Kitchenware features in Shakespeare’s most famous romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. The night before Juliet’s intended marriage to Paris, her father orders a grand feast to be prepared. The servants are busy fetching items for the cooks:
Hold, take these keys, and fetch more spices, Nurse.
They call for dates and quinces in the pastry.
[Enter three or four Servingmen, with spits, logs, and baskets]
Now, fellow, what is there?
Things for the cook, sir, but I know not what.
Make haste, make haste.
(Romeo and Juliet, 4.4)
A skillet would be one of the pieces of kitchen equipment needed to make the date and quince filling for the pastry. The servant is rather comically carrying plenty of kitchenware, reminding audiences of how much effort, time and equipment was required to prepare meals for large parties.
Even in normal households, kitchens would have been extremely busy places. With all the boiling, baking, butter-making, spit roasting and general cooking, kitchens were sticky, hot rooms.
Shakespeare often associates housewives with their kitchens and, in particular, he characterises these women as greasy.
Take a look at this extract from his early play The Comedy of Errors. Here, a servant called Dromio of Syracuse attempts to evade the romantic advances of Nell the kitchen maid. He claims that she is so greasy he could turn her into a lamp. Home-made candles, or lamps, were made from melted cooking or animal fat:
DROMIO OF SYRACUSE
[…] she’s the kitchen wench and all grease; and I know not what use to put her to but to make a lamp of her, and run from her by her own light. I warrant, her rags and the tallow in them will burn a Poland winter. If she lives till doomsday, she’ll burn a week longer than the whole world (The Comedy of Errors, 3.2)
Joking aside, with all the effort that went into cooking throughout the 16th century, it is no wonder that a simple piece of equipment like this skillet would have been invaluable to any housewife.