Friday, 4 September 2015

"Come Crush A Cup Of Wine"

First and Second Elizabethan Ages - "Tavern Brawls"

I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking*

(* Cassio from Shakespeare’s Othello)
In my previous blog I sung the praises of BritWit extraordinaire, Adrian Smith, enthusiastic oenophile. It was easy to celebrate the wine-tasting experience by recalling Shakespeare quotations about drinking, given his plays are riddled with references to quaffing. Alcohol is everywhere. I’ve known plenty of people in my life who struggled (and struggle) to moderate drinking. And I’ve never been one to preach since I’ve got my own over-eating disorders and addictions. Modern society is rife with the tussle to control consumption, whether of material goods or of addictive food and drugs.
Nights out that didn't end so well....

Thou'rt a scholar; let us therefore eat and drink*

(* Sir Toby Belch from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night)
I know I drank too much beer and lager as a teenager and sometimes also at university. Some weekends now definitely involve way too much wine, but the fact is that “crushing a cup of wine” (as the Capulet servant invites Romeo to do) is a very sociable and enjoyable thing to do. Throughout history and literature, wine (and beer) have been constant presences in British life.

Come, I will go drink with you*

(* Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff)
I included an image of the gloriously ignominious and indisputably English Falstaff at the end of the last blog. He only appeared in three of Shakespeare’s plays and his death is described in a fourth. (Falstaff appears in Henry IV Parts One and Two as well as in The Merry Wives of Windsor and his death is described by Mistress Quickly in Henry V.) Falstaff certainly dominates Shakespearean images of drinking.
Paola Dionisotti as Mistress Quickly and Antony Sher as Falstaff
The loyal Mistress Quickly even subscribes drink to improving his health and temper, though, alas, she recognizes he has had too much in Henry IV Part Two:

MISTRESS QUICKLY (to Falstaff): I' faith, sweetheart, methinks now you are in an excellent good temperality: your pulsidge beats as extraordinarily as heart would desire; and your colour, I warrant you, is as red as any rose, in good truth, la! But, i' faith, you have drunk too much canaries; and that's a marvellous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say 'What's this?'
Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly and Simon Callow as Falstaff

Drink a health to me*

(* Petruchio from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew)
There are many “feasts” in Shakespeare that involve wine (Romeo and Juliet springs to mind) but there are a few key scenes where the drinking starts in a light-hearted way but leads to horrible consequences for one or more of the characters. Timon’s guests eat and drink to financial disaster in Timon of Athens. Trinculo and Stephano get Caliban blind drunk in The Tempest.  Lepidus is the butt of the Romans’ jokes in Antony and Cleopatra’s drinking scene, though it marks a deeper humiliation for Octavius too.
Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, Othello and Timon of Athens

I'll drink no more than will do me good*

(* Mistress Quickly in Henry IV Part Two)
Did the actor who first played Octavius in Antony and Cleopatra also play Cassio in Othello since that scene’s drunken military orgy, orchestrated by Iago, portrays a similarity between what happens to Octavius and the downfall of Cassio – a man desperate to fit in with “the lads” who then drinks too much and suffers later. Did Shakespeare get carried away once too often in the taverns of Stratford and London? Did drink pay a large part in the accidental death/murder/assassination/skirmish in Deptford that ended Kit Marlowe’s life? The scenes in Antony and Cleopatra and Othello are such vivid lad-drinking scenes that Shakespeare must have experienced out-of-control drunkenness in Elizabethan and Jacobean England.
The death of Christopher Marlowe - "a Great Reckoning in a Little Room"

These clothes are good enough to drink in*

(* Sir Toby Belch from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night)
Falstaff’s nearest rival for Top Drunk in Shakespeare’s work is Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Toby utters the immortal line to the Puritan Malvolio who tries to stop the drunken revelry:
TOBY BELCH (to Malvolio): Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
The old reprobate, Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Nigth

There is no doubt the audience are on Toby Belch’s side at this point in the play, even though the sound of drunks when you are trying to get to sleep can be disturbing. As with every theme he covered, Shakespeare presents two sides to the human condition – “good company, good wine, good welcome/Can make good people” is the belief of Guildford in Henry VIII. Cassio in Othello has another perspective on alcohol: “O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!”

Drinking Philosophy 

by Terry Pratchett’s Death and Albert:

Death: "THERE ARE BETTER THINGS IN THE WORLD THAN ALCOHOL, ALBERT."
Albert: "Oh, yes, sir. But alcohol sort of compensates for not getting them.”
Death and Terry Pratchett and an idyllic view of drinking....