A Posy Trencher, late 1500s


One of a set of twelve posy trenchers in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collections. Inscribed: ‘Who in the life, of his soule doth delight his car-nall luste, he must mortifie quiglie’.


This small serving platter with hand-painted decoration and verse was used to serve sweet treats at a banquet. The verse is a reminder that life and its sweet indulgences are fleeting and you should save your soul while you can. Religion permeated all areas of life during Shakespeare’s time.

 

Known as ‘trenchers’ or ‘roundels’, this set of twelve elaborately decorated wooden plates was probably used at a banquet to hold food. Each trencher is painted on one side with brightly coloured lacework designs, stylized fruits and flowers, and doggerel verses. Sets of painted trenchers were used in the banquet course, which took place after the main-meal had finished, and was usually held in a hall or large room designed or used specifically for banqueting. The nature of a sixteenth-century banquet is somewhat unclear, but we do know its purpose was not to satisfy the stomach as guests would have just eaten the main meal, but rather to delight the eye. It was an affair of pageantry, informal entertainment, and leisurely consumption. During the banquet, a trencher would be placed in front of each guest, the painted side facing down, and on each, delicacies such as finely made sweet-meats, exotic spices, sugar confectionary, and ornate marzipan sculptures would be served. After these were consumed, guests would turn their trenchers over to reveal the imagery and verses on the painted side, which could be then read aloud to the table.