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"More natural to the nation": situating Shakespeare in the "Querelle de Canary".

The whole of Europe drank wine; only a part of Europe produced it.

--Fernand Braudel (1)

In Mexico and Peru, which is the great Continent of America, it is prohibited to make Wines under great penalties for fear of starving of trade: so that all the Wines they have are sent from Spain....

There is more canary brought into England than to all the world besides.... When sacks and canaries were brought in first among us they were used to be drunk in aqua-vitae measures, but now they go down every one's throat, both young and old, like milk.

--James Howell (2)

Your best sacks are of Xeres in Spain ... your strong Sacks of the islands of the Canaries and of Maligo.

--Gervaise Markham (3)

Taken together, these epigraphs attest to the pervasive presence of imported beverages in England and Europe and allow us to see how viticulture and wine consumption were complexly implicated in global systems of production and trade. Like Falstaff's tavern reckoning in Eastcheap, his weapon case at Shrewsbury, and his ample body everywhere, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English bodies and English literary culture were replete with an "intolerable deal of sack" (1 Henry IV 2.5.493). (4) James Howell's seemingly hyperbolic claims about English consumption of Spanish wines in the second epigraph above are in fact corroborated by historians of the trade. Although wines of varying origins and quality were referred to as sack, those whose trajectories I trace in global trade networks and English literary culture were produced in Spanish dominions, whether the Canary Islands or Xeres and Malaga on the peninsula. Even as viticulture came to dominate the economy of the Canaries, that trade came to rely exclusively on one export market: England. While Shakespeare's Falstaff plays refer to the Spanishness of sack only obliquely, the later texts on which I focus in this paper foreground the origins and "identity" of sack sharply, though with differing effects. Before turning to these texts--particularly James Howell's letter to Henry Clifford (1634) and John Taylor's Drinke and Welcome (1637)--I will offer a very brief glimpse at the pervasiveness of sack in England, including the depiction of that "globe of sinful continents" Falstaff [2 Henry IV 2.4.258), whose excessive consumption of and effusions about sack in the Henriad are, I argue, firmly situated in a wider, emergent cultural discourse about these wines, their trade networks, and identity.

Sack wines circulate variously in early modern literary and material culture. Serving as a mechanism for the conduct of civic affairs in towns across the nation, they were often used as a form of payment to parish priests and local officials. (5) Canary wine was offered in payment to Ben Jonson, whose petition for an increase in his annuity was granted by Charles I in 1630--from 100 marks annually to 100 English pounds sterling and "one terse of Canary Spanish wine yearly" from the king's own cellars. Sacks were prominent among wines offered to the lords of the Star Chamber at the publically funded dinners during the law terms. Since the Lords were the monarch's dinner guests, carefully recorded accounts of all their dinners survive for the years 1519-1639. According to Andre Simon, who collected and printed excerpts of these materials, the accounts offer "first-hand evidence of the changes which took place during those one hundred and twenty years in the variety and the cost of the food eaten and the wines drunk in London by the elite," (6) and thus are of interest to scholars of diet and identity in our period. Sack stands out amongst the high volume of all wines purchased for these occasions. During the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, when the costs of all wines were rising precipitously, wine consumption by the Lords went unabated. For example, during Michaelmas Term 1590, when the Lords dined 15 times in the Star Chamber, the bill for wines was as follows:
55 gallons of the best Sack at   9 [pounds sterling]   3s    4d
3s. 4d
10 gallons of the best           1 [pounds sterling]   13s   4d
Muscadine at 3s. 4d
20 gallons of the best old       3 [pounds sterling]   6s    8d
Rhenish at 3s 4d
10 gallons of the bestnew        2 [pounds sterling]   0s    Od
Rhenish at 4s
10 gallons of the best Malmsey   1 [pounds sterling]   13s   4d (7)
at 3s 4d

In this account excerpt, we see that sack cost more and constituted more volume than all other wines combined. The volume of sack consumed by the Lords perhaps warrants the epithet that Milton would later apply to prelates--"canary-sucking" (8)--a term that exemplifies how sack comes to function as a discursive lightning rod for the sorts of abuses associated with the royal court and the church hierarchy.

