Issue No.042 “Tails from the Bookworm” Macbeth

 

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asa wee lass , ok not so wee, more like thirteen , I was terrorized by my english lit teacher, a young somewhat rakish chap who would attempt to engage us in our coursework by calling  on each of us to read a passage out loud to the class . My MOD was to try and act like I wasn’t there a la “make like a tree ” or in the spirit of Cousin “It” I  shrouded my face with a mass of matted curls  . As I slunk down in my hard wooden school chair hoping the desk in front of me would open its lid and gobble me up , my Lit teacher would saunter over and give a wry smile “has any one seen Gaby? I swear she was here a second ago “! Oddly enough he would reward my Boo Radley moments by giving me albums by the Doors or Pink Floyd to listen to, his explanation was always  if you can’t get with old Bill ( as in Shakespeare) perhaps this kind of poetry will suit you better .

Years later I got with it , the stories  of William Shakespeare are woven together  by complex characters , situations, emotions and  tragedies as well as elation , by far I’m most attracted to the darkness of Macbeth , the three meddlesome witches that for sport wreak havoc on the lives of our protagonist and his clan , turning brothers in arms against each other and conjuring madness in their houses . Greed, ambition , insanity   and death are the mainstays of this play and blood courses through each act like an overflowing river .  Macbeth who at the beginning of the tale is considered quite a noble warrior , has a seed planted in his head that germinates and grows like a cancer destroying all reason in both his wife and himself turning him into a tyrannical version of himself .

The story of  Macbeth is set in Scotland , that magical land that gave us “Uisge-beatha na h-Alba” or more simply known as whisky. The five main regions that produce Scottish whisky each with their  own very distinctive characteristics are the Highlands, Campbeltown , The Lowlands, Speyside and my personal favorite Islay . The landscape of Scotland though extremely beautiful  at the best of times  is incredibly damp with a chill that  permeates even the warmest of woolies , no wonder whisky was invented here, its the perfect dram for this climate  and the moody landscape . What’s needed methinks to counter this cold are concoctions to warm from within , toddies , wassails and spiced punches , perfect accompaniments to pair with stories of witches, madness and murder  this Winter .

The story is quite involved with many characters  playing major parts in the story , so in order to make it easier for you to understand all these connections am listing each one of the main players below , I have ruthlessly eliminated all the non essential players in my synopsis .

Cast of characters
Macbeth – 
A nobleman and Scottish General  who is  a trusted ally of King Duncan , he is a brave soldier but not a virtuous one.
Lady Macbeth – Macbeth’s ambitious wife who lusts after position and power , initially she is the stronger of the two but she succumbs to madness once the violence ensues .
Banquo –  Also a nobleman , General and good friend of Macbeth , where Macbeth is sly, Banquo is honorable , also ambitious but does not act on any of his thoughts .
King Duncan The King of course , he is the model of the benevolent leader
Malcolm – One of Duncan’s sons and the heir to the throne
Macduff – A Scottish nobleman who opposes Macbeth’s kingship from the start
The Three Witches – Three mischievous hags who are the servants of Hecate the goddess of witchcraft
Fleance – Banquo’s son
Lady Macduff – Macduff’s wife and an innocent victim in this tragedy .

Act 1 (The Lowlands )

In which we first meet the three hags.
High atop a misty moor these three witches dance and cackle as they share their stories of controlling the wind and the journey  of a sailing vessel or  hexing the poor individuals on board  for no other reason than sport . Macbeth and his friend Banquo fresh from battle  catch sight of them , thinking perhaps these hags are not even human Banquo cringes at the sight of them and questions wether they are of this earth , they look like women but their beards keep him from believing . Macbeth approaches and asks what kind of creatures they are, they respond with a line that so startles Macbeth  that he is  rendered speechless, they call out to him as King and landowner of a particular estate ,   he is currently neither . Banquo asks what wonders they  foresee for him. They reply with somewhat of a riddle that ends with them saying  his offspring will be  Kings though he will never be one himself .

Macbeth demands that they elaborate on such prophecies , but they vanish into thin air leaving our two warriors wondering if they are both high on drugs . As they stand there trying to make sense of the scene two of King Duncan’s men approach to tell Macbeth that the King is impressed by his ability to both fight the Irish and the Norwegian without fear of death and that Duncan will bestow upon him the grand title of Thane ( a land owner who is granted that property by the King ) the title  that the witches included in their revelation .

