To bee or not to bee

The BeeHolder, April 2011

To bee, or not to bee: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the hive to hurl
the stings and buzzes of enrag'ed workers,
or to take smoke against a sea of troubles,
and by sedation end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to hope we end
the thousand pests and pesticides
that bees are prone to, 'tis a consummation
devoutly to be wish'd. To hibernate;
to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
for in that sleep of death what dreams may come
of halcyon hives beyond a flowering sea,
must give us pause: there's the respect
of bees for keepers calm and kind;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of wild,
the raiding bears, the scratching mites,
the colony collapse disorder, spring's delay,

the insolence of kids with stones
and dogs that stink a stinkhorn out,
When happy bees their treaty make
With but a gift of honey homely made.
To wax and weary dance a busy life,
bearing the dread of winters famine,
the undiscover'd country from whose chill
no colony returns, puzzles the will
and makes us rather bear those ills we have
than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus fearfulness makes cowards us all;
And thus the natural drive to forage
is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And, enterprise of great collusion,
with this regard our swarming turned awry,
and lost the name of action. - Soft you now!
The fair Melliferal Nymph, in thy prayers
be all our stings forgiven.

by William Shakespeare

This little known piece was written by Shakespeare in the late 1570s when he was in his teens and shows an amazing maturity of style. It has been largely forgotten since his adaptation of it to Hamlet about 20 years later. Shakespeare was much taken with the drama of the hive, queen flight and the personality of drones. He, with his contemporaries, believed that all female bee-keepers were known by their bees as ‘Ophelia’ but recent bee neuro-science shows that there is regional variation, with ‘Loveday’ occurring in the south-west and Nuala among Irish bees, so we have adopted a more generic name here.

Nick Tregenza
An Hes, The Newsletter of the West Cornwall BKA