Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 30
From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published August 26, 2015. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, "Fetch Me a Stoup of Liquor," was produced by Richard Paul and Garland Scott. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. We had help from Thomas Devlin at public radio station WGBH in Boston.
MICHAEL WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s Director. This podcast is called "Fetch Me a Stoup of Liquor."
It should not be surprising that two English professors would be in love both with the sophisticated delights of the cocktail hour and the sophisticated delights of William Shakespeare. What’s more surprising, though, is that they have decided to join these two loves and create a book of Bard-inspired cocktail recipes with names like “Kate’s Shrew-Driver” and “Hamlet’s ‘Unweeded Garden’ Spring Rolls.”
Caroline Bicks, a professor at Boston College, and Michelle Ephraim, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, have written Shakespeare, Not Stirred, which they say promises cocktails for your everyday dramas. We asked them to come in and explain.
They’re interviewed by Rebecca Sheir.
REBECCA SHEIR: Tell us what this book isn’t, because people might hear about it, look at the title, and think it’s something that it’s not.
MICHELLE EPHRAIM: Right. Well, we say this right up front in our introduction to the book, actually, that we are not the kind of people who go to Renaissance Faires or dress up or serve Henry VIII style mutton legs at neighborhood block parties.
CAROLINE BICKS: Although we respect those people.
EPHRAIM: Absolutely. No, so this is not a historical book about the food and drinks that Shakespeare and friends ate. This is very much a modern book about modern, unique cocktails and hors d’oeuvres that are inspired by Shakespeare’s characters.
SHEIR: And do I understand it correctly that all of this came out of a blog you two used to write?
BICKS: Yes. Yeah, we started about four years ago, blogging at something we invented called "Everyday Shakespeare." And it was a place for us to unload and talk about the ways that our lives felt like they were part of a Shakespeare play. So we, for example, might think about, well, I’m having a problem about how to handle this particular mom at pick-up. Well, what would Lady Macbeth say, you know? So we’d have an advice column, where we’d bring in the Shakespeare characters to help you through your specific everyday problems, et cetera.
BICKS: It happened very organically.
SHEIR: Well, what then brought you to alcohol?
EPHRAIM: Excellent question.
BICKS: Well, also organically.
EPHRAIM: No, you know, Caroline and I are very serious scholars. We also believe very much in the value of our personal lives. And we like to socialize a lot with each other, with friends, and we found that our… the pleasure that we got from creating cocktail recipes and going out to dinner was something that, in our minds, was also connected with the study of Shakespeare, because that was often the occasion where we would discuss things in Shakespeare in a very fun way that connected to our everyday lives.
BICKS: And we have pretty crazy everyday lives, so for us, getting together as really good friends often would happen at about 10 pm, after we’d gotten the kids to bed, and planned our lesson plans, and graded our papers. We’d get together at whatever was open at 10 pm, which there wasn’t a whole lot back then.
EPHRAIM: Often it was the Cheesecake Factory.
BICKS: Often it was the Cheesecake Factory. And that’s where we would get together and unload and sort of debrief from our days, over, you know, a cocktail. And then it really hit us one night, when we were sitting there, that it was time for us to make a cocktail book that would bring all of the things we’d been talking about all day, and then when we’d get together in a more personal way, using Shakespeare’s characters to help us through our problems, that a cocktail book would be a perfect way to pay it forward Shakespeare-style.
SHEIR: So meeting up over a cocktail, sharing a drink, that was just very much in the spirit of those kinds of connections.
EPHRAIM: Yes, yes.
SHEIR: Well, something I have to ask you about, the illustrations in the book. Now, for those who don’t know, throughout this book there are these images, all of them from the Folger collection. And I should say, none of the actual images were altered in any way, but you’ve done some creative Photoshop-ing. Can we talk about that?
BICKS: Yes, yes. That’s part of the joy of this project, is it really came about with us thinking at the same time about how we can bring in these images, so that it would be a real three-dimensional experience for readers. And the Folger, as you know, as we all know, is the place. It’s the archive of… if you want to go find an image of a Shakespeare scene, a Shakespeare moment, a Shakespeare character, it’s this rich, rich archive. So, we knew we wanted to work with the Folger, work with their images, to bring these moments to life.