Notable about these accounts is not only the large quantities of wines, especially sack, but that the purchases were made in a period when England and Spain were at war and trade between them was officially banned (1585-1604). Before that point--in the mid-sixteenth century--Spain, Portugal, and the Atlantic Islands under Spanish and Portuguese dominion had proved an increasingly valuable alternative for English traders to the faltering markets of the Low countries and Anglo-Spanish trade flourished. Even when King Philip closed Spanish ports to English merchants in May 1585, illicit trade persisted. (9) As Pauline Croft points out, "Even as hostilities between England and Spain escalated, trade began tentatively to resume [and] undercover voyages soon began" (284). In order to circumvent official Crown policies, English traders resorted to feigning nationalities other than their own, especially Irish or Scots. Such practices are amply evidenced throughout the war years in the Canary Islands, where English traders faced not only the prohibition from Seville, but the challenges of inquisitorial informers and interrogators in the islands, and prolonged prison sentences even when ultimately cleared of charges of heresy. (10) Delicately juggling competing central directives and local authorities, English traders maintained a visible and continuous presence in the Canaries at least since the early sixteenth century (11) until Cromwell's war with Spain sent them home at last in the 1650s.

Officially banned, entailing considerable risks, but steady and even flourishing, the Anglo-Spanish trade to the Atlantic islands and peninsular Spain persisted as the Lords of the Star Chamber quaffed at Westminster. Despite their technical illegality, the increasingly popular and profitable sacks and canaries continued to be carried into English ports and towns--a fact that Shakespeareans are likely to be cognizant of not from the Star Chamber accounts nor the history of the trade, but from Shakespeare's depiction of Eastcheap, including the account receipts that Peto finds when Prince Hal orders him to search Falstaff's pockets:
Item: a capon.                           2s. 2d.
Item: sauce.                                 4d.
Item: sack, two gallons.                 5s. 8d.
Item: anchovies and sack after supper.   2s. 5d.
Item: bread.                                 ob.

(1 Henry IV 2.5.487-91)

In a scaled down but still excessive version of the "55 gallons of the best Sack at 3s. 4d." that we saw in the Star Chamber accounts of 1590, the papers in Falstaff's pocket itemize "sack, two gallons [at] 5s. 8d"--a "monstrous" and "intolerable deal of sack" (2.5.492-93), as the prince notoriously describes it. The price that Shakespeare presents here, 2s. 10d. per gallon, just exceeds the per gallon price of 2s. noted by Andre Simon as standard in 1577, (12) indicating that Shakespeare's figures are roughly accurate for the Elizabethan era. Regardless of specified price, the very presence of sack wine in plays set in Henry IV's reign is anachronistic since the term and the wines to which it refers were not known in England, and most wines imported into England during Henry's reign came from the Gascon region. The inclusion of the detailed itemized account in the play script, along with the price specified, attests to the play's interest in anchoring the wine that Falstaff consumes and that flows abundantly in Eastcheap in the Elizabethan "moment," complete with the quotidian elements of wine transactions and other reminders of overseas trade activities. Frequent references to sugar and sack-and-sugar throughout the tavern scenes perform comparable work. For example, when the Prince flusters Francis by offering a "thousand pound" for the "pennyworth" of sugar Francis gave him, he confusingly blurts out that "In Barbary, sir, it cannot come to so much," (2.5.56, 70), invoking one of the regions from which England acquired sugar. Before viticulture and the wine export trade came to dominate the economy of the Canaries, sugar or "white gold" was the dominant crop and England was among the northern European export markets. (13)

The remarkable presence of the bottle of sack in Falstaff's sword case during the battle at Shrewsbury suggests how this particular beverage was bound up in festive and antagonistic relations alike, both at home and abroad. For a 1590s audience, the sword-turned-bottle could pointedly signal the wider world of trade and piracy in which the English were engaged in the period. In an essay on the Henry IV plays that analyzes Falstaff's metaphorical significance as food, especially "overwhelmingly native English foodstuffs," Joshua B. Fischer argues that "sack was viewed as a distinctly nationalistic beverage after 1587 when Sir Francis Drake raided the Spanish fleet at Cadiz ... and made drinking sack an act of patriotism." (14) While it is indeed the case that a significant portion of the Spanish wine sold in England in this period was procured via capture at sea and might thus trigger nationalist bravado--or as Ian Moulton suggests, might trigger disgust at the inappropriateness of Falstaff "running around the battlefield at Shrewsbury with a bottle of sack ... at a time of national crisis" (15)--much was also brought into the country by English traders sent to French ports for sack to import and by the undercover voyages of English traders who went to the Canaries and other Spanish dominions and whose activities are documented in the Inquisition archive. (16) The very rapidity with which the legal, peaceful trade resumed after the Treaty of London in 1604 attests to the variety of forms in which the trade persisted even when Anglo-Spanish antagonisms were at their height, and thus to the range of responses that the flow of sack in Eastcheap might elicit when the play was first performed, or when read from oft-reprinted quartos that continued to appear after the war with Spain had concluded and a more pro-Spanish faction gained prominence in the Jacobean court.

