ELLSWORTH — Shakespeare is full of plotlines both comedic and dramatic, just like IRL (in real life).
Two Shakespeare scholars spent a year concocting cocktail and hors d’oeuvres recipes to match the Bard’s characters and the dramas they endured to help you survive your own.
The result is “Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas” (2015, Penguin Publishing Group) by Professor Caroline Bicks of Blue Hill, who occupies the inaugural Stephen E. King Chair in Literature at the University of Maine, and Professor Michelle Ephraim of Brookline, Mass.
“We wanted to find a way to experiment with humorous writing and Shakespeare,” Bicks said. And so, over drinks and debriefings at Boston’s The Cheesecake Factory restaurant, the cocktail book was born.
“One night at ye olde Cheesecake Factory, we had an epiphany…the more we talked, the more we saw ourselves and our problems in their comedies, histories and tragedies,” reads the 176-page book. “Shakespeare’s insights into jealous siblings, shifty coworkers and aging libidos were smarter than anything we could ever come up with on our own. And a whole lot cheaper than therapy. Huh, we thought. This dead guy totally gets us.”
Neither woman is a mixologist but both enjoy a good cocktail so they tinkered and thought outside the glass, coming up with their own variations.
“We really wrote it to make ourselves laugh and help us through the slog of everyday,” said Bicks.
Consider the recipe for “Juliet’s Emoji-To,” similar to a traditional mojito, with lime, rum and muddled fresh mint but the version in honor of Juliet includes fresh cherries.
“She has to cram all of her larger-than-life passions,” about Romeo and how her family won’t let them be together because she’s a Capulet and he’s a Montague, into “tidy metaphors and controlled iambic pentameter lines,” the scholars wrote in a headnote for the recipe.
“If only Juliet could have let loose in Emoji. And then shared it all on Twitter. And Instagram. And Snapchat. And Tumblr.”
Ephraim is associate professor in humanities at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass.
Bicks had been an associate professor of English at Boston College but took the UMaine post last year. She specializes in Shakespeare, gender studies, and the history of science.
The professor fell in love with the Bard in high school thanks to a great English teacher.
“She taught me to love ‘King Lear’ and I was hooked,” she recalled. “That’s the spirit of the book too. His themes and characters are so timeless.”
In addition to cocktail recipes, which were all tested on family or friends, there are recipes for snacks too.
Consider “Cleopatra’s Flings in a Blanket,” oysters rolled up in thinly sliced steak. Not only do Bicks and Ephraim provide a delicious hors d’oeuvre for cocktail hour, they give you a painless history lesson too.
“Cleopatra had a serious day job ruling Egypt from 50 to 31 BCE, but that didn’t stop her from making time for sexy fun at night,” they write. “She was always inventing creative ways to keep her baby daddies, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in full-on worship mode. This dish is a tribute to one of her most famous trips. Sneaking into Caesar’s apartment wrapped in a blanket.”
Part of the fun of the book is its illustrations. The co-authors approached Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., which has the world’s largest collection of the Bard’s printed works, to see if it was willing to provide illustrations. Jim Monaco, a media specialist at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, “doctored” the images.
One illustration shows an imperious Queen Elizabeth holding a red “virgin colada” complete with a drink umbrella.
In another, Juliet Capulet looks thoughtful, standing high up on a stone terrace, while Romeo serenades her from afar. She holds a drink with a smiley face and a thought bubble full of emojis floats above her head.
“Shakespeare, Not Stirred” also includes “Mini Bards” or condensed bits of information about Shakespeare and his characters.
“Elizabeth famously fashioned herself as the Virgin Queen and made some great speeches to Parliament about how she couldn’t possibly get married,” they write. “She loved her country and her subjects way too much to let anyone else — especially a foreign guy — penetrate her, um, borders.”
While it was published in 2015, “Shakespeare, Not Stirred” still occasionally outsells other Shakespeare books on Amazon. Earlier this month, the book showed up among Business Insiders’ “22 Unique Gift Ideas for Everyone in the Family.”
“I’m pleasantly surprised when it shows up on gift lists,” Bicks said.