Banquo becomes skeptical and senses that these predictions will become their undoing if they dwell on them too much  whilst Macbeth is dubious why this is such a bad thing, although he can’t quite understand why  the image of him  murdering the King is stamped on his brain, the King that has just bestowed him this  promotion , out of his head  , in a daze he says to himself whatever will happen will happen and perhaps he doesn’t have to do anything to assist in  manifesting this event  . After meeting with the King who officially gifts him his new title Macbeth pens a letter to his wife .

Methinks a steaming cup of Wassail is what every one of these gentlemen needs after such a hard fought and victoriously won battle ,  as well as maybe the three weird sisters , perhaps they’ve spent too much time in the freezing cold and grown a bit too sinister . Wassail, a hot apple cider based punch  is traditionally drank whilst wassailing or going door to door exchanging cups of Wassail for gifts, pretty much the tradition has been replaced with caroling where instead the offering is a song and the gift is cold hard cash, the Wassail sounds so much more romantic to me and so much more likely to bring people together .

The Lowland Wassail

1 1/2 oz Auchentoshen 12 yr whisky
1 oz Gaby’s Gardenia Mix ( see below for recipe)
2 oz fresh pressed apple cider
1/8 oz apple cider vinegar
1/2 oz lemon
1 oz madera

Gaby’s Gardenia mix 

1 pound unsalted butter
1 quart runny honey
1 cup Trader Vic’s Macadamia liqueur
1 oz vanilla extract
Pinch salt

Place butter in heavy bottomed pan and set onto a medium heat , the plan is to brown the butter by removing the water and caramelizing the milk solids turning  it delicious  and nutty smelling /tasting .

Allow the butter to froth , once it gets past this stage the water has evaporated and the milk solids will start to brown, be patient and keep stirring, there’s a fine line between brown butter and burnt to a cinder butter .

Once the liquid  butter starts to take on an amber hue and you see small flecks of brown in there its time to take off heat and allow to cool slightly , pouring hot butter into a blender will cause the air to expand in the blender and likely blow the top of your blender off .

Once cooled slightly pour into Vitaprep blender , add the runny honey, Trader Vics, salt  and vanilla , you might have to stir a few times with a wooden spoon to get the honey and butter mingling . Blend on high for about 30 seconds then transfer to a lidded container until ready to use

Can be stored in the fridge but you will need to allow to come up to room temp before using , usually I’ll plop it into a bowl of hot water to speed up process .

 

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For the drink 

Add all ingredients to a pan and heat through , stirring till up to temperature, this is best made in  quantities though single servings whilst not as social are still just as delicious . Transfer to a heat proof glass or mug .

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Act 2 (Islay)

In which King Duncan is slain.
Macbeth’s letter to his Lady wife brings up much doubt in her , her  ambitions start to rear their ugly head  and she seems  much  more ruthless than the more thoughtful  Hubs. She  starts to plan the perfect moment when they can be rid of the King and have the crown passed to her love Macbeth . The King himself , Duncan that is ,  has arrived for a night of celebration chez Macbeth , in high spirits he hands out many a gift to the folk in his company that night .

Lady Macbeth can think of nothing else than the plan to kill him, Macbeth tries to quiet her saying he has been given such gifts and give him time to enjoy them before offing his benefactor . Instead of backing down she turns on Macbeth calling him a coward for being afraid to fail . Her plan is to get the King’s men so drunk that they  fall into deep sleep and won’t remember any of the events from the night before , and that they should prepare for an end to the night’s celebrations so they can carry out their dirty deed.

As the house becomes still Macbeth takes  a walk through the darkened halls of his home to be greeted by a dagger floating menacingly in the still night air , he can’t quite fathom if its an apparition or if he’s perhaps sleeping. He makes a grab into the air hoping to grasp the weapon, fresh  blood visible on its blade, as he reaches for this vision he pulls out the dagger that has been stowed in his robes , as he stands there his courage  begins  to cool . He shakes himself out of this torpor and presses on to do away with Duncan .

Lady Macbeth meanwhile waits in her chamber  , the strong spirits she has partaken in and  served Duncan’s men have made her bold and fired her up , she revels in the fact that his men make a mockery of their jobs by snoring instead of protecting the now dead King . Macbeth enters carrying the bloody dagger , he starts to tell his wife about the servants and his fear that he had awoken them during the deed , he starts to fixate on being caught,  she tells him to stop thinking so much as he eyes his bloody hands , she calms him and says  a little water is all he needs to wash away the evidence from his hands  . She chides him for bringing the murder weapon into their chamber and demands he go back and place  the knife  at the scene of the crime, he refuses so she carries out the task herself promising to smear  Duncan’s blood on his servants to make them look like the culprits .