Moreover, the meanings and associations of sack modulate and morph in the Henry plays, and are hardly uniform even within a particular scene. In the exchange between the Prince and Falstaff at Shrewsbury, sack drinking can be read as a distraction from the military action as well as a jingoistic celebration of it, as a provocative intrusion of "misrule" and festivity against which the Prince positions himself as well as an appealing reminder of the "green world" to which he continues partially to belong. (17) The earlier "role playing" scene in I Henry IV figures sack as a tool of the player's or con man's craft, and sack comes to have a special role in the play's long-studied engagement with image crafting, theatricality, and questions of royal and aristocratic legitimacy. Before the discovery of Falstaff's papers in his pockets, this scene repeatedly invokes the physical effects of consuming sack as a method for image crafting, as a tool for engendering or feigning courage, or as a means of adjusting (to good or ill effect) humoral composition and balance. Claiming to have blushed at Falstaff's "monstrous devices" at the Gadshill robbery, Bardolph is chastened by the Prince as a kind of natural actor who has continually "blushed extempore" (2.5.290) ever since stealing and being caught with a cup of sack eighteen years earlier. In addition to reddening facial complexion--particularly of the choleric constitution Bardolph says he has (2.5.297)--sack is credited as a tool for reddening the player's eyes when Falstaff, preparing to "stand for [Hal's] father" (2.5.342), demands a cup of sack "to make my eyes look red, that it may be thought I have wept; for I must speak in passion" (350-52). In the only scene in which the Prince appears in the tavern in II Henry IV, this linkage between wine and image crafting persists as he and Poins disguise themselves as wine drawers in order to eavesdrop on Falstaff. Falstaff calls for more sack from Francis just as the Prince and Poins unmask. Eyeing the drawer-turned-Prince, Falstaff regales him as "a bastard son of the King's!" and "thou whoreson mad compound of majesty!" (2.4.256, 267-68). Both epithets resonate with questions of legitimate birth and right rule, and both "bastard" and "compound" nod at practices of adulterating wine and signal awareness of a hierarchy of kinds of wine. Another variety of Spanish wine, "bastard" is often coded as inferior to the best sacks, particularly in its "brown" form--as when the Prince teases Francis that, unless he flee his apprenticeship under the "Spanish-pouch"-wielding Vintner, he'll wear a dirty smock and drink brown bastard all his life (3 Henry IV 2.5.64-65, 67-68). Similarly, "compound" is a medicinal term that refers to concoctions made out of combined ingredients, as opposed to "simples." (18) Questions about the legitimacy of Hal as prince and as son are advanced and lubricated by the intertwined references to inferior or adulterated Spanish wines. Like the feigned identities of wine traders nabbed by authorities in the Canary islands, and like the heir to a usurped throne, sack is a beverage whose identity can be tinkered with or misrepresented--as when Falstaff notes with disgust that "there's lime in this sack!" in 2.5, an adulteration that he views as worse than cowardice. But as he expounds in his paean to sack drinking in 2 Henry IV, the powerful "two-fold operation" of the best sherry sack can cure cowardice, stimulate wit, and veritably reshape identity (on which, more below).

When the official ban on Anglo-Spanish trade was lifted with the Treaty of London in 1604, sack further saturated English taverns and literary culture alike. In a letter to Henry Clifford thirty years later, the traveler, trader, and celebrated letter writer James Howell describes the wines imported from the island of Canary (or Gran Canaria, one of the seven islands comprising the Canaries) as the "richest," "most firm," "best bodied," "lastingest," and the "most defecated from all earthly grossness of any other whatsoever." (19) Sounding not unlike Falstaff in his praise of the "twofold operation" of sherry sack in 2 Henry IV, Howell claims that "this is the wine that digests, and doth not only breed good blood, but it nutrifieth also." Howell describes the English rage for sack amusingly, saying that this wine more than any other
   verifie[s] that merry induction, that good wine makes good blood,
   good blood causeth good humors, good humors cause good thoughts,
   good thoughts bring forth good works, good works carry a man to
   heaven; ergo, good wine carrieth a man to heaven. If this be true,
   surely more English go to heaven this way than any other, for I
   think there is more canary brought into England than to all the
   world besides.... When sacks and canaries were brought in first
   among us they were used to be drunk in aqua-vitae measures ... but
   now they go down every one's throat, both young and old, like milk.

