Booze And The Bard

Jan 12 2013 @ 5:49pm

Shakespeare often employed alcohol for his plays:

If drinking kills characters in Hamlet, even the most comic scenes of Macbeth and The Tempest mingle drunken characters with treason and death: the Porter pitches the joys of inebriation as the Macbeths clean their hands of the king’s blood; Stefano and Trinculo guzzle a keg and plot to kill Prospero. The love potion in Romeo and Juliet kills rather than cures. Cleopatra hides away her own special draught to facilitate suicide; Antony gets drunk on a barge. Draughts and potions—these substances produce scenes of intoxication tainted by dark desires and threats of death. Even as Shakespeare created uplifting portraits of the "merry" drunkard, he equally illuminated what was clear to the Puritan: addiction was a growing problem in early modern England.

The theater was also a place to drink during performances:

All playhouses have liquor onsite, and [the London playhouse] The Curtain is no exception. As Thomas Platter, a Swiss visitor to London, noted in his diary in 1599, "During the performance food and drink are carried round the audience, so that for what one cares to pay one may also have refreshment." The distractions were many, not only from drunk patrons themselves: ale produced a hissing noise when tapped, and those opening it were shouted down by audience members annoyed by the sound.

After the performance, fresh from hearing Falstaff’s advice to "addict themselves to sack," the audience members, as well as the actors and playwrights, head to one of the taverns or inns scattered throughout Shoreditch or lining London’s Bankside. Even if in 1598 the actors could boast an engagement at a permanent theater such as The Curtain, they still remember inn yards, the sites of their first performances—ale and theater have always been yoked together in the history of English playing.