Boozy Plays: Julius Caesar

Hey, guys! Sorry this is a bit late, but… well, I guess with our new schedule, it doesn’t really matter as long as I get it done. And I will!

Is there anyone–and I mean anyone–who doesn’t know the story of Julius Caesar? If Akira Kurosawa can direct a version of Macbeth, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t collect more than a handful of people who don’t know the story of the dictator who pulled an Icarus and was stabbed twenty-three times for his trouble.

In a brief synopsis: Julius Caesar has come home from defeating Pompey, and sets himself up as a dictator (which was a somewhat defunct office from earlier in Rome’s history in which a citizen is, for a brief period, given complete control over Rome, replacing the usual consul and tribune system), though he trice refuses a crown during a parade on the Lupercal (albeit reluctantly). He also ignores a warning to ‘beware the Ides of March’, which turns out to be a bad idea. Meanwhile, Cassius is trying to convince Brutus to help them assassinate Caesar before he becomes a tyrant. This is because Brutus is the direct descendant of the founder of the Republic (kinda like Rome’s Washington, in that he lead the rebellion), and is sort of… Mr. Rome, for lack of a better phrase. Eventually, Brutus relents and they assassinate Caesar on the Ides of March (should have heeded the warning) in the Senate (not historically accurate, but this is Shakespeare, of course).

The conspirators make it clear that they have done this for the good of Rome, but Mark Antony (*heart eyes*) turns the crowd against them and drives the assassins from the city. Brutus and Cassius, the chief conspirators, prepare for war against the Second Triumvirate (Antony, Octavian, Lepidus). Caesar’s ghost appears and tells Brutus he’s gonna die at Philippi (that rhymes!), but Brutus actually wins the first battle (historically against Octavian) after Cassius kills himself. Then Antony wins the second day and Brutus kills himself. Antony pays tribute to Brutus as the noblest Roman, and he and Octavian have a bit of a spat.

So… Caesar dies, Antony is glorious, war happens, Brutus dies. There’s a ghost, a soothsayer, and (ugh) Octavian. Also the play has some damn fine lines, especially a speech that made me love Shakespeare and history all at once! I can pretend that the Antony of the play is accurate and not… slightly complimentary (well, Antony was pretty skillful in the immediate aftermath of the assassination, but it wasn’t a long-lasting bout of political acumen). Octavian isn’t in it that much. It’s great. I love it.

Now to recommend a drink! Since I went with a Shiraz last time, I want to go with a historically Roman wine for this one. The Romans had a habit of mixing their wine with water (actually, it’s more accurate to say they added wine to their water and not the other way around), so it’s actually not that intoxicating. For this particular play, I’m recommending mulsum, which is a spiced honey wine. You mix three parts water to one part red wine (something heavy), add cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (1 stick, 1 whole nutmeg, 1 tsp cloves for every 1 cup of wine), throw in some honey (4 tbsp for every cup of wine) and let sit for about a day in the fridge. Then remove the spices et voila! Mulsum! You can also warm it up if you’d like. Throw an orange slice into your cup for an added dose of delicious.

I’ll recommend versions of Julius Caesar this weekend! Obviously, Marlon Brando will feature.

C

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Boozy Plays: Coriolanus

Hey, guys! Welcome back to the ramp-up to this year’s Stratford trip! Since Monday, we’ve decided that, yes, I would handle the first two weeks and A would take care of the second two since she’s on vacation. I’m still not sure which plays she wants to do, but I’d put serious odds on The Tempest being one of them. Your other possibilities are An Ideal Husband, The Music Man, and To Kill a Mockingbird. If we get lucky and no one takes those last two available seats for the Comedy of Errors show on the Wednesday we’re there, maybe you’ll get a write-up on that, but it’s unlikely in the extreme we’ll write about it ahead of time.

Anyway, here’s the post on the history behind Coriolanus I wrote on Monday. I put it up at a slightly odd time, so I wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to experience one of my history rambles. I enjoy my history rambles. They make me happy.