Here, Howell jestingly invokes both contentious reformation debates about the role of "good works" in achieving salvation and the guzzling propensities of his countrymen. His jest resonates with allusions to theological disputes in contemporary pro-sack literature excoriating the "heresy of beer" (21) and with Milton's invective against "canary sucking" prelates. Hyperbolic as it might seem, Howell's vivid claim about high volume of consumption of these wines is corroborated by figures for customs charged at London's ports: 284,382 gallons of Canary wine were taxed in 1606, just two years after the embargo was lifted, and 744,282 gallons in 1633, the year before Howell's letter. (22)

Howell frames the letter in which his amusing passage appears as an amplification of table talk in an Italian ordinary on the "wines and drinks of several Nations of the Earth." (23) Moving beyond reports in his extemporaneous discourse of what he supposedly observed directly while traveling, this letter covers a wide temporal and geographical scope, from the biblical flood to the present, from "this Island" England to Africa and Asia. He addresses canary and sack in his section on Germany, claiming that the vine originated in Bachrag (Bacharach, on the Rhine) before being carried to and cultivated in the Canaries. As a frequent traveler and writer of travel advice, Howell is attentive to geographical origins (however fanciful or speculative) while also being attuned to shifting tastes and patterns of consumption in England. He traces a shift from the "old drink" of "ale, noble ale" which came to be seen as adulterated "since beer hopped in amongst us," (24) with beer itself more recently giving way to the rage for sacks and canaries. While his image of "young and old" guzzling sack "like milk" suggests a capacity of English drinkers to adapt to imported drinks, his account of the Irish drinking usequebagh (whiskey) by "beer-glassfulls" (25) is attributed to that drink being "more natural to the Nation." (26) Such ascriptions of "natural" national beverages recur throughout his geographical survey, jostling against accounts of geopolitical conditions and/or specific trade policies. (27) This tension has a counterpart strain in dietary writing that often emphasizes the variable benefits or hazards of particular foods or beverages, depending on portion size and individual humoral composition. In his Dyetary of Healthe, Andrew Boorde argues that beer is "a natural drynke for a Dutche man" and detrimental to the English because it is a cold drink. (28) In his later, widely reprinted Via Recta ad Vita Longam, Tobias Venner reiterates many of Boorde's claims. He adds a discussion of the merits of adding sugar to sack. Venner asserts that the addition of sugar mitigates the hot, "penetrative" operations of sack, a good choice for those who have "cold stomackes." (29) He argues that "canarie" wines are more nutritive and less "penetrative" than other sack wines. Because of these qualities, canarie wines are good for the elderly and those with cold bodies, and unwholesome for those who are choleric, regardless of age, because they will heat the choleric body too intensely. Confounding simple oppositions between local/global and native/foreign, humoral discourse is potentially at odds with the claim that beverages are "natural to" a whole nation, since varied humoral bodies comprise that nation.

The heating and penetrative qualities of sack are just what Falstaff praises in his paean to sack drinking in 2 Henry IV (4.2.78-111). He deems sack consumption a necessary antidote to inherited cold temperaments of Prince John and Prince Harry. Because Prince John "drinks no wine" (4.2.81) he does not amend his naturally cold constitution as Hal does. In elaborating on the "two-fold operation" (2.4.87) of sherry sack and its beneficial effects--rising to the brain, thus stimulating quickness and wit, and heating the blood, thus engendering valor--Falstaff not only aligns himself with some of the dietary writers, but also understands drink to play a constitutive role in fashioning valiant, "princely" temperament. (30) Further, he singles out the effectiveness of a particular variety of high-quality Spanish wine. ("Sherry" is the Englishing of Xeres, the town in mainland Spain where the wine was made.) We thus can understand these plays to be firmly situated in the emergent discursive debate about particular alcoholic beverages, a wider cultural discourse that I dub the "Querelle de Canary." Like the lively, jocular way that the widely traveled and oft-reprinted Howell conveys the high volume of consumption of sack wines, as well as the high regard in which they are held, Falstaff's paean to sherry and the pervasiveness of sack in the Henry plays signal their participation in the "Querelle de Canary"--a corpus of writings disputing the relative merits of ale, beer, and sack; interrogating their origins and histories; and surveying their effects on the individual and collective bodies that consume them. In a masterful and sweeping cultural history of wine, John Varriano singles out early modern England as a cultural moment in which "mature cultures of wine and beer existed side by side," and regards our period as the most notable example in history of the cultural production of contested views of beer and wine. (31) It is within this context that we should read Falstaff's paean to sack, rather than reading it exclusively within moralizing discourses about the vice of gluttony or the contention between pleasure and virtue. We need to attend to the fact that Falstaff's praise of sack is not simply a glorification of drunkenness, but is a playfully polemical case for a particular wine over and above "thin drink" or "thin potations," whether lesser wines such as bastard, or malted or hopped drinks such as beer and ale. (32) Whether regarded as funny or scandalous, the passage gains interest by situating it not only in relation to other plays in which Falstaff appears, but in the Querelle de Canary.