The next morning one of Duncan’s servants arrives to wake the King only to find him robbed of life. Macbeth and his Lady of course feign ignorance , the Lady goes so far as to collapse to illustrate her point as to who shocked she is that something so sinister would happen under her own roof . The men though shaken , meanwhile decide to get dressed and gather to discuss what to do , Duncan’s two son’s decide that their best policy is get the hell out of there , not knowing where their enemies could be hiding, in plain sight perhaps . And yet Duncan’s men seem to think that the two son’s are guilty for fleeing so fast , that they instead had the two servants kill their good father so that they could take the crown .

As for Macbeth he is about to be crowned, oddly the roles of Macbeth and his wife have now switched since Duncan’s body has been discovered ,  whilst he springs to action reclaiming  his  position of hero, the Lady on the other hand becomes circumspect and withdrawn .
Lady Macbeth , neptune’s ocean , breast milk, sleeping potion , motifs:floating dagger, crown, macbeth having trouble sleeping .

It seems that everyone needs a sleeping potion , dave wondrich calls this liquid ambien, hot milk spiced with nutmeg , sugar, brandy and islay whisky , breast milk ??

Mother’s Milk , Mother’s Ruin 

1 cup milk ( in Macbeth’s recipe I would imagine breast milk since he’s still being nurtured by his Lady wife at this point in the play ) but whole milk or nut milk would work too
1 oz Laphroaig 10 year Islay whisky
1 oz brandy
1/4 oz St.Elizabeth allspice dram
1 tablespoon demerara sugar
fresh nutmeg to grate over top

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Place ingredients into a small pan and stir over medium heat, I use a Cafe Casa milk frother to get the mix nice and foamy

Allow sugar to dissolve but don’t allow to boil

Once warmed through transfer to a heat proof glass

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Act 3 (Campbelltown )

In which Macbeth sees a ghost
Something is not quite sitting right with Banquo, he frets over the prophecy , whilst Macbeth starts to worry about Duncan’s two son’s plotting against the crown so they can steel it for themselves . That night a  great banquet is to be held in celebration of Macbeth’s coronation , Banquo is invited to attend and accepts but decides to spend the rest of the afternoon riding his horse , Macbeth suggests they discuss the problem of the two brothers . Whilst Banquo departs , Macbeth starts to muse on his fear of his friend , how Banquo is the stronger one and the only one that can undo his own legacy and steal the crown for his offspring . He calls on two men who have been waiting in the wings to continue a conversation they had the day before , that Banquo has betrayed them and that  this should make them  so angry as to take their revenge against  him  and his son .

Meanwhile Lady Macbeth is beside herself with angst , Macbeth tells her his plan to be rid of Banquo and only then will the threat to the throne be eliminated and  their minds be clear . As dusk approaches the two men whom Macbeth solicited to murder Banquo wait outside  in the dark and watch as he approaches  with his son Fleance , they set upon them both killing Banquo , the son manages to escape vowing to avenge his father’s death  . As the feast commences , Macbeth learns of Banquo’s death and his son’s escape , it angers him knowing there is no escape from the witches prophecy , he turns to address his guests and sees sitting at the table Banquo’s ghost which he talks to much to the confusion of the rest of the guests who see nothing . Lady Macbeth makes excuses for him saying he has these visions from time to time whilst she privately chides him for his nonsensical outburst . She continues to make excuses for him and sends all of the alarmed guests out of the room , Macbeth mutters that blood will have blood , he resolves to do whatever he needs to to keep his throne and that he plans to look for the witches again tomorrow to find out who is plotting against him , his wife suggest they retire for the night so that he may clear his head .

Meanwhile on the misty heath , Hecate the goddess of witchcraft is annoyed at the three hags for meddling in Macbeth’s life without consulting her and tells them she will take over from here , she informs them that once Macbeth visits them tomorrow they must summon all manner of visions to lull him into a false sense of security and draw him into further confusion .

Back at the castle, two Lords appear , one of them continues to insist there is something strange afoot, why would Banquo’s  son kill him and who indeed has slain King Duncan. And what of Macduff who has fallen out favor with Macbeth for speaking his mind , he has fled to England and the court of King Edward where Malcolm ( oldest son of Duncan ) resides and who is well respected by the Brit King. Macduff hopes to convince Edward to form an alliance and end the violence , this news has enraged Macbeth and puts him on the warpath, meanwhile a messenger has been sent to Macduff to alert him that they are under the rule of a tyrant in Macbeth .

