Today I’m finishing up my Wednesday Shakespeare series in the same place I started it, with a character from Romeo and Juliet. It will always be my favorite tragedy, despite the fact that there are others that deal with far weightier issues. The idea of love and the lengths to which we’re willing to go to try to make it work, no matter what, will always tug at me. Does that really surprise any of you? I would think that’s a firm “no” at this point. The character of Juliet’s nurse is rather involved in her lady’s relationship with Romeo; it is she, after all, who first allows him access to her chambers. She is aware of their love from the outset, and of their wedding plans, and she encourages and supports both. Juliet is able to confide in her and be comforted by her far more than she can find those things in her own mother. When Juliet’s father becomes angry, banishing Romeo and ordering Juliet to marry Paris, the nurse turns the tables on her by saying that Romeo might as well be dead. Many Shakespeare readers and scholars believe that the nurse seals Juliet’s fate with this betrayal, thus making her responsible for Juliet’s death.
I think the nurse functions in Romeo and Juliet in several ways. For starters, her position, age, and bawdy sense of humor would have immensely appealed to the groundlings watching from the pit who would have had very little tolerance for Juliet’s lofty ideas of love. If we stay with this line of thinking, we can easily see that she does the same thing for us as readers or contemporary viewers. Juliet is a 14-year-old girl who has fallen for a boy who is completely off limits to her. Yet she loves him and he loves her. Whether or not we buy into the tragedy depends very much on our views of love. Do we focus mainly on its physical aspects and see love only as chemistry between two people that will eventually disappear? Or do we believe, as Juliet does, that love can be a union of souls that will transcend everything, even our own mortality? Do we want the “riot in our hearts” kind of love dreamt of by Viola de Lessup, whose character parallels Juliet’s so closely in the movie Shakespeare in Love, or do we want something more practical that pleases our families, and works in terms of age, location, and social status? Would we advise Juliet to marry Paris for these reasons, as her nurse does, or would we encourage her to hold fast to her dream of all-encompassing love? The way in which we answer these questions can be quite revealing.
For today’s cocktail, I went with a bright and sassy riff on a Negroni. I kept the gin base, choosing Bluecoat for its juicy and citrusy flavor profile, but added Suze as the bitter component of the drink, and Mandarine Napoléon (an orange liqueur that I think turns Cointreau on its head) as the sweet element. Despite having only three ingredients, this cocktail unfolds in layers. The brightness hits you first, along with the sweetness, but it’s followed by a bitter edge that reins in the sugar, and an herbal streak that contributes an unexpected earthiness. I used a lemon peel as my garnish instead of an orange because I wanted just a bit more tartness in the drink. This all sounds very much like our friend the nurse, right?? I hope so.
My next Wednesday series will be all about cocktails that have local beer as an ingredient. I’m teaming up with Andrew Countryman, my former bartending cohort at Cooper River Distilling, who now works for Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company in Croydon, Pa. He also just happens to be the Romeo to my daughter’s Juliet, a fact that makes me immensely happy. Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!
Anon, Good Nurse
1 oz Bluecoat gin
1 oz Suze
1 oz Mandarine Napoléan*
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir with a bar spoon until cold. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over one large cube. Garnish with a lemon peel. Enjoy!
*You could use Cointreau as a substitute here, but the Mandarine Napoléan is not all that difficult to find and is truly worth seeking out.