EPHRAIM: And sometimes the images themselves were inspiration for our drinks. Sometimes we were looking for a specific image, and sometimes we would see an image and say we absolutely have to create a drink around this. For example, a 19th-century print of Cleopatra at her death scene with a worm… [LAUGHS]
BICKS: On her chest.
EPHRAIM: …applied to her chest, looked very much like a post-party tableau.
BICKS: And all of her maids, dead around her at her feet, looked like they were passed out, and we just couldn’t pass it up.
EPHRAIM: The image needed shot glasses to be complete, clearly. And hence, the Cleopatra’s "Joy of the Worm" bachelorette shot was born.
SHEIR: Oh, what’s in that?
BICKS: What you would expect. [LAUGHS] And so much more.
EPHRAIM: That’s not our most creative drink, but the text, Caroline, is very creative.
BICKS: It does involves a gummy worms. It’s a shot of tequila with a gummy worm.
SHEIR: We’ll get some more specific recipes in just a bit, but speaking of these photos where you insert things like wine glasses, shot glasses, that one four-panel of Juliet and her Nurse.
BICKS: Oh, that one was… that was a brilliant discovery, Michelle found that one and it was brilliant. We were trying to find a picture of the Nurse, because we knew we wanted to feature her. And we found this four-panel, she found it, where Juliet’s sitting on the Nurse’s lap in the first two pictures. And then she’s by herself in her room drinking what would be, of course, the potion from the Friar, but looked an awful lot like she could be drinking a shot. And then in the final panel, she is, of course, almost dead, being carried off by Romeo, looking like she’s possibly passed out. So, that was one that, again, invited…
EPHRAIM: Lent itself to a slightly different take. Again, you know, the images are all about the history of visual interpretation, and we just added our own layer to that, if you will, of inserting shot glasses to those four panels and making it into something a little different.
SHEIR: When you requested these images of the Folger, what did you tell the nice people you wanted them for?
BICKS: This was, everyone was a fully consenting adult in this process.
SHEIR: All right.
BICKS: No. We did. We…
EPHRAIM: Right. No. We did give a lot of thought to that, so that they would take our phone calls, of course. That was important. The wonderful thing about the Folger is that they have a great sense of humor, and they are very open to modern interpretations of Shakespeare and very much understand Shakespeare as text, and as, in the case of the images, as visuals that draw people in, in many different ways. And that is, in fact, the spirit of Shakespeare.
SHEIR: Now, moving away from the pictures. For Chapter I, the theme seems to be: King Lear does awful stuff to his children, Claudius taunts Hamlet by calling him son. Basically, having a stiff drink is a great way to deal with all of your horrible relatives. Do I have that right, more or less?
BICKS: I… yeah. I think the way we framed it was that it’s not the healthiest way to deal with it, but it’s a lot more fun than being called selfish and all the other things that your family can do to you.
SHEIR: You also feature hors d’oeuvres in the book. Some of which are so smart. We mentioned Cleopatra before. Talk to us about "Cleopatra’s Flings in a Blanket."
BICKS: So that came out of an anecdote that’s in Plutarch, that Shakespeare was working from the North translation, where Cleopatra… This is before she has hooked up with Julius Caesar, but she’s very interested in him, and she has to get into his apartment secretly. So she has herself rolled into… Now what she’s rolled into has changed over the centuries, through different translations. In the original, it’s some kind of mattress. It later becomes a carpet. But Shakespeare certainly knew this anecdote, so we thought it would be funny to make it a blanket, and that’s where something came together for us and we thought, "Ah, of course, it would be the pigs in the blanket." But for her it would be a Flings in a Blanket.
SHEIR: And "Imogen's Guaca-Mole." And that’s mole, right? Not molé, not guacamolé?
BICKS: Exactly. Guaca-mole.
SHEIR: Tell us the story of that.
