Tucked away at St. Elizabeth's College in Convent Station
(Morris Township) is tradition stemming from the Elizabethan age, a garden full of flora from William Shakespeare's plays and sonnets.
Incidentally the popularity of Elizabethan gardens boomed at the same time Shakespeare's did. The bard was exceptionally knowledge about plants, what they could be used for, their historical and mythological significance, and implemented his expansive mental database to connect with an audience that would have been similarly knowledgeable.
Settings in Shakespeare's were distinctively Old World, based on Roman and Greek histories, folklore, or capitol cities of otherwise rural regions. He described the medicinal use of plants, playing an effective role as a plot device. (Think He referenced certain plants to lay a scene of, for example, a more exotic location. He incorporated the folklore or mythology about plants to provide subtle undertones and foreshadow.
If a character was sick or dead, he might likened death's deep slumber to the effects of poppy.
“Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.”
When he was being visually descriptive about a pastoral landscape, he would paint a scene with blue, white and yellow wildflowers to assist building the image in the audience's minds. Perhaps most frequently Shakespeare like the ephemeral bloom as a metaphor for a character's rise and fall.
Sonnet 99 The forward violet thus did I chide
The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet or colour it had stol'n from thee.
Though most of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is performed at nearby Drew University in Madison, the College of Saint Elizabeth in Convent Station
also hosts outdoor events for roughly 400 audience members at an outdoor amphitheater modeled after the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens. For tickets, email BoxOffice at ShakespeareNJ.org, call (973) 845-6723, or visit ShakespeareNJ.org for the current performance schedule.