Andre Simon notes that sack first appears in a wine price proclamation of 15 3 2. (33) The first literary reference to this wine I have found is in a 1563 jest book, The Last Will and Testament of Jyl of Brentford (1563). The more spirited and polemical offerings start in the 1590s and extend into the Civil War era. Examples of these writings in popular culture include ballads, prose pamphlets, and sections of plays for the popular stage. Literary elites participate as well; their offerings include lyrics by so-called Cavalier poets and drama written by and for university students. Prose works include Wine, beere, and ale, together by the eares A dialogue, written first in Dutch by Gallobelgicus, and faithfully translated out of the originall copie, by Mercurius Britannicus, for the benefite of his nation (1629); The times abuses: or, Muld-sacke his grievances briefly exprest (1635); A Dialogue betweene Sacke and Six (1641); Sack for my money, or, A description of the operation of sack that is still'd in the Spanish nation (1647). Several lyric poems in a royalist or "cavalier" vein likewise partake of the Querelle de Canary: Francis Beaumont, "A Preparative to studie, or, the vertue of sack," "Canto in praise of sack," "The Ex-ale-tation of Ale," "The Answer of ale to the challenge of sack," "The triumph of tobacco over sack and ale"; Robert Herrick, "The Welcome to Sack" and "His Farewell to Sack"; "The Coronation of Canary," (John Lyly?, printed with Campaspe); Thomas Randolph, "On the goodwif's ale," "Upon the fall of the Miter Taverne in Cambridge" and "The virtue of sack"; and various sack-saturated lyrics by John Suckling, John Cleveland, Robert Heath, and Hugh Crompton. (34) Thomas Randolph's play Aristippus, performed at Cambridge University, offers a hilarious, dense, extended contribution to the "drinking college" or "school of vice" tradition that parodies customs in vogue at the university as it glorifies the drinking of sack wine and eschews the "heresy of beer". (35)

In addition to lumping texts that vary widely in the degree to which they acknowledge Spain as the origin of sack, my list of texts above mingles widely variant genres. In early modern drinking terms, the list is thus balderdash--an inferior beverage that mixes different ingredients. John Taylor canvasses the term "balderdash" in one of his contributions to the Querelle de Canary, Drinke and welcome: or The famous historie of the most part of drinks, in use now in the kingdomes of Great Brittaine and Ireland with an especiall declaration of the potency, vertue, and operation of our English ale. With a description of all sorts of waters, from the ocean sea, to the teares of a woman. As also, the causes of all sorts of weather, faire or foule ... Compiled first in the high Dutch tongue, by the painefull and industrious Huldricke Van Speagle, a grammaticall brewer of Lubeck, and now most learnedly enlarged, amplified, and translated into English prose and verse. By Iohn Taylor (1637). I include the pamphlet's full title here because it features the text's (mock) status as a translation, and because it pointedly--and, given the extent to which they are featured over the course of the text, amusingly--fails to include sack and canary. As we will see, these beverages appear markedly in the text and the promotion of them is arguably at its center.

