In early morning, Shakespeare’s Juliet exhorts Romeo to linger, commenting on bird calls in the surrounding orchard: “It was the nightingale and not the lark, That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear; Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree.” Why the nightingale, why a lark, why the pomegranate? Readily-available student notes bring us to understand that sounds of the nightingale would mean dawn is not yet breaking, while the lark would suggest morning, when Romeo must leave.
But the p0megranate? None of the on-line cheat-sheets give much attention to mention of this plant, so allusions common to Shakespeare’s time that might be baked into that reference could be missed by today’s audience. English listeners knew the Pomegranate as Granata, as well as the Apple of Granada. Gerard (whose 1597 Herball was the common source of plant wisdom in Shakespeare’s England) suggests that Granada, Spain may be so named for the abundance of Pomegranates in the region. Listeners would have understood the nearness of Pomegranate meant an orchard of small trees surrounded, perhaps cloaked Juliet’s quarters. The “many-seeded” fruit of Punica granatum was well-understood to suggest fertility, something Juliet, Romeo, and Shakespeare would have known. Characters and author would also have realized potential allusions implicit in the deep red (garnet-colored) rind of the maturing fruit. In Shakespeare’s world, the mention of Pomegranate could carry much freight.
Today, we’ve experienced renewed interest in Pomegranate juice as refreshing and healthful. And the symbolic importance of the fruit remains current through specific mention in The Bible, both in Exodus and 1 Kings. Amulets and talismans of many sorts recognize the historical symbolism of Pomegranate fruit, and celebrate the recognizable configuration. One guards the door to my home.