But for now, let’s talk about pairing the play, which involves, as usual, talking about the plot.

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s Roman Plays (the others being, of course, Julius CaesarAntony and Cleopatra, and Titus Andronicus) and is largely based on Plutarch and, possibly, some Livy. Shakespeare, unsurprisingly for him, took a few historical liberties with the story of Caius Marcius (most especially with the order of events), who was given the cog/agnomen of Coriolanus for his role in the battle of Corioli. Traditionally, cognomen were the third name, but even by this point early in the Republic’s history (super early, actually, as we’re within a few years of the expulsion of the last Roman king), cognomen had sometimes become family designations rather than simply valor names. So agnomen, the fourth name, was sometimes used to distinguish people if they already had a family name.

*cough* Move away from the history, C. Damn.

OK. So, basically, the play is about Caius Marcius and it’s a tragedy, so… take a guess how the play ends. In essence… Caius Marcius is a self-important man who is openly contemptuous of the people of Rome because they have not served in the military. (This is especially assholey as the average Roman wasn’t even ALLOWED to serve in the army at this point in its history. It was only later that the poorest citizens could enlist.) The people are angry because they don’t have food to eat, so… they’ve got a point, you know? Can’t be all pissy at people for not serving in the military when they can’t and spit at them for being angry that they don’t have food, which you were part of withholding because they didn’t serve in the military. (There was a grain shortage. Just for the record.)

Anyway. Caius Marcius goes off to fight a war because that’s what he does. Cominius is the consul and Caius Marcius is his deputy in battle against the Volscians. Their leader, Tullus Aufidius, considers Caius Marcius a blood enemy, having fought him many times before. During the war, C.M. lays siege to the Volscian city of Corioli and takes it, earning the name Coriolanus for his efforts. He even faces Aufidius in single combat (my GOD did the Romans love winning in single combat), though the later does survive and the Volscians are not completely defeated.

Later in Rome, Coriolanus’ mother convinces him to run for consul and he does so (reluctantly, of course), winning a great deal of support from the Senate and even from among the plebs (which just goes to show how much the Romans loved them a military hero). Two tribunes, however–Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus (why yes, he is related to the Brutus who later kills Caesar… why do you ask? This one is also a fucking traitor. He is later part of the conspiracy to put Tarquin back on the throne and his own father has him executed. SUPER ROMAN, GUYS. SUPER ROMAN. This is a good moment to remind you that reading my post from Monday will give you some idea of the nature of Roman history of this time period)–lead a conspiracy against him, causing a riot against him which drives Coriolanus to denounce the whole concept of popular rule. He’s… As much as we shouldn’t really support Sicinius and Brutus because they’re scheming politicians, they might have had a point regarding Coriolanus’… suitability to rule. Anyway, they brand him a traitor and banish him from Rome.

Guys. Coriolanus shouts that he banishes Rome from him on the way out. SUCH A PETULANT LITTLE FUCK, am I right? Ugh. There are no heroes in this damn play. Seriously. Remember, Brutus ends up conspiring to put Tarquin back on the throne. The King. But he doesn’t want Coriolanus to rule. Even with the total lack of historical, uh… surety here, that is a special sort of hypocrisy. Ugh.

I do not like the Junii Bruti, guys. I just don’t like them. I mean, the one dude was willing to execute his sons, but that’s not exactly likable. But I am way more into dudes with Scipio in their name. Africanus, Aemilianus, whatever. And dudes name Marcus Antonius. I love me some Mark Antony, I admit it. I am well aware of his more problematic issues, trust me. I also love Alexander Hamilton and he was mostly problems wrapped up in man form.