Poet, pamphlet writer, ferryboat driver, and promoter of the Watermens Company, Taylor was one of the more active participants in this debate who targeted a popular reading audience. Appointed to the post of "Tower Bottleman" around 1605, Taylor served the Lieutenant of the Tower, charged with rowing out to all ships entering the Thames that were bringing in cargoes of wine, and demanding two large bottles as a perquisite due to the Lieutenant of the Tower. When Taylor's boss was removed from office in 1613, his successors demanded large fees for Taylor's continuation in office, an annual fee that reached the exorbitant rate of 72 [pounds sterling] (1616). Taylor recuperated this expenditure by selling some of the wines collected for the Lieutenant for his own profit--small change compared to the wine profiteering we see among court elites such as Essex and Raleigh. Late in 1617 a rival offered a higher bid for the post, when Taylor was ousted permanently. (36) In Taylors Farewell to the Tower Bottles (1622) he presents an account of his experience that emphasizes his role as contact at the point of entry of foreign wines into the country:
   Ten years almost the place I did retain
   And glean'd great Bacchus blood from France and Spain,
   Few ships my visitation did escape
   That brought the sprightful liquor of the grape.

In addition to this poem and Drinke and Welcome, Taylor contributed to the spate of writings in England in the 1630s that were part of what Joan Kelly, Linda Woodbridge, and others describe as the "querelle des femmes," medieval and Renaissance literary and philosophical debates about the intellectual and moral capacities of women. Taylor's biographer Bernard Capp calls Taylor's contribution to this tradition, A Juniper Lecture, (37) "jocularly misogynist." This suits the tone of the Drinke and Welcome as well, which we might characterize as jocularly jingoistic or nationalist.

Two or three generations before Howell shared his "merry induction" about sack going down English gullets like milk, beer was first seeping into English alehouses and inns. The emergence of beer as a "foreign invader"--the variety of hops used in beer production was not a native crop--buttressed the construction of ale as "native" and "traditional" versus the upstart foreigner beer. (38) By the 1630s, if not earlier, we see beer and ale join forces against the (supposedly) new foreigner, sack. In Drinke and Welcome, Taylor's main thrust, at first glance, is to promote English, Protestant ale (and beer, which Taylor calls the "appendix" of ale) over Spanish, Catholic, degenerate sack, confirming and reinforcing the religious codings of these beverages visible elsewhere: "For now our Land is overflowne with wine, /with such a deluge, or an inundation, /As hath besotted and halfe drown'd our Nation" (sig. C2v). (39) The absence of sack or canary wines from the title page helps highlight how they crop up repeatedly in the text, where their origins in Spain are insistently noted. Even a poem praising water is interrupted by the attempt to assert the superiority of ale over wine (especially sack). All of Taylor's descriptions of beverages evince this fascination with origins and raise questions over the native or foreign status of different drinks. But these codes emerge with complexity and nuance in the larger cultural discourses of drink and in Taylor's text. His narrator, for example, is a fictional persona, the Dutchman Huldricke Van Speagle whom Taylor claims to be translating. This narrator admits that he was once addicted to sack, but was forced to renounce it. He says it devours coin, time, and wit and even landed him in prison. Canarie is too pricey for poor poets, so ale is the inspiration for "the poore Poet, that cannot compasse the price of Canarie" (B2v). (40) Throughout the pamphlet, Taylor playfully and fancifully posits scores of foreign origins of the ingredients and names of various drinks--even associating Ale with Alcazar, Aleppo, and the Alcoran (sig. A4v), thus complicating and ironizing his humorous insistence on the extreme "forraine" nature, and decided Spanishness, of sack, which at one point he calls "this Iberian, Castilian, Canarian, Sherrian, Mallaganian, Robolonian, Robdanian ..." (sig. B4). In addition to the amusing construction of a narrative persona who is a recovering sack addict, Taylor's post as bottleman renders the anti-sack stance in the pamphlet particularly funny and self-referring. Given these jests, it is the xenophobic sack-denouncer who is the object of Taylor's mockery.

Taylor's playful mockery of anti-sack writers via an impersonation of one of them might be compared to what Shakespeare is doing with Falstaff. His possession of a bottle of sack at Shrewsbury battle might trigger nationalist bravado even as it mocks the sack guzzler. It might arouse antipathy toward overindulgence even as it stimulates the taste for Spanish wine. While this scene could arouse anxiety because of Falstaff's alarming indifference to the gravity of the national crisis at hand, as Ian Frederick Moulton argues, the playful insistence on sack consumption might appeal to those engaged in peaceful trade in the Canaries during the period when the Falstaff plays were written and first performed, those who, if nabbed by the Inquisition or other local Spanish authorities, sometimes assumed false identities in order to keep trading in the wine that the Henry plays associate with the tools of the player or con man. To trade in and feed English taste for these wines, efforts were made to hide English identity. (41) In Falstaff's scenes in the Henry IV plays, sack drinking accompanies questions about legitimacy, majesty, and valor--questions of identity that were a feature of the lived experience of those who engaged in the actual trade overseas. Contextualizing Falstaff and the Eastcheap scenes in the Querelle de Canary and in the actual trade in Spanish wines serves to un-English or globalize these English history plays, in a period when the English were attempting to gain a foothold in transatlantic trade networks dominated by Spain. Shakespeare's Eastcheap and that "globe of sinful continents," his most notorious exemplar of the pro-sack stance, look different when situated in these larger discursive and commercial networks.


