Shakespeare and Mulberries

Shakespeare very famously planted a Mulberry tree in the gardens of his home ‘New Place’ in Stratford upon Avon following instruction from the palace in 1609 that all landowners should plant them in the hope of promoting a native silk industry. Fortunately for us the wrong variety of trees were imported, instead of the white Mulberry which silkworms feed on they had imported black Mulberry trees.

Black mulberries have delicious, very juicy fruit, which can be eaten straight off the tree and also make excellent pies and preserves, but are less favoured by silkworms.

Alas the tree is no more. The Rev Francis Gastrell who owned Shakespeare’s home in the 1750’s grew tired of the constant requests to see the tree and ended up destroying it. There are however some ancient Mulberry trees left in Stratford, many of which within the former Shakespeare properties and said to have been planted from cuttings of the original tree.

Mulberries in Shakespeare’s work:

Shakespeare knew how tricky the berries were to pick. In Coriolanus the hero is encouraged to stand with his head held low:

“Now humble as the ripest mulberry
That will not hold the handling.”

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare stages the classical story of Pyramus and Thisbe. The lovers are to meet at Ninus’ Tomb, beneath a mulberry tree. When Pyramus arrives to find only Thisbe’s bloodstained scarf, he stabs himself, his blood staining the white mulberries dark red. Ever afterwards the mulberry has dark red juice.