With all this bloodshed I could not think of a better symbol for this act than a blood red mulled wine punch thing, my favorite by far is a Norse  Glogg fitting since at the beginning of the play Macbeth is battling with the Norwegians . In this version am using a whisky with Kummel a Nordic caraway based liqueur , my vessel a mini glass cauldron.

By the Pricking of my Thumbs,  Something Wicked This Way Comes 

For the liquid ingredients :
1 bottle dry red wine
1 pint velvet falernum
3 oz kummel
1 pint pineapple juice
1 cup Springbank 10yr Campbelltown whisky

For the steeping ingredients :
peel of 1 orange
peel of 1 lime
5 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2-3 slices fresh ginger
teaspoon szechuan or pink peppercorns
3 bay leaves

 

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Take all steeping ingredients and tie up into cheesecloth to form a tea bag kind of thing
place cheesecloth bundle into pot
add all liquid ingredients except for whisky
turn on heat and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes
add sugar if need be to taste

Just before serving add the whisky
Ladle into mugs and serve with a twist of orange and a cinnamon stick or optional peppercorns .

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Act 4 ( The Highlands )

In which Lady Macduff is done away with
This act opens with the three witches continuing their mischief , as they dance around the bubbling cauldron tossing in poisoned entrails and other vile ingredients , they chant ” double , double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble ” as they make a charm that will create wreak havoc . As they concoct their boss Hecate appears with three more sorcerers , she declares that she admires their potent efforts , she invites them to all sing a dirge called “black spirits” , one of them exclaims he thumbs are tingling a sure sign that something wicked approaches . Indeed Macbeth appears and demands to know what darkness they’re extolling and that they answer his questions , they bid him to ask as they conjure spirits from the beyond, the first tells Macbeth to beware Macduff, the second apparition tells him no man born of woman will ever harm him , the third phantom appears and tells him to be brave like a lion , that he will never be defeated until Birnam wood comes to fight him . Macbeth asserts this is an unlikely prophecy for who can command the trees to rip up their roots . His question however is will the son’s of his dead friend Banquo ever reign in his kingdom , the witches demand he not search for an answer , but he tells them he will lay a curse on them if they do not give him some resolution . The witches show him a vision , a procession of kings the last one is followed by the ghost of Banquo , Macbeth yells that the sight hurts his eyes and he realizes that these eight kings are descendent of Banquo .

The witches vanish and Macbeth hears the sound of galloping horses, he calls to the men outside to come in , the two Lords who were discussing Macduff’s flight to England appear and to tell the King of this news. Macbeth exclaims he will raid Macduff’s castle and seize his town in revenge.

Lady Macduff meanwhile at her castle wonders why her husband has fled , she thinks it makes him look crazy and guilty of a crime , her aide and cousin responds that she cannot know wether he fled from fear or wisdom , Lady Macduff laments it could not have been wisdom that made her husband leave her and their  children in such danger without his protection . A messenger enters and tells her to leave the castle and take her sons with her , that some evil approaches , she can’t quite understand what evil would come her way since she has done no wrong but then she remembers that she lives on earth where villainous deeds are often rewarded . As she stands with her son murderers enter and demand to know where Macduff  the traitor is , her son yells out in defense of his father and is stabbed in retort , he demands his mother flee and as she does the murderers follow her .

Lady Macduff’s cousin has arrived at King Edwards castle where he is greeted by Macduff and Malcolm, the slain King Duncan’s son and heir . He tells Macduff that his wife and children were safe when he left them but that as he was riding to them he learned of sad news  and that rebels were  amassing to fight against Macbeth . Malcolm informs them he will leave for Scotland with the ten thousand soldiers that King Edward has given him to reclaim his father’s throne . Macduff demands to hear what sad new the cousin is keeping from him , he breaks down and informs Macduff of his family’s murders , that they killed whoever they could find in his castle , his grief overwhelms him and he makes it known he will leave to fight with Malcolm to avenge their deaths .

At this point in the story darkness and evil has taken over all , to symbolize this moment a hot dark beer flip, made even darker by the use of activated charcoal . The beer flip is something my Pops Iggy would drink on many  a bleak winter’s night , the scent of it would fill up our house, the memory taking me back to simpler times .