(1.) Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization & Capitalism 15th-18th Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 1:265.

(2.) Letter to Henry Lord Clifford (1634) in Epistolae Ho-Elianae: The Familiar Letters of fames Howell, ed. Joseph Jacobs (London: David Nutt, 1892), 2:455, 457-58.

(3.) Gervaise Markham, The English Housewife (1615), 315.

(4.) All references to Shakespeare are from The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: Norton Publishing, 2008).

(5.) T. J. King discusses the Stratford-upon-Avon Chamberlains' accounts in "Falstaff's Intolerable Deal of Sack: notes from Stratford-upon-Avon, 1590- 1597," Notes and Queries 24, no. 2 (1977): 105-9. Also see C. F. S. Warren on seventeenth-century churchwardens' accounts in "Sack used as communion wine" (Notes and Queries 4, no. 101 (1887): 457-58).

(6.) Andre Simon, The Star Chamber Accounts (London: George Rainbird for the Wine and Food Society, 1959), vii. On the history, composition, and workings of the court, see Joseph Robson Tanner, Tudor Constitutional Documents 1485- 1603 A.D. 1485-1603: with an historical commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), 250-58.

(7.) Ibid., 40.

(8.) Of Reformation Touching Church-Discipline in England (London 1641).

(9.) Pauline Croft, "Trading with the Enemy 1585-1604," The Historical Journal 32, no. 2 (June 1989): 281-302. On the English wine trade generally, see Andre Simon's three-volume history, A History of the Wine Trade in England (London: Wyman and Sons, 1906-9).

(10.) For a fascinating account, see the introduction to L. Alberti and A. B. Wallis Chapman, English Merchants and the Spanish Inquisition in the Canaries: Extracts from the Archives in Possession of the Most hon. the Marquess of Bute (London: Royal Historical Society, 1912). Also see my "Canary, Bristoles, Londres, Ingleses: English Traders in the Canaries in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries" in Jyotsna Singh, ed. A Companion to the Global Renaissance (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 279-93. A 1606 petition to the Privy Council from English merchants trading in Spain documents the persistence of difficult trading conditions after the Treaty of London in 1604. See, "Petition to the privy council, 1606," The Spanish Company: London Record Society 9 (1973): 118-22. [http:// = 63977&strquery = SP 14/16 no. 118 accessed: 21 November 2009],

(11.) Or earlier, if Thomas Nichols's claims about settlements by English participants in the Castilian conquest of the islands are accurate. See his A Pleasant Description of the fortunate Hands, called the Hands of Canaria (London, 1583).

(12.) History of the Wine Trade, 2:127.

(13.) See Alberto Vieira, "The Sugar Economy of Madeira and the Canaries, 1450-1650," in Stuart B. Schwartz, ed., Tropical Babylons: Sugar and the Making of the Atlantic World, 1450-1680 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

(14.) Joshua B. Fischer, "Digesting Falstaff: Food and Nation in Shakespeare's Henry IV plays," Early English Studies 2 (2009):1-23, 12. In order to advance his argument about the strong associations between Falstaff and "indigenous foodstuffs," Fischer is forced to "nativize" sack. My research on the actual trade and the complex transglobal networks of trade and piracy in which the movement of wine was implicated rubs against this view of sack.

(15.) Ian Frederick Moulton, "Fat Knight, or What You Will: Unimitable Falstaff," A Companion to Shakespeare's Works Volume III: The Comedies, ed. Richard Dutton and Jean Howard (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 237.

(16.) In addition to Pauline Croft's work, see Sebek, "Canary, Bristoles, Londres, Ingleses" and Simon, History of the Wine Trade, 2:209-10.

(17.) I borrow some of these well-known figurations of Falstaff from C. L. Barber's chapter, "Rule and Misrule in Henry IV," in Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959).

(18.) See OED n. 2 and adj. 1a.

