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Here's from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2(The Arden Shakespeare edited by Harold Jenkins).

Thrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral bak'd meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Jenkins interpreted "bak'd meats" as meat pies. I wonder why it couldn't be, for example, roasted chickens.

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  • You roast a chicken in the oven, you don't bake it. Cakes, breads and pies are typically baked.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 9, 2014 at 22:30
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    @Mari-LouA That is a modern use. In Shakespeare's day roasting meant cooking at or over an open flame, typically on a spit; anything in an oven was baked. Sep 9, 2014 at 22:34
  • @Mari-LouA Longman Dictionary Bake:To cook something using dry heat, in an oven. ldoceonline.com/dictionary/bake Sep 9, 2014 at 22:36
  • @StoneyB I had no idea! I suppose if the bird was stuffed, then it had to be cooked in an oven. Ivanhoescott, read the definition; cakes, breads, and potatoes are baked. bake (bread and cakes in an oven) roast (meat or vegetables in an oven)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 9, 2014 at 22:37
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    Hey MariLou, I think you are confusing historic and modern usage. Also (today) in English, if you say "bake" a chicken it tends to mean IN A CLOSED POT in an oven; "roast" a chicken tends to mean "in the open in an oven" (perhaps on one of those spiny sticks; or just on a flat open pan).
    – Fattie
    Oct 17, 2014 at 9:16

3 Answers 3

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Baked for Shakespeare would have meant cooked in an oven, and meat was not restricted to flesh but included any food.

Chickens, however, would probably have been roasted: cooked on a spit over an open flame.

Meats (in the modern sense) were usually baked in a pastry shell of some sort, but again this did not have quite the sense of the modern pie: often the pastry served only as a container and was not eaten.

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  • Didn't they usually use an oven to cook meat alone, i.e. without pastry? Sep 9, 2014 at 23:34
  • @ivanhoescott The recipes I've seen call for meat to be roasted or seethed, both involving an open fire. Keep in mind that only wealthy households had ovens; ordinary folk cooked at the hearth and bought bread from a baker. Sep 10, 2014 at 0:51
  • I have noticed that the funeral had been held almost a month before the wedding. I think the baked meats were unlikely animal or fish meat. Oct 17, 2014 at 18:34
  • @ivanhoescott I think it very unlikely that Hamlet intends the statement to be taken literally - he is deliberately exaggerating the brevity of time involved. Oct 17, 2014 at 19:20
  • Maybe so, but I'm asking about the literal meaning. Oct 17, 2014 at 20:26
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This line should not be translated literally. The "funeral bak'd meats" is referring to Hamlet's very recently deceased father whose barely cold remains "coldly furnish forth" (laid the table for) the opportunity for his uncle to marry his mother. Remember that Hamlet is disgusted by the marriage taking place so soon, so his language is a bit vitriolic.

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According to the following source bak'd meats means generally meat prepared by baking, but in the common usage of our ancestors it refers more usually to a meat pie or perhaps any other kind of pie.

  • 'meat dressed by the oven' Dr. Johnson

Source: A Glossary: Or, Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, in the works of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries. By Robert Nares

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