BICKS: So, that is coming out of another… this is actually an image that was very popular. You see the Folger has many images of this scene, where you have Iachimo, who is the evil Italian, trying to convince Posthumus that he can seduce Posthumus’s wife, Imogen. So he sneaks into her bedchamber and actually he… of course, he doesn’t seduce her, but he sees a mole on her breast and he also takes a bracelet. But the mole to us was very funny. And then he goes and tells Posthumus, "Well, I know about the mole on your wife’s breast, so I seduced her."
BICKS: And it works because, of course, in Shakespeare, husbands always are very quick to believe that their wives have cheated on them. So we thought we’d like to have her be able to reclaim her mole.
EPHRAIM: Reclaim her mole, yes.
BICKS: So we thought the "guaca mole." So she’s in the chapter on the domestically distressed ladies. Right.
EPHRAIM: "Now Is the Whiskey of Our Discontent" is that chapter.
SHEIR: At the end of some of the book’s drink descriptions, you have these little sections you call mini-bards. I’m curious, what’s the inspiration behind those mini-bards?
EPHRAIM: Well, Caroline and I know a lot about Shakespeare, and we start with that. And it’s very hard for us to stop talking about Shakespeare. And while we wanted to make this book very accessible for every reader, we also felt that we couldn’t leave some issues alone in just the drink and hors d‘oeuvre descriptions. So if it’s a particularly controversial or complicated issue or a context that we felt need to be there, we put it in as a mini-bard.
EPHRAIM: As we say in our introduction, you don’t have to read the mini-bards. You can just enjoy the drinks and the hors d’oeuvres, but they’re there. They’re context and content that we felt was very relevant to the information that we’re bringing up in the descriptions.
BICKS: And that was fun for us, too, as scholars, to be able to think about how can I put, into one paragraph, my entire book I have about women and childbirth? So I’m just going to compress this and write this for a larger audience, for example. Or Michelle, who’s done a lot of work on Jewish women, has a whole book on that, you know. So, when she’s doing a mini-bard on What does it mean to be a converso? What’s the status of the Jew in Elizabethan England? She has a lot of knowledge she’s bringing to that.
But then the fun of the mini-bard is finding a way to write about it in an accessible way, and that gives people a little bit of a hit, like you’re raiding the mini-bard. If you want to learn a little bit, here it is.
SHEIR: There’s a chapter in the book on "Recapturing Your Youth," or celebrating your youth, or, I don’t know, drinking…
EPHRAIM: That’s very close to our heart, yes.
SHEIR: So, some of the drinks in that chapter, we’ve got "The Forest Flier." For folks who haven’t read the book, what’s the Forest Flier?
EPHRAIM: The Forest Flier is inspired by As You Like It. And sort of an archetypal moment in Shakespeare, of young people running into the woods. It’s not just in As You Like It…
BICKS: Midsummer Night’s Dream.
EPHRAIM: Midsummer Night’s Dream, for sure. But we were trying to find a drink that captured that spirit of running into the woods to escape from parental authority. To do something rebellious, andm of course, that meant including Jägermeister, or something closely related to Jägermeister. We have a more sophisticated version, which is Sambuca. But it’s meant to capture those moments when you did things like that as a kid.
BICKS: It also happens to have a very high level alcohol quantity, that it allows you to set it on fire, should you want to do that.
EPHRAIM: Right. Because that is also appealing to young people.
BICKS: Yes. But we do it safely, as mature adults. Use a glass, not a Solo cup, or it will melt. Which we found out one morning when we experimented in our kitchens.
EPHRAIM: There was a lot of danger in writing this book. People might not be aware of that.
BICKS: People don’t appreciate the danger behind the book.
SHEIR: You offer a great little factoid in this chapter about "Youth," and I need to know if this is actually true. You say Shakespeare never tells us exactly how old his characters are, unless they’re 14-year-old girls. Really?
