A Toast To Shakespeare
What do alcohol and Shakespeare have in common? They can both be found literally everywhere in various forms and incarnations, and they’re both pretty darn good.
The consumption of alcohol has been one of man’s primary pastimes and endeavors since time immemorial, and in light of its hallowed place in human history, is it any wonder that it found its way into the works of one William Shakespeare?
Shakespeare wrote about alcohol, Shakespeare in all likelihood consumed alcohol, perhaps even copiously, and his audience most certainly drank heartily when watching his plays, the likely culprits being those unrefined groundlings who watched from the pit. In fact, you might even say alcohol was in his blood. Shakespeare’s dear old dad was an official ale taster back home in Stratford, and was tasked with ensuring that the ingredients used by breweries were up to snuff and that the drink was sold at Crown specified prices. Rumor even has it that the elder Shakespeare was an alcoholic.
Shakespeare makes a good number of references throughout his works to that most wonderful elixir. For example, a bevy of wine variants are mentioned in his plays, among these Sack, Malmsey, Metheglin or Mead, and Canary, in such plays as Henry IV, Love’s Labour Lost, Richard III, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Twelfth Night.
What is interesting to note though is that each of Shakespeare’s plays has at least one allusion to alcohol, and that all in all there are 360 references to alcohol in general, including drinks, drunkards, or drunkenness, as well as 196 alcohol-related figures of speech throughout his body of work.
It would appear that Shakespeare knew the workings of alcohol quite intimately, perhaps through firsthand experience. In Twelfth Night, Olivia asks the Clown what a drunken man is like. He answers her, saying “Like a drowned man, a fool, and a madman: one draught above heat makes him a fool, the second mads him, and a third drowns him.” Twelfth Night (1.5.127-30)
Shakespeare also remarks on the way alcohol stokes libido but hampers the ability to deliver, seen here in an exchange in Macbeth. Macduff asks the Porter, “What three things does drink especially promote?” The Porter replies, “Marry sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine. Lechery, sir it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance. Therefore much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him and it mars him; it sets him on and it takes him off.”” (Act 2 scene 3)
Shakespeare also seemed to understand the perils of alcohol and alcoholism. “O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! that we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!” ~William Shakespeare, Othello
There are those who contend that Shakespeare himself was an alcoholic, but this is not certain. Several of Shakespeare’s characters do display signs of alcoholism though, although Shakespeare never actually uses the word in his works. Among these are Prince Hal’s drinking companions in Henry IV, as well as John Falstaff.
It might even be true that alcohol proved to be the death of Shakespeare. He is believed to have died after a night of binge drinking with his theater friends, but whether or not this is due to alcohol poisoning is not certain. What is certain though, is that Shakespeare was no teetotaler, and could very well have taken his exit from this life with a couple of drinks in the tank.
In homage to Shakespeare and his great works, there have been a number of alcoholic brews that bear his name or reference his plays, and are a testament to his “Transmedialness” or “Transmediality.” The following aren’t cheap gimmicks looking to make a quick buck by slapping Shakespeare on their bottles, but are actually well-reviewed and positively received.
Meet Oberon Ale, produced by Bell’s Brewery. It is touted as a great summertime brew featuring malted wheat and fruity flavors, and is such a hit among beer drinkers that bars hold midnight parties to celebrate its seasonal release. The name Oberon is most commonly associated with the King of the Fairies in Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This Shakespeare (Oatmeal) Stout is brewed by Rogue, and the image on the bottle sports a typical depiction of that famous writer.
Shakespeare also lends his name to this whisky produced by The Hebridean Liquer Wine Company. The design of the bottle is a historically accurate replica of those found in Shakespeare’s time, and comes with a parchment that features Shakespeare’s last will and testament on one side complete with his signature, and an excerpt from Macbeth on the other.
Shakespeare has also found his way into vodka, with a bottle of his own 100% Polish rye vodka. The tagline invites you to “Taste The Poetry,” and his image as well as a representation of London in the 16th century are to be found on the label.
This is Crystal Head Vodka, an award-winning brand of Vodka that is partly owned by the actor Dan Aykroyd, and it’s no mystery as to where it gets its name. Though not directly related to Shakespeare, I thought it would be a useful addition to this collection in the event that someone would like to channel Hamlet and have a skull of his or her own to hold some delightful swill.
I hope that these drinks will inspire you to imbibe and offer a toast to Shakespeare and his contribution to the world of alcohol.
By: JM Batuhan