I'll hold that until I get some feedback from all of you.

If I am correct, I have an interesting point to make (jeez, finally), or rather an interesting question. With the popularity of floral/rose scents for gentlemen, would the popularity of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 have diminished, or changed? Would gentlemen read this sonnet in the 1850's and be humoured in their own minds because the fact, and fashion of the times said that roses were.. quite simply, manly?

That, gentlemen, is extremely interesting to me!

I know that my point might be extremely far-fetched, but at least I am trying to expand my knowledge of litterature in society throughout history! What say you, men? Do any of you agree? Comments, praise, criticism, anything?

Out with it!
One thing to consider is that men in Shakespeare's time were, well, much more in touch with what we'd think of as their feminine side than we are today. Not to say they were actually gay, but they expressed emotions we'd think of as friendship in terms we'd reserve for lovers. So, I'd expect that the hangups we have about florals nowadays would, ironically, be a product of the 19th century...if 16th century perfumers could extract essential oil from damask roses, I'm sure they made perfume out of it. Now, they probably would've been quite expensive (not like they had mass damask cultivation like we do now), but there's no reason to think that noblemen didn't go around smelling like roses.

Funny you bring this up...that very sonnet goes through my head every time I reach for one of my rose soaps.
This is one of my favorite sonnets because it is stating the opposite of what is expected!

Alas I am not a student of literature so I don't remember very many by any author.

Rose however is one of the oldest fragrances that was readily available, along with other florals. Simply by steeping blooms in water or alcohol a liquid infusion of fragrance is easily obtained and, while bulky, easy to store. Concentrating this infusion to use in other products, however, is much more complex.

There's an argument that many of the sonnets are addressed to Hanry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton. Wriothesley (Shakespeare's buddy and patron) is apparently pronounced Risley, and it's a short jump from there to Rosey. This leads to a lot of wordplay about what is the most beautiful of all the roses.

You can make of this what you will. I think that there is very little reliable documentary evidence about Shakespeare's life, lots of influential plays and poems attributed to him, and libraries filled with a couple centuries worth of critical works published by legions of Shakespeare scholars. So take this with a grain of salt.
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