BICKS: Yes. This is something that’s coming out of my academic work I’m doing on adolescent girls in Shakespeare’s time. So this is something I’ve actually read a lot about and researched. And when you look through his plays, what really caught my eye is that he really… he does not give you ages of characters, but if you’re thinking about the girls, he always gives you a key number that gets you to 14. So, for example, we know that Juliet… the Nurse has a speech where she says, you know, well she’s two weeks away and a few days from being 14, or Lady Capulet says that.
BICKS: We know that Miranda is in her 15th year, so she’d be 14, right. So, there’s all this. We’ve got Perdita is actually 15, in her 16th year. So they’re keying themselves very closely to 14, again and again, which is curious and suggests there was something going on about 14-year-old girls. As there still is.
SHEIR: [LAUGHS] Yes. Seven years too young to drink any of the recipes in your book.
EPHRAIM: Sadly. But their parents can drink, and, boy, do they need one.
BICKS: Not in Shakespeare’s time.
SHEIR: Going back to the mini-bards, I love your take on the sonnets. Can you read the mini-bard about the sonnets?
EPHRAIM: Absolutely. All right. “Sonnet sequences, first perfected by the fourteenth-century Italian poet Petrarch, were hugely popular in Shakespeare’s day.”
BICKS: “Some writers used them to impress their friends, gain patrons, or (as many critics think about Shakespeare’s poem-writing days) remain productive during times of plague-related theater closings.”
EPHRAIM: “Sonnet sequences usually focus on three main themes: desire, writing, and writing about desire.... Shakespeare is unique in penning a collection of sonnets about homoerotic desire, sex addiction, and a mistress whose breath 'reeks.'”
BICKS: “The fact that he puns on the name Will (slang for both male and female genitalia) in the sonnets written to the Dark Lady has led many to assume Shakespeare and the speaker are one and the same.”
EPHRAIM: “We’ll never know for sure, but we can recognize high-quality smut-punning when we see it: 'So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will / One will of mine to make thy large Will more.’ Sonnet 135.”
BICKS: "Put that in a Hallmark card and smoke it."
EPHRAIM: Thank you for laughing.
SHEIR: I can’t help it.
BICKS: Well, we had so much fun writing this. It was a lot of therapy for us together.
SHEIR: Clearly. You both teach, of course, and when it comes to your students, I want you to be honest here. When the book comes out, do you think they’ll laugh?
EPHRAIM: I think that our students will be amused by this, and I say that only because my students seem to get very excited when Shakespeare has relevance to their personal lives, and they seem very keen on talking about those connections. I had a student once make many comments about how his clingy ex-girlfriend resembled Helena in Midsummer Night’s Dream, and he really related to Demetrius’s angst at that moment. So, they do that again and again, and it’s a very powerful experience for them in the Shakespeare classroom.
BICKS: Um-hmm. Yeah, exactly. And I think again, that’s really the heart and soul of this project. It didn’t come out of our love of drinking, although that’s certainly a part of it. It really came out of our love of these characters and how they just continue to be relatable. People really feel like they know the characters, and they continue to feel like they have a stake in them. And there’s something really powerful and lovely about that. And that’s part of what the spirit of this book is. We want these characters with us, hanging out with us, having a drink with us. And we want to talk to them, and they… we feel like they speak to us. Yes, which sounds crazy, but…
SHEIR: Okay. [LAUGHS]
EPHRAIM: It’s totally not.
BICKS: We know that we… We really know they’re not here.
EPHRAIM: We know they’re fictional. Sort of.
SHEIR: We did a podcast a while back about the moons around Uranus and how they’re named for Shakespeare characters. And one of the stories we were told had to do with a moon that Voyager flew by and took pictures of. The first really, really clear pictures. So they had to come up with all these Shakespeare names for the mountains and valleys and whatnot. And they brainstorm this massive list, at which point they were, like, Elsinore or Dunsinane. So, looking through your book, I see something like your "Lucio’s Crab Cakes," and, I wondered, did you just pull Shakespeare names out of a hat?
BICKS: No. That was a case where, because he was in our "Youth" chapter, and we knew that part of recapturing your youth and part of the bad side of youth is, of course, dealing with unfortunate sexual choices you might make. And we knew we wanted to do something that would pun on the idea of crabs.