But back to the play. Coriolanus is being a drama general (no kings in Rome, remember?) and goes to Tullus Aufidius, telling him to kill him to spite Rome. (DRAMATIC LITTLE SHIT.) Aufidius is like… “dude. Have you considered fighting with us against Rome? You’re a good general, and we both TOTALLY HATE ROME.” And Coriolanus is like, “OMG, did we just become best friends?” And Aufidius is like, “YUP. you know as long as you actually fight for us and don’t betray us or anything ok right bye.” So they shake on it and Coriolanus prepares to lead a new assault on Rome.

Rome, justifiably, is a bit panicked. They gave the man a nickname, dammit! Only the ones who know what they’re doing get those! Cominius and Menenius Agrippa (OK, note on the name here. His name is actually Agrippa Menenius Lanatus. Agrippa isn’t a known cognomen for the gens Menenia. Which is why, of course, I made *my* Agrippa a Menenius since this is a fantasy world I’m writing in. But I, once again, digress. Sorry. I really love Rome.) both try to convince Coriolanus to stop this and give them back the basketball stop trying to attack Rome, but it doesn’t work, so they bring in the big guns:

MOM. (And wife and random chaste woman because, of course, chastity is a Roman virtue in their women and it’s symbolic and shit.)

And Mom, wife, and random symbol of Roman womanhood do manage to convince Coriolanus to stop being a little baby and trying to destroy Rome. He relents (“but Mom“) and instead conducts a peace treaty between Rome and the Volscians and YAY ROME IS THE WINNER. OR AT LEAST NOT DESTROYED BY THEIR OWN GENERAL. YAY.

YAY, indeed, except for Coriolanus… who is assassinated by Aufidius, who is (kinda justifiably) upset at the betrayal.

Fin.

OK. So… that’s a heavy play. Despite my attempt at humor, it really isn’t a funny play. It’s dark and heavy and tense because the story of Coriolanus (itself a reconstruction–again, read the blog from Monday) is a reflection of the turmoil Rome itself went through in these years. It wasn’t stable yet. It was barely a Republic. People forget that, because Rome went on to become ROME, it was an incredibly tense and difficult time for them and no one knew if it would survive. Enemies surrounded them (the Volscians were also Italian, mind. Hell, their capitol of Antium was no more than 40 miles away from Rome itself) and were within the walls (looking at you, Brutus Junius, and your older brother, Titus Brutus Junius, too). Coriolanus, like Rome, is unstable and at war with himself, but ultimately he is strengthened by family (and chastity, Roman virtue™) and he, like Rome, is restored. Of course, this is a tragedy so he has to die. Can’t just let him ride off into the sunset. But still… ROME.

Anyway. Gotta pair this thing now. I have selected a Syrah, preferably one from a colder region to bring out the spicier aromas and flavors. It’s an often heavy red, great with barbecue and spicy foods, and I think that feels very Roman. No Roman play should be paired with a white wine, anyway. Rome is red. Red like their cloaks and the brooms on their helmets and the blood they really liked to spill. But this play, in particular, is dark and heavy, and Coriolanus is spicy as fuck. Like, guys… he banishes Rome from himself.

So spicy.

If you purchase a Syrah made in the Australian-style, it’ll be called a Shiraz.

Well, that’s it for me. I’ve written a novel, anyway. I’ll be back either tomorrow or Sunday to talk to you about Tom Hiddleston, aka versions of this play you should try to track down if you can.

See y’all later! Valete!

C

Boozy Books: Actually… a Podcast!

Heyo, and welcome to the first edition of Boozy Books after the hiatus! I promised we’d have one for you on a monthly basis, but given that was two weeks ago, we’re not quite ready to move forward with the in-depth, well-thought-out pairings that we promised with the monthly version. A has a great book ready for you next month (she told me so, and I believe her), but since I didn’t want to be a liar literally two weeks after promising something…

I’m pairing a podcast.

