Did Shakespeare Eat Birthday Cake ūüéā?

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

With Shakespeare’s birthday coming up, I got to wondering if Shakespeare and other Elizabethans celebrated birthdays, and if so, did they use birthday cakes covered with lit candles?

Shakespeare’s plays make it clear that they did at least mark birthdays- Cassius in Julius Caesar and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra do mention birthdays and several other plays mention cake.

One passage from Troilus and Cressida, (a comedy set in Ancient Greece) is practically a recipe for an Elizabethan cake:

Pandarus. Well, I have told you enough of this: for my part,
I'll not meddle nor make no further. He that will
have a cake out of the wheat must needs tarry the grinding.
Troilus: Have I not tarried?
Pandarus. Ay, the grinding; but you must tarry
the bolting.
Troilus. Have I not tarried?
Pandarus. Ay, the bolting, but you must tarry the leavening.
Troilus. Still have I tarried.
Pandarus. Ay, to the leavening; but here's yet in the word
'hereafter' the kneading, the making of the cake, the
heating of the oven and the baking; nay, you must
stay the cooling too, or you may chance to burn your lips.

You might think Shakespeare is being anachronistic, but according to Food and Wine Magazine, the Ancient Greeks invented the practice of putting candles on cake, because Greek cakes were offerings to the Moon goddess Artemis, and the pious worshippers wanted their cakes to shine like the Moon!

There are also stories from Greco-Roman myths about a special honey cake that was so good, it even appeased Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the underworld!

It was the Romans who had the first birthday parties with cake, though their parties were strictly for the aristocracy, not common people. The first children’s birthday cakes with candles came to be in Germany in the 18th century.

So we know birthday cakes were a thing in Shakespeare’s Day, and that he was aware of them. The question is whether Christian Elizabethans chose to continue the practice of birthday cakes, and if common men like Shakespeare partook in them.

Sadly, the research I’ve gathered suggests that common men like Shakespeare probably didn’t eat cakes to celebrate their birthdays, (though, as I have discussed in other posts, Shakespeare might have eaten cakes at Halloween, Christmas, and Twelfth Night).

Twelfth Night Cake recipe from 1604, when Shakespeare was still alive.

Although the concept of a birthday cake with frosting and candles wasn’t really a thing in Shakespeare’s Day and not available to people of his social class, we can still celebrate his birthday in plenty of fun and delicious ways! Below is a video from the Utah Shakespeare festival that features a young girl making an Elizabethan cake from The Complete Cook in Shakespeare’s honor, in front of a special guest!

An Elizabethan cake recipe, Utah Shakespeare Festival.

You’ll notice that the recipe doesn’t have leavening agents like baking powder except for yeast, so like Pandarus warns Troilus, an Elizabethan cake requires kneading, more time, and will produce a smaller and less fluffy result, (much like Troilus’ relationship with Cressida, but I will get into that later). I encourage you to try this and other Shakespearean recipes and stay tuned to my blog, YouTube page, etc, for lots of fun posts in honor of Shakespeare’s Birthday!




Happy Twelfth Day Of Christmas!

Happy Twelfth Night and farewell to the Christmas season!

This weekend I am offering a special discount on my class on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night! You can take the course at a $5 discount with coupon code¬†HTHESNIF6B5¬†until¬†Jan 13, 2022. Go to ¬† https://outschool.com/classes/what-was-christmas-like-for-william-shakespeare-BwVLyBPp?usid=MaRDyJ13&signup=true&utm_campaign=share_activity_link and enter the coupon code at checkout.

Finally, here’s a short musical interlude from the movie version of Twelfth Night: Ben Kingsley singing “O Mistress Mine,” from Twelfth Night:

Happy Twelfth Night, and enjoy your cakes and ale responsibly!

More Twelfth Night Posts:

1. Play of the Month: Twelfth Night

2. Creating a Character: Malvolio

3. The duelling scene in Twelfth Night

4. The Fashion is the Fashion: Twelfth Night

Why Mean Girls Is Based On Julius Caesar

As you probably know if you subscribe to this blog, I love to review adaptations of Shakespeare, so imagine my delight when I realized that the classic teen comedy Mean Girls from 2004, (and the current Broadway show of the same name), is based on Julius Caesar! This movie doesn’t have Shakespearean dialogue or the names or locations, but the essence of the play is the same, albeit with a more modern ending.


In Shakespeare’s play and Tina Fey’s script, the main antagonist is popular, dangerous, and inspired fear and envy from everyone. Regina George and Caesar both rule their empires through their armies, intimidation, their wealth, and their supreme self confidence. In addition, both names are associated with royalty- Regina in Latin means queen.