BICKS: And Lucio, for us, is kind of the horn dog in Shakespeare’s time.
EPHRAIM: Oh, absolutely.
BICKS: I think is the best way to put it.
EPHRAIM: Yes. He is the most at-risk for these kinds of diseases…
BICKS: Yes. And in fact he speaks… he boasts about them, actually, in Measure For Measure. So, we felt that he’d be a good candidate for the crabs cakes.
SHEIR: Kind of gross, but brilliant.
EPHRAIM: He was the easy choice.
BICKS: A little gross. And I have to say they’re actually delicious. I don’t know if anyone’s going to want to eat them.
BICKS: That and the "Titus’s Mini Meat Pies," probably get the most groans from people. But I think they’re really quite delicious.
SHEIR: What about "Sex In the Breach"?
BICKS: Mm. Yummy. It’s actually a great drink.
EPHRAIM: It is a very great drink. Yes.
BICKS: That one, yes.
EPHRAIM: We worked very hard to test all of these things. Yeah, so "Sex in the Breach" also…
BICKS: Yes. We knew that had to be Claudius, actually, because "breach" is such a trigger word in Shakespeare’s time period for thinking about incest. And in Hamlet, that is such a key word, "breach." So, we thought well, it has to be Claudius, because the problem of incest, of course, is one of breaching boundaries, and he is the ultimate boundary breacher. So, we knew it would have to be "Claudius’s Sex in the Breach." And then he just fit naturally into the dysfunctional family gathering chapter.
EPHRAIM: And we also… we wanted to put it from his point of view, as well, for dealing with an unstable stepson.
BICKS: Right, who has no sense of humor.
BICKS: Who won’t give him a break.
SHEIR: Well, would Hamlet even drink alcohol at all?
BICKS: He wouldn’t, at all. We had a drink that we ended up taking out called… it was his… "Hamlet’s Joy Kill," but it had no alcohol. We thought, why is this in here?
EPHRAIM: Right. Exactly.
BICKS: He’s not fun.
EPHRAIM: Hamlet’s drink got dinged. Wasn’t fun enough.
BICKS: We just gave it a name, with, like, non-alcoholic Aquavit. It was not going to be good. No one would drink it.
EPHRAIM: These are the kinds of hard decisions we had to make while writing this book.
SHEIR: This goes back to what you were saying earlier, how this book seems so humorous and funny, but actually a lot of thought and analysis and interpretation has to go in to thinking up these recipes.
BICKS: Oh, absolutely. It took us three years to write this book.
BICKS: Yeah. There was a lot in it. And we really… we are very precise in our punning. We love our punning, and I think it’s one of the best features of the book, is our puns.
EPHRAIM: Absolutely. And we also… Caroline and I have very intense relationships with the text. And as Shakespeareans, we would sometimes get into arguments.
BICKS: Oh, yeah.
EPHRAIM: About words. One word, maybe. Or about a particular character. We had a conflict about Isabella, for a while, if you remember that.
BICKS: Oh, for Measure for Measure.
EPHRAIM: That was at the heart of this book.
BICKS: Um-hmm. Exactly, and that’s why the Isabella ones are really interesting examples, because were both… because I really felt like Isabella… I think if I remember, you were the one feeling like she was just too uptight.
EPHRAIM: Yes, because she is.
BICKS: And she, kind of, deserved what she got in certain ways in the play.
EPHRAIM: She does.
BICKS: And I’m thinking this poor woman, why does she have to give up what she wants because of a sibling? Now, fair warning, Michelle is an only child.
SHEIR: So what was the final decision when it came to Isabella?
BICKS: I think I convinced her that it was really, why should she have to cover for the messed-up sibling? And so she became part of the dysfunctional family gatherings section on the together sibling, who has to always cover for the one who’s making mistakes. Because that’s, of course, the whole concept of that play. The foundation is that she has to … you know, she’s being asked to give up everything she cares about, because her mess-up of a little brother has gotten himself in jail by breaking the law and having sex with his girlfriend.
