I have been looking forward to the arrival of a First Folio of William Shakespeare’s works at the N.C. Museum of History on May 7 the way others anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” And I’ll wait patiently in line – if there is a line, and there should be. There’s nothing about Batman or Superman in there, I’m pretty sure. But there are hunchbacks, witches and most of the great lines of English literature.
Can it be mere coincidence that 2016, 400 years after the death of the man who observed “what fools these mortals be,” is an election year? Not much about the human condition – or our appetites – has changed in all those centuries.
When a creative cook and lover of festive times hath such meat to feed upon as Shakespeare, a theme party for this anniversary is obvious. I am by far not the first with this idea, judging from the number of Yorick’s-skull-shaped cakes on Pinterest. And I’m not remotely suggesting that one cling to authenticity, considering some of the top menu items of 16th- and early 17th-century England. (Chaldron of swan, anyone?)
But food is a thing with Shakespeare. Lavish feasts show up all over the plays. That’s possibly because meals are great plot devices, enabling him to set the scene for the fateful meeting of Romeo and Juliet at her father’s supper and ball, or Macbeth’s mental deterioration as Banquo’s ghost becomes the most disruptive dinner guest ever. (Hey, Macbeth invited him. Does being murdered by the host let you out of an RSVP?)
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Also, the 16th century was a hot time for upper-class foodies, according to “The Shakespeare Cookbook” by Andrew Dalby and Maureen Dalby. They write that London, as a large and prosperous city, attracted food trade from all over England and Europe, as well as exotic ingredients from newly explored lands. A cook could easily purchase licorice and saffron from Spain or apples from France. Publishing flourished, and a number of books about food, diet and cooking were available in London’s bookstalls.
Add it all up and I say Will was a guy who liked a good party, especially one where ale was quaffed.
That brings me to a new book, “Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas” by Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim. The authors have Ph.D.s in English, so this is respectable, educational stuff. And high class: the introduction is titled “Is This a Daiquiri Which I See Before Me?” If you don’t get that reference, call me and I will recite the entire scene from “Macbeth” for you. I do my best to provide good reader service.
Or if you’re more up on English history and hunchbacks, try the title of chapter two: “Now is the Whiskey of Our Discontent.”
The book mixes seriously creative cocktails with titles that would have made the groundlings at the Globe howl. Prospero’s Dark and Stormy is a classic; Much Ado About Frothing is similar to a pisco sour; and Othello’s Green-Eyed Monster uses envy-green Midori liqueur.
With the drinks are hors d’oeuvres, such as Love’s Labour’s Tots with Aged Cheese, labeled “Savory Matters.” That title refers to a line in “Hamlet.” Look it up while you’re eating the Parmesan-potato tots, which sound like they would fall most trippingly on the tongue.
There are so many movies that are direct versions of the plays, inspired by the plays or take crazy riffs on the plays (“10 Things I Hate About You” is “Taming of the Shrew” in high school, for example) that anyone who needs inspiration for a Shakespeare party should be able to find it.
Or just look to the plays.
“A perfect line to wrap a themed party around would be, ‘Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ from Toby Belch in ‘Twelfth Night’,” says Sheila Snow Proctor, executive director of Chickspeare, an all-female troupe from Charlotte, which performed at the museum’s Shakespeare Marathon on April 25.
“Each person or couple could bring half a dozen of their favorite cupcakes and their favorite beer,” Proctor says. “Then everyone could try different kinds. Kind of a cupcake-bottle share party.”
Definitely more fun than exiting pursued by a bear.
Moose is a Raleigh-based cookbook author. Reach her at debbiemoose.com.
The N.C. Museum of History will have the exhibit “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare” May 7-30. The exhibit is on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.