I didn’t realize that the movie has its roots in Julius Caesar until I saw this video from the YouTube channel The Take: https://youtu.be/FRfoEzZbK_Y. It was when I watched this video, that I realized Mean Girls character Janis was an analog for Shakespeare’s character Cassius, the man who sets the plot in motion to assassinate Caesar.

In the movie, Janis meets a well meaning girl and manipulates her into betraying Regina. Look at this clip where after Cady feels betrayed by Regina, Janis outlines her conspiracy, with a Roman sword in her hand! https://youtu.be/D0JMoa4QfA0

Like Cassius, Janis claims that once Regina is destroyed, the social order of the high school will change from a dictatorship to a democracy, but what she really wants is to supplant and replace Regina and make herself the new queen Bee. Even her name is a clue to her malevolent nature, she is named after the Roman god with two faces!

Sir Patrick Stewart as Cassius in the 1972 RSC production of Caesar

Similarly in Julius Caesar, Cassius convinces Brutus that once Caesar dies, Rome will be a republic again. In real life, Brutus was Caesar’s close friend, so Brutus agonizes over whether he is doing the right thing and whether he owes more loyalty to Rome, or his friend Caesar: https://youtu.be/IoDwXjKIenI

If Janis is Cassius, what about Brutus?

Cady Heron (played in the movie by Lindsay Lohan), is naive but intelligent. Like Brutus, she is manipulated and carefully chosen to betray the king. Janis chooses Cady because she’s pretty enough to get close to Regina, her looks are like social currency. Brutus’ social currency was his family: he was descended from the founder of the republic so he leant credibility to the conspiracy. He was also close in family to Caesar and Cassius.

In both stories once the monarch is destroyed, the power vacuum immediately starts to close; rather than change the social order, a new monarch arises. In Caesar, the second triumvirate takes over for the first, and Caesar’s nephew Augustus eventually becomes the supreme ruler of the Roman empire.

In Mean Girls, once Regina loses her social cache, Cady takes her place.

Then when Janis exposes Cady and Regina, she briefly basks in becoming a new Queen Bee- her revolution to overthrow a tyrant has paid off, bit now she is the tyrant herself. This actually mirrors the real Julius Caesar, who took power from the feared dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

Bust of Sulla

Like Regina and her Burn Book, Sulla kept a list of people he saw as threats called the Proscriptions, only Sulla used it to execute the people on the list and seize their property. Caesar started his career as a populist soldier working for the Senate against Sulla and for the people, but became a dictator himself, the very thing he was sworn to oppose!

The movie does end on an encouraging note when the adults finally step up and address the terrible things that their students are doing, which has important lessons about bullying that every young person should see.

Tina Fey actually admitted that she herself was a Mean Girl in high school, so there’s a great deal of honesty when her character confronts the kids about the consequences of bullying each other.


Though the movie ends happily, the Cesarian parallels are not over; even though this high school has been democratized, the problems that created this Mean Girls autocracy remains. As you can see in the final minutes of the movie, a new crop of Plastics arrive just as the old group disbanded.https://youtu.be/LshX2God-wkIn four years when the regime changes again, will there be a new Caesar?

After rewatching clips from the movie, I realized that Tina Fey actually made a Caesar reference right there in the movie! https://youtu.be/GPDt6cMYvoM In this clip, Gretchen is in English class, perfectly paraphrasing Cassius’ speech in Act I, Scene ii, even the part about Caesar being a colossus:

Cassius. Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world

Like a Colossus, and we petty men

Walk under his huge legs and peep about

To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?

Why should that name be sounded more than yours?

Write them together, yours is as fair a name;

Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;

Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,

Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.

Now, in the names of all the gods at once,

Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,

That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!

Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!

When went there by an age, since the great flood,

But it was famed with more than with one man?

When could they say till now, that talk’d of Rome,

That her wide walls encompass’d but one man?

Now is it Rome indeed and room enough,

When there is in it but one only man.

O, you and I have heard our fathers say,

There was a Brutus once that would have brook’d

The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome

As easily as a king. I.ii. 226-252.

Now I know Mean Girls is based more on a book and by Tina Fey’s own experiences than Shakespeare, but the point is that the next time you are bored and angry about having to read a play based on a guy who’s been dead for over 2,000 years, take a look at the lunch table next to you and you’ll see that things haven’t changed that much.

If you liked this post, please consider signing up for my online class, “The Violent Rhetoric Of Julius Caesar,”

The class breaks down some of the most famous speeches in Julius Caesar and gives you some tips and tricks on how to write persuasive speeches like Antony’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” speech. Use these powers for good though, not to turn your school into a Mean Girls dictatorship!