EPHRAIM: And she’s penalized for being the together sibling, as together siblings often are. But it actually is a good anecdote, too, for how there was a lot of compromise, because with every character, there are many interpretations. And Caroline and I had to have a lot of discussions, to come to agreements on what interpretation we were going to put forth.
SHEIR: I think a good example of that might be "The Drowning Ophelia," because the circumstances of her death are so, maybe a little bit sketchy. Can you talk about that?
EPHRAIM: And that’s one where the image that we found at the Folger Library was perfect, because the interpretive ambiguity is so clear in that image. And that’s very much part of the history of reading that scene.
BICKS: Right. In that image, she’s reaching… the one we found, she’s reaching toward the water, but she’s holding onto the tree, too. So she doesn’t look like she’s about to kill herself, but there is that moment where she’s suspended. And she’s reaching, of course, in our version, toward a lily pad that has a lovely cocktail on it. So…
EPHRAIM: Which makes so much sense.
BICKS: She could be just trying to get a good drink, really, and that’s what happened to her.
EPHRAIM: Right. That seems a clear… as clear an interpretation as anything else.
BICKS: That’s… We won’t be putting that into any official scholarly article.
BICKS: But it was important for us to talk about in the mini-bard that accompanies that drink, the different interpretive orientations of artists and readers. Is this Gertrude trying to cover up her murdering her? Because it’s so strange that Gertrude is the one giving the speech about happened to her. So…
EPHRAIM: Suspiciously long, detailed description of her, yes.
BICKS: But also, we were trying to counter a long, iconographical tradition of having Ophelia imagined dead in the water. We wanted to show her alive. So, that was part of our challenge, finding an image of her still alive and in that moment of ambiguity.
SHEIR: I think it’s lovely, the edible flowers that you include there, a nice symbol.
EPHRAIM: It’s a beautiful drink.
BICKS: It is. It’s actually I think the first one that we invented. It’s beautiful.
EPHRAIM: Yes, we… I think it is.
EPHRAIM: It’s also blue.
EPHRAIM: Yes. It’s very pretty.
SHEIR: Ah. You do get, sort of, creative with your ingredients. We talked about gummy worms before. We’ve got the edible flowers. Tell us about the drink that involves surgical gloves and string.
EPHRAIM: Yes. That would be the "Weird Sisters' Blood and Hand Punch." Right?
BICKS: Right, which was such an obvious pun we had to do, because the "Blood and Sand" is a popular drink. And we thought, well, "Blood and Sand," you have to have "Blood and Hand." You’ve got to have the Weird Sisters, because they are always chopping off thumbs.
EPHRAIM: They’ve got that sailor’s thumb in their possession, and they would love this drink.
BICKS: Right. They love body parts. Yes, this would be perfect. So, this one actually does look a little bloody.
BICKS: But again, tasty. And we do use surgical gloves to create ice hands and ice thumbs.
EPHRAIM: And you can pick whether you’d like to use floating fingers, or just thumbs, or a combination. Yes.
BICKS: Something for everyone. It’s a good Halloween drink.
SHEIR: I like that you give choices. I like that you give options.
EPHRAIM: Oh we do. We like options.
SHEIR: Yes. I’m going to pose one last question to you. I suspect it might be on more than a few people’s minds right now, as they’re listening. Do you two have tenure?
BICKS: Yes, we are safe.
EPHRAIM: That was the only way.
BICKS: No careers will be damaged in the creation of this book.
EPHRAIM: At least, not ours.
BICKS: Not ours.
SHEIR: Well, Caroline, Michelle, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
EPHRAIM: Oh, thank you, Rebecca, this was great.
BICKS: Thank you, Rebecca. This was so much fun.
WITMORE: Caroline Bicks is a professor at Boston College, and Michelle Ephraim is a professor at Worchester Polytechnic Institute. They are the co-authors of Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas. Caroline and Michelle were interviewed by Rebecca Sheir.
"Fetch Me a Stoup of Liquor" was produced by Richard Paul and Garland Scott. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. We had help from Thomas Devlin at public radio station WGBH in Boston.
Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.