Wednesday Shakespeare: The Soothsayer
Since tomorrow is March 15th, otherwise known as the Ides of March, there was really only one direction that today’s post could go in. The Soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has a total of about nine lines, yet he is extremely important to one of the play’s central themes. Then again, is he really? We’ll get to that in just a few minutes. Let’s talk first about the origin of the concept of the Ides of March, which dates all the way back to the earliest Roman calendars. In 753 BC, March would have been the first month of the year, and the 15th day would have corresponded to the first full moon. This later morphed into a full on festival celebrated on the banks of the Tiber River that included food, wine, music, and sacrifices to Anna Perenna, the Roman goddess of renewal, health, and plenty. Sounds like a typical Italian party to me! I’ve attended many. By 46 BC, Caesar had consulted an astronomer who recommended a 12-month calendar and a nonsensical little idea called Leap Year. Just 2 years later on March 15th, Caesar would be stabbed 23 times by his consuls right in the Senate House, forever linking the Ides of March with his assassination. Personally, I’m in favor of bringing back the festival.
Let’s return to our friend the Soothsayer. There is no question that he speaks the most famous line in the play when he tells Caesar to “beware the Ides of March.” Why is this so significant? It has to do with a tiny little dilemma known as fate vs. free will. Many Shakespeare scholars agree that because Julius Caesar is filled with so many omens and prophecies, there is absolutely no way of reversing Caesar’s death. Fate has already determined that he will be assassinated. The fact that the Soothsayer warns him, however, raises the question of free will. Since Caesar is given knowledge of his impending doom, his choice to go to the capital anyway is willful, and is ultimately the decision that results in his death. On the flip side of this argument is a theory that suggests that the Soothsayer is merely a MacGuffin. Any Hitchcock fans out there? A MacGuffin is a plot device that drives the action of a film forward, but has little to do with the real meaning of the storyline. Hitchcock used them without fail; in fact, once you know about them, they are easy to spot in his movies. If we apply this concept to the Soothsayer, we can see that although he foreshadows Caesar’s death, this is not the main focus of the play. The real storyline revolves around Brutus and the ultimate disillusionment he suffers in the wake of his difficult decision to kill Caesar for the betterment of Rome.
No matter which theory you choose, the soothsayer certainly seems to have some knowledge that something wicked is coming Caesar’s way. Today’s cocktail needed to reflect that. When there is enlightenment involved, I almost always turn to tequila as my base because it’s a spirit that has always been responsible for so many visions. Palo Santo bitters, made from the bark of Holy Wood, are rumored to be equally eye-opening. Grapefruit is a natural partner for tequila, so I brought it into the drink both as the secondary spirit and as the sour component. I then needed sweetness to balance the grapefruit’s acidity, and a demerara syrup infused with a split vanilla bean worked perfectly. Vanilla and grapefruit are amazing together, and the Palo Santo bitters contain a hint of vanilla that the syrup served to heighten. This is a wickedly good cocktail that is alarmingly easy to drink and I’m quite certain that there are visions in store for anyone who has one too many. Beware The Soothsayer… Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!
2 oz Herradura Tequila Reposado
½ oz Giffard Pamplemousse Rosé
¾ oz grapefruit juice
½ oz vanilla infused demerara syrup*
2 dashes DRAM Palo Santo bitters
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously, Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express a grapefruit peel and drop into the drink. Enjoy!
Dissolve 1 cup Sugar in the Raw in 1 cup of water that has been brought to a boil. Stir until clear. Split a vanilla bean down the middle and add it to the syrup. Allow to steep for a few hours until the vanilla flavor is where you want it to be. Store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.