“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II, lines 43-44). The famous quote from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is only one of possibly many instances through which Shakespeare utilizes the distinctive characteristics of flowers, particularly roses, to eradicate the rift between two contrasting subjects.
A similar instance is within the poem, “Bridal Song,” another work by Shakespeare that calls upon the beauty of several different flowers which, despite their different qualities, are all used along with several pleasant avian creatures to bless the holy union of the speaker and his spouse; Shakespeare portrays the amalgamation of these two families as being filled with hope and harmony. The first stanza of the poem begins “ROSES, their sharp spines being gone” (line 1). The word ‘roses’ is written in an emphasized manner, as roses symbolize love, the same aspect necessary to join two people in marriage.
The sharp spines of the rose are the defense mechanisms of the rose, that which protects the rose from harm. Defense is necessary only when an assailant is present. However, in this situation, the speaker removes the spines from the question, similarly to how two parties, in order to become one, must be able to trust each other, to be at peace with one another. The speaker continues this monologue on roses with, “Not royal in their smells alone/ But in their hue” (lines 2-3). The use of the word “royal” suggests beauty, grace, and dignity, all of which are typically associated with the grandeur of roses.
For the flowers to be royal in their “smells” and their “hues” would suggest that the flowers possess this nobility in their intangible aspects as well as their outwardly visage. Following this, Shakespeare presents the reader with other flowers, “Maiden pinks, of odour faint,/ Daisies smell-less, yet most quaint,/ And sweet thyme true” (lines 4-6). These other flowers are charming aesthetically, but not particularly well-known for their strong fragrances. These flowers are all beautiful and alluring in spite of being different plants.
Within the second stanza, Shakespeare includes several other flowers, writing, “Primrose, firstborn child of Ver;/ Merry springtime’s harbinger,/ With her bells dim;/ Oxlips in their cradles growing,/Marigolds on deathbeds blowing,/ Lark’s-heel trim” (lines 7-12). Each one of the flowers mentioned-primrose, oxlips, marigolds, lark’s heel- all correspond with a season of the year respectively, beginning from spring with primrose. The aforementioned plant is typically the first perennial associated with the coming of spring, thus being the “harbinger” of spring.
Oxlips blossom during late spring or early summer. Marigolds flourish in the heat of the hot sun, taking root from late summer to early autumn; saying they “blow on death-beds” insinuates that the speaker believes they have a sort of mystical sense to them, untouchable yet used to honor and show respect to the deceased. Larkspur, or as Shakespeare called it, lark’s heel, is a prominent cool-season flower, and does well in the winter but dies under the heat of the summer sun.
The splendor of flowers is not limited to any one time of year. Instead, several different types of flowering plants bloom all year-round, thus allowing their elegance to be enjoyed at any time. The worship of roses ends abruptly after stanza two to carry on the story in stanza three, the antecedent of which reads, “All dear Nature’s children sweet/ Lie ‘fore bride and bridegroom’s feet,/ Blessing their sense! ” (lines 13-15). “Children of Nature” refers to the flowers, in all their natural wonder.
Following tradition, flower petals are thrown so that they rain over the bride as she walks down the aisle. By the time the bride reaches the altar to join the groom, the flower petals have already settled on the floor before them. Customarily, these are used to bid the bride and groom an auspicious marriage, that they experience happiness and harmony in their life together. The speaker continues on wishing the couple well with, “Not an angel of the air,/Bird melodious or bird fair” (lines 16-17).
In addition to flowers, such as roses, many birds illustrate love as well. People often think of a proper love scene with white doves flying in the background. The speaker utilizes the birds, especially those “melodious” and “fair” to help consecrate the wedding. These elegant creatures are also dubbed “angels of the air,” conveying that they are heavenly, in a sense, and delightful and magnificent little creatures. The speaker seems certain that all of these avian animals are guaranteed to be present, saying none of them will, “Be absent hence! ” (line 18).
This signifies the importance of the unity of the two individuals so much that all the woodland creatures feel the gravity of the event. The speaker continues further with the anointing of the holy marriage in the next stanza. Stanza four begins by resolving the ambiguity presented with only “birds,” reading, “The crow, the slanderous cuckoo, nor/The boding raven, nor chough hoar,/ Nor chattering pye” (lines 19-21. ) Given further thought, the reader would realize that there are several different types of birds, and not all are associated with the same optimistic connotation.
The speaker exemplifies this with the aforementioned birds: the crow, the cuckoo, the raven, the chough (another type of crow), and the pye, all of which are associated with affiliated with unfavorable notions. The speaker himself deems them malicious, ominous, and even simply annoying. Thus, none of these birds, “May on our bride-house perch or sing,/ Or with them any discord bring,/ But from it fly! ” (lines 22-24). Previously, it was unclear who the couple being married were, as they were simply referred to as “bride and bridegroom”.
However, in line 22, the speaker refers to the bride-house as “our bride-house,” implying that the speaker is in fact one of the individuals being married. Furthermore, the speaker does not condone the presence of the menacing birds mentioned in lines 19-21, as they are not allowed to “perch or sing” on the bride-house, during which they may bring misfortune and disharmony to the sacred congregation. Instead, all types of affliction, even the assumed precursors of any sort of adversity, must be expunged so that the couple may have a harmonious wedding.
While it is clear that Shakespeare is writing of a merger of sorts, it is unknown whether he was simply writing of a wedding, or if he had a deeper meaning to be uncovered. As William Shakespeare was prominent during the Elizabethan Era, where power and religion were constantly shifting, it was possible that he was depicting his take of the Protestant and Catholic breach under wraps since heresy was not looked upon lightly. In that view, the roses could depict the Protestant and Catholic religions.
Under that condition, Shakespeare would have been writing about how the different sorts of flowers, albeit being different in some aspects, were still all flowers, all built upon the same basic natural atomic structure. The roses could also double up with the birds, portraying the blessings of God as the diverging braches of Christianity were once again combined into one, an event that, had it actually occurred, would have been a jubilant and major development in Christian history. It would have called for a tidings of joy, as a wedding much would, in a period filled with persecution, religious and otherwise, and genocide.
The end rhyme throughout the poem even serves to add a whimsical effect, that which would be expected in any joyous occurrence. However, this is a mere hypothetical concept rather than a concrete fact. Whatever the occasion had been, it was certainly something Shakespeare was passionate about, something that he truly hoped would occur or a past event that he had genuinely cherished. One thing is for sure: the end result would have been a beautiful union, a holy matrimony despite being of parties unknown.