It’s an old podcast. In fact, it’s been done and dusted for years now. And it’s one I’ve listened to a number of times, both because I find the subject endlessly fascinating and because the host’s voice is really damn soothing. I recently returned to listen to it again because I’m worldbuilding a second-world Roman Empire corollary (well, no… I have the world built; I’m listening to it again for clues in how to write the newly-created second half of the story since my stupid brain decided to give the Devil his due. And that is, in story, a very literal description. Like… literal literal. Not figurative literal. Which, frankly, is… *cough* Stay on point, C) and I just really really like the Battle of Cannae. Like enough that, when I watched the GoT episode “Battle of the Bastards”, I almost injured my boyfriend by being so excited. (For the record, I’d called that it was going to be a sort-of reverse Battle of Bosworth Field, with Jon fighting a la Richard III but being rescued in the end a la Henry VII. I’m still proud of myself for that, even if it was obvious. I take my joy where I can get it these days.)

Anyway. It’s the History of Rome podcast, which ran from 2007-2012. It’s ridiculously comprehensive, covers all the highs and lows of Rome, and runs hundreds of episodes. You can listen to it all on the site or through whatever mechanism you have for such things. I assume we all listen to podcasts because, well, free education. And they’re great for writing research because you can listen to them while you’re cooking, cleaning, driving, taking a shower… whatever, which is difficult to do while reading or searching the interwebz.

I’d recommend some Roman wine, but they had a habit of making it in lead-y pots, so don’t do that. But if you want to use modern wine to create a Roman-style drink, that’s what I’d do! The easiest to do is something called mulsum, which can be approximated by adding 1/2 light honey (warmed up) to a bottle of dry-ish white wine (like medium dry). Make sure the honey is all mixed in and then chill the wine before serving. Or you could just buy mead, I guess, but that’s honey wine not honeyed wine, so it’s not the same thing. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could make Roman cheesecakes or sausages, recipes for which are all over the net. If you’re into bayberry and pine nuts, Roman cuisine is FOR YOU. And don’t be scared off by garum; you don’t actually have to ferment old fish bits (you’d layer aromatic herbs with oily fish like anchovies and salt then let it sit for three weeks, or so). Just buy fish sauce from the Asian section of your local grocery store. It’s pretty much the same thing.

We’ll be back next week with a PROPER Boozy Books. You know, with an actual book. But I wanted to make sure y’all knew you could count on us in this brave new world of less-regular posting.

C

Boozy Books: I’m So Behiiiind

Hello Cactus followers, and welcome to today’s incomplete Boozy Books. I am currently halfway through two new books, so I don’t have a new pairing for this week.

However, I would like to revisit Behold the Dreamers. I know, I know… I only paired this book about a month ago, so why am I jumping back so soon? WELL. Imbolo Mbue, the incredibly talented author of said book, came to my local library and did an amazing talk back that opened my eyes to her vision and the deeper importance of the story. It. Was. Awesome.

I also had a chance to speak with her one-on-one about developing your writing style and being true to your stories. She’s amazing and my respect for her is officially through the roof. She spent five years on this novel, she’s a “self-taught” writer with non-writing degrees from both Rutgers and Columbia, and she’s so kind and giving. I can’t wait for her next piece. (I will plan to dedicate a Monday Muse to the conversation I had with her. Lots of good stuff.)

So, anyway, what did I learn about Behold the Dreamers? Well, I learned that Mbue’s vision came from a simple walk down the streets of New York. She talked a lot about how curious she is about everything and everyone around her, and how deeply she tends to study people. She was inspired by watching chauffeurs and executives interacting on the streets of the city. She considered the class difference, the story and hardships of both the employer and the employee, and set about telling a story of two families and the intersection where their lives collide.

Mbue also had some interesting things to say about the issues that are so prominent in the novel (immigration, race and class inequality, etc.). She stressed that storytelling was the most important aspect of writing the book, and that any issues that were held under the light were simply her honest exploration of the characters and the story. Of course Mbue expressed her joy that the story opened important dialogue and helped others experience a different perspective, but her loyalty was to her characters.

I could probably write a dissertation about the two hour talk back I attended, but since I’m already late getting this post published, I’ll leave you here.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: please, go read this book.

Cheers!

A