1 cup of dark porter beer ( Pops used newcastle brown ale )
1 1/2 oz Glendronach 12 year Highland whiskey
1  oz brown sugar syrup ( 1:1 ratio sugar to hot water )
1/2  oz PX sherry
6 dashes Miracle Mile chocolate chili bitters
1 whole egg
1/4  teaspoon activated charcoal

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In a pitcher whisk together all the ingredients , transfer to a heavy bottomed sauce pan

Place pan onto a low flame and keep whisking until the beer mix is heated through but not boiling , its important to make sure the egg does not curdle, if it does you can always pour through a strainer but its not an ideal sitch .

Pour into heat proof cups and grate over fresh nutmeg and  optional dark chocolate

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Act 5 ( Speyside)

In which Lady Macbeth commits suicide and Birnam Wood comes alive
Back in Scotland night has fallen and a Lady in waiting sits with the Doctor at Macbeth’s castle, she is concerned for the well being of her Lady who has taken to sleepwalking nightly and seemingly  confessing in her sleep to some gruesome deed. They both watch as the Lady Macbeth enters the room holding  a candle and going to the basin to wash her hands , the gentlewoman tells the Doctor she has watched her carry out this hand washing routine for as long as fifteen minutes at a time . Lady Macbeth continues to scrub her hands ” There’s still a spot there , out damn spot ! ”

They watch as the Lady  continues to talk, the Doctor says this illness is beyond his skill set , Lady Macbeth exists to her bed as the  good Doctor tells the gentlewoman that vicious rumors abound , that guilty people will confess their sins as they sleep and that she needs a preist more than she needs his help .

Simultaneously armies gather near Birnam Wood, the English Army led by Macduff , whilst the tyrannical Macbeth fortifies his castle against attack , more and more rebel armies gather to  punish him for his treason, he tries to reassure himself that he will be safe and no harm can come to him from any man born of woman . A servant enters white as a sheet to let Macbeth know that ten thousand English soldiers have amassed outside , Macbeth readies himself for war by calling for his armor . He calls for the Doctor to ask after his wife, and is told that his wife is not sit but is suffering from antagonistic visions that he can do nothing for .

Back on the battlefield Malcolm orders that each soldier break off a tree branch and hold it in front of them to obscure how many men there actually are and fool Macbeth’s spies . As Macbeth and his men prepare for the inevitable a woman can be heard crying, Macbeth asks what the matter is and is informed that his Queen is dead , Macbeth rather coldly replies that she would have died eventually anyway, today, tomorrow or the day after that. He is interrupted by a messenger who dare not speak, the King demands he be told as the boy advises him that he thinks he sees the forest moving in the distance , Macbeth screams he is a liar and how dare he make up such stories . But the messenger persists Birnam Wood is on the move ,  the King sounds the alarm they are under attack but at least they will die prepared and with their armor on !

Sword fights ensue and Macbeth is confidant he will not be killed since no man born from woman can kill him , Macduff elsewhere in the castle searches for Macbeth demanding he show himself . He enters the chamber where Macbeth stands , the bodies of slain soldiers surrounding him , Macduff yells at him to turn around, Macbeth cockily tells him to not waste his time since he cannot be killed by any sword belonging to a mana bon from woman . Macduff laughs , and informs him that he was not born of his mother’s womb but was cut out since she could not bear him naturally , Macbeth’s courage shrivels before him as Macduff demand he surrender , their wordplay evolves into sword fight and ends with Macduff slaughtering Macbeth and chopping off his head which he carries out to show his army so that they can see he has his revenge and the tyrant king has been conquered .

To put courage into our avenging warrior’s hearts my suggestion here is a Scaffa style drink , drank in the same way that a brandy would be , coddled in a wide bowl style glass the heat of the hand that holds it warms the mix and brings out the nuances of flavor. A touch of  tree resin (frankincense) adds that final purification to rid the lands of evil once and for all !

The Walkin Woods
1 1/2 oz Balvenie  double wood 12 year Speyside whisky
3/4 oz Benedictine
1/4 oz St.Elizabeth allspice dram
1/2 oz honey syrup
3 dashes angostura bitters
1 pinch smoked salt
frankincense for burning

 

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add all ingredients to your mixing glass and stir to incorporate and dissolve the salt

Meanwhile heat a wide bottom glass such as a snifter or a stemless wine glass by swishing around hot water inside

Drain out water  then place over a lit piece of frankincense , the flame will extinguish once there is no oxygen to feed it and the glass will fill up with smoke, I generally use a small slate or tile to place the frankincense on .

Upturn glass and fill immediately with the whisky Scaffa

Breathe, inhale the good and exhale the evil , no chanting necessary !

 

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