Also, if you love Mean Girls and Shakespeare, check out Much Ado About Mean Girls by Ian Doescher, author of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars trilogy.

Scavenger Hunt For Shakespeare‚Äôs Birthday!


I designed this on an app called “GooseChase”, appropriate since Shakespeare invented the term!

If you click on the link, you can do a great scavenger hunt where you upload pictures or answer trivia questions for points, and of course they are all related to Shakespeare. If you have the app on your phone, search for Shakespeare Birthday Scavenger Hunt and enter the code: 2BON2B (Get it, to be or not to be)! You can also use the code NLEGVM. Let me know if you like it or if you cannot access the link.

Happy Hunting!

“The Fashion Is the Fashion:” An exploration of Costumes in “Much Ado About Nothing”

Much Ado About Nothing is about upper class people preparing for a wedding, which means fashion is a frequent topic of their conversation. Below I’ve provided a¬†few costume references from the play with definitions from¬†Shakespeare‚Äôs Lexicon¬†by Alexander Schmidt.

Elizabethan Cap
Elizabethan Cap

  • Cap-¬†A loose-fitting headdress, or soft brimless head-dress.
    1. “Hath not the world one man but he will wear his cap with suspicion?” (BENEDICK, I,I,)
    2. “Doth not my wit become me rarely? “It is not seen enough, you should wear it in your cap” (MARGARET/ BEATRICE, Act III, Scene iv).

A Fool or Jester's cap or Coxcomb
A Fool or Jester’s cap or Coxcomb

  • Coxcomb-¬†The iconic fool or jester‚Äôs cap.
          1. DOGBERRY Let him write the prince‚Äôs officer coxcomb‚ÄĚ (DOGBERRY, Act IV, Scene ii).

Drawing of a doublet, an Elizabethan leather jacket
Drawing of a doublet, an Elizabethan leather jacket

  • Doublet‚Äď A leather jacket worn outside one‚Äôs regular shirt.
        • And now will he lie ten nights awake,¬†carving the fashion of a new doublet‚ÄĚ (BENEDICK, Act II, Scene iii).


Authentic reproduction of of real doublet.


        • Jerkin‚Äď Long close-fitting jacket worn over or in the place of a doublet.
        • Codpiece¬†(below)- cloth case or pocket worn by¬†men at the front of breeches or hose.¬†codpiece11
  • Seest thou not, I say, what a deformed thief this fashion is? how giddily a’ turns about all the hot bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty? Sometimes fashioning them like Pharaoh’s soldiers in the reeky painting, sometime like god Bel’s priests in the old church-window, sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirched worm-eaten tapestry, where his codpiece seems as massy as his club? (MARGARET, Act III, Scene iii).

Sometimes entire passages in Much Ado About Nothing refer to fashion, as in this example from Act III, Scene iii:

BORACCIO: Thou knowest that the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak, is nothing to a man.

CONRAD: Yes, it is apparel.

BORACHIO: I mean, the fashion.

CONRAD: Yes, the fashion is the fashion (Act III, Scene iii).

This passage tells a lot about Boraccio‚Äôs motivations, and also shows a lot about the role of fashion in the Elizabethan period. ‚ÄúFashion‚ÄĚ in this case refers not only to the clothing, (its fine craftsmanship and contemporary style), but also to its wealth. Back in the Elizabethan era, people showed off their wealth and status with the clothes they wear; they literally wore their money on their backs. When Boracchio refers to fashion being nothing to a man, he means that a man of wealth and property has no reason to worry about buying fancy clothes. This betrays the reason Boraccio wants to work for Don John- money, and aspirations of becoming a wealthy gentleman. Act III, Scene iii.

Close Reading- Act III, Scene ii

DON PEDRO: There is no appearance of fancy in him, unless it be a fancy that he hath to strange disguises; as, to be a Dutchman today, a Frenchman to-morrow, or in the shape of two countries at once, as, a German from the waist downward, all slops, and a Spaniard from the hip upward, no doublet. Unless he have a fancy to this foolery, as it appears he hath, he is no fool for fancy, as you would have it appear he is (Act III, Scene ii).

In this passage, Don Pedro observes Benedick and mockingly tries to get Benedick to confess that he is in love. Benedick has fallen in love with Beatrice and it has changed his behavior completely- including his manner of dress, which Pedro singles out as a sign of love. This is not unlike a similar passage in As You Like It, where Rosaline tells Orlando that disorder in dress is one of the signs of love. To understand Don Pedro’s remarks, one must first look at some of the European fashions of the time.

