Category Archives: Platter

Botanist goes to a Theatre

Some days there are just too many coincidences. Over breakfast I heard on the radio that the last surviving founder member of 50s vocal group the Platters, Herb Reed (and what a suitable name for this blog), had died in Boston. I like their records, and their successes with smooth ballads paved the way for many other American black artists to break through to the mainstream.

Les Platters et Herb Reed (à gauche) resteront un groupe de légende.

The Platters – Herb Reed is on the extreme left.

But I had been reading and thinking about very different Platters: the half-brothers Felix (1536-1614) and Thomas Platter (1574-1628) who had both studied medicine in Montpellier and then practised in their home city of Basle in Switzerland.  Felix particularly, since he made some original contributions to botany in assembling an early herbarium – a collection of plants carefully identified and pressed and dried between paper.  This was one of the first in Europe outside Italy, and he may have laerned the technique from the Italian Luca Ghini, via Felix’s teacher Rondelet in Montpellier. Felix’s herbarium, containing 813 species from several countries, is still on display in the University of Bern.

Both of the 16th century Platter bothers wrote journals which were later published and are available in English: Felix produced Beloved son Felix, and Thomas Journal of a younger brother. If you search, I think both are available online but seem hard to find in print.

Then I was again reminded of them by an item in the Guardian here about the discovery in Shoreditch in east London of the Curtain theatre, which had been home to Shakespeare’s company from about 1597 to 1600, just before the Globe was opened on the South Bank.  I wondered if it was perhaps there that the Platter brothers had visited in 1599 as part of a sort of Grand Tour, or for Thomas perhaps a year off after finishing medical studies.  This is how he describes it :

On September 21st after lunch, about two o’clock, I and my party crossed the water, and there in the house with the thatched roof witnessed an excellent performance of the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius Caesar with a cast of some fifteen people; when the play was over, they danced very marvellously and gracefully together as is their wont, two dressed as men and two as women.

 [Click on image to enlarge]

This is one of the main sources for dating Shakespeare’s play. More from the Journal here.

Now for some music – predictable I’m sure, but the Platters song which seemed most relevant to a Caesar: The Great Pretender.

Next:  Maybe some blues, maybe another colour, maybe something sparked by a news headline: exciting stuff, botany, eh?



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