Ferdinand Bol, c. 1640, "Portrait of Youth With A Sword."
Ferdinand Bol, c. 1640, “Portrait of Youth With A Sword.”

Image 1: The Dutch

Consider this picture of a Dutch courtier by Ferdinand Bol, c. 1640. Notice that though he looks rich, his outfit is fairly austere, no exaggerated codpiece, pants that cover and do not emphasize the shape of the man’s thigh or legs. This is the demure image of the Dutch aristocrat, which is why the liberal prince makes fun of him.

This is an image of a French courtier from the Valois Tapestry (1576). This man’s outfit is practically the opposite of the smart, modest Dutchman. His hose are tight-fitting, decorated with fine embroidery to draw the eye, and his hose show off the shape of his leg. This would be like wearing leather pants today- this outfit is all about flash and sex appeal.  Here is a sketch of German aristocrats from the late 16th century. The English liked to make fun of the baggy clothing of the Germans with their padded slops and their peascod belly doublets. These men look like their clothing is only designed to ward off Germany’s cold winters, rather than looking strong, sexy, or powerful.

Image #3: The Germans

German aristocrats from the late 16th century.
German aristocrats from the late 16th century.

To the right is a picture of German  slops, which, as the century wore on, got bigger,

flying canoe slops
flying canoe slops

and baggier. Going back to the passage quoted earlier, you‚Äôll notice how the people that Pedro makes fun of are all foreigners, none of them are English or Italian. The English liked to make fun of the fashions in other countries, especially the Spanish and the French, (their political enemies). They made fun of the German and French for their slops in particular, probably because slops were so baggy; a man wearing them looked like he was concealing an erection. Pedro is implying Benedick has ‚Äėsomething to hide,‚Äô since he is thinking about Beatrice all day. Mercutio makes the same joke, when he makes fun of Romeo‚Äôs ‚ÄúFrench slop.‚ÄĚ

Don Pedro’s comment about a doublet suggests that Benedick has been walking around with no jacket. This was considered a sign of madness and Ophelia uses it as evidence of Hamlet’s madness in Hamlet, Act II, Scene i: Notice how both passages shockingly refer to the unusual fashion of not keeping ones doublet in proper order. Once again, Pedro is subtly hinting to how Benedick must be in love based on his erratic behavior, which fits in with the stereotype of Spaniards as sex-crazed hot bloods. Spaniards did not Remember, Elizabethans had no heating systems to spare them from cold, so not wearing one’s doublet was very dangerous. Only a madman (and by extension, an unrequited lover), would engage in such self-destructive behavior. Thus, through Don Pedro’s subtle pokes at Benedick, the prince lets him know that he cannot hide his love for Beatrice; it has already manifest itself in his clothes.

As mentioned before, wealthy Elizabethans spent their money on clothes the way modern rich people spend money on yachts and home entertainment systems. Dukes and counts would buy tailor-made, beautifully embroidered clothes, and their outfits sometimes were as famous as the people who wore them.

This final quote from Act III, Scene IV illustrates this principle. The day of Hero’s wedding, her gentlewoman Margaret is comparing her gown to the famous dress of the Duchess of Milan:

By my troth, ‚Äės but a night-gown in respect of yours: cloth o‚Äô gold, and cuts, and laced with silver, set with pearls, down sleeves, side sleeves, and skirts, round underborne with a bluish tinsel: but for a fine, quaint, graceful and excellent fashion, yours is worth ten on ‚Äėt ( MARGARET,¬†Much Ado, Act III, Scene iv).

Portrait of Christtine of Denmark, 1568
Portrait of Christtine of Denmark, 1568

Margaret refers to a famous gown worn by Christine of Denmark, a real noblewoman who was immortalized in this portrait:¬†This is a portrait of Christtine of Denmark, Dutchess of Milan from 1521-1590. Notice that, just like Margaret‚Äôs description, the cloth is cut with gold, the sleeves and gown are adorned with gold, silver, and pearls, and the dress itself is mostly black (the most expensive color to produce back in the 1590s). These were all common fashions for the upper class in the 16th century. Notice also that the cloth on the sleeves is slashed, (cut open) to reveal the much more expensive silk embroidered with silver and gold. Pearls were a symbol of virginity to the Elizabethans, and at this point, Chistine had been widowed twice over, which is why she is clutching the tassel with the pearl around it, as a symbolic assertion of her chastity. The image was scanned from the Weiss Gallery catalogue:¬†A Noble Visage, Early Portraiture,¬†1545 ‚Äď 1660, London, 2001.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the material culture of Elizabethan England. If you would like more info on Elizabethan fashion, please leave a comment below