(19.) Epistolae Ho-Elianae: The Familiar Letters of fames Howell, ed. Joseph Jacobs (London: David Nutt, 1892), 2:457.

(20.) Ibid., 2:457-58.

(21.) Thomas Randolph and Francis Beaumont, among others, use this phrase in lyrics and plays promoting sack as superior to beer and ale. The phrase playfully calls attention to beer's Dutch origins and Spain's occupation of the Low countries.

(22.) George Steckley, "The Wine Economy of Tenerife in the Seventeenth Century: Anglo-Spanish Partnership in a Luxury Trade," The Economic History Review, New Series, 33, no. 3 (August, 1980): 342-43. At the peak of the trade in 1681, London customs officials taxed enough canary to fill 4.5 million quart bottles.

(23.) Howell, Epistolae Ho-Elianae 2:450.

(24.) Ibid., 2:451.

(25.) Ibid.

(26.) Ibid.

(27.) See especially his account of the politics of the wine trade in the New World, where the Spanish prohibit viticulture, cited in my epigraph (455), the scheming alliances between Scotland and France that disadvantage the English in the Gascony region (456), and the tricks of the "cunning Hollander" who passes off inferior wines by infusing them with herbs (456). Howell's notion of "natural" native drinks also appears in Thomas Heywood's anti-drinking treatise Philocothonista, or, the Drunkard (1635) in which Heywood laments how the English, unlike most nations, drink imported beverages.

(28.) Andrew Boorde, A compendyous regyment or a dyetary of healthe made in Mountpyllyer, by Andrewe Boorde of physycke doctour, newly corrected and imprynted with dyuers addycyons dedycated to the armypotent Prynce and valyent Lorde Thomas Duke of Northfolke (London, 1547) Sig. Diiv Also see Joan Fitzpatrick's discussion of the dietary manuals in Food in Shakespeare (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007). She discusses how Falstaff's views of sack accord or not with dietary writers, and the range of opinions on the health benefits of wine versus other alcoholic drinks, 26-29.

(29.) Tobias Venner, Via Recta ad Vita Longam, or a plain philosophical discourse of the nature, faculties, and all such things, as by way of nourishments, and Dieteticall observations (London, 1620), 28.

(30.) In a compelling essay that treats this passage, Benjamin Bertram addresses how Falstaff's sack consumption links him to convivium traditions. Reading Falstaff's body as a synecdoche for the marketplace, Bertram argues that he challenges somatic theories of state and social order that naturalize hierarchy. Following Gil Harris's sustained study of mercantilist thought in Sick Economies, Bertram elucidates the intricate metaphors of exchange and circulation at issue in debates about English trade as they play out in the Falstaff plays. Rather than metaphors of trade and exchange in general, my goal in the present piece is to attend to actual trade activities that enable the import of this particular beverage, and the jesting though nonetheless contentious debate about drink that its popularity engendered in English literary culture. Benjamin Bertram, "Falstaff's Body, the Body Politic, and the Body of Trade," Exemplaria 21, no.3 (Fall 2009): 296318.

(31.) John Varriano, Wine: A Cultural History (London: Reaktion Books, 2010), 9. See also 178-85.

(32.) Moulton regards Falstaff as a diminished figure in the second play, reading this passage in which he is "reduced to praising drunkenness as a source of inspiration" as a debased counterpart to his witty catechism against honor ("Fat Knight, or What You Will," 234).

(33.) History of the Wine Trade in England, 2:206.

(34.) A number of these lyrics crop up repeatedly in manuscript verse miscellanies and commonplace books at the Folger Library. See especially va96 and va160. With some likely authorial misattributions, many of the lyrics are collected in William G. Hutchison's Songs of the Vine, with a medley for malt-worms (London: A. H. Bullen, 1904).

(35.) Folger manuscript Vb320 of Aristippus is dated c. 1625. A 1630 edition printed at London bears the full title, Aristippus, or, The iouiall philosopher: demonstratiuelie proouing, that quarters, pintes, and pottles are sometimes necessary authours in a scholers library : presented in a priuate shew.

(36.) Bernard Capp, "Taylor, John (1578-1653)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) [ view/article/27044, accessed 28 Oct 2010).

(37.) In Half Humankind-.Texts and Contexts of the Controversy about Women in England (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), Catherine Henderson and Barbara McManus excerpt A Juniper Lecture and reprint its frontispiece image in which a wife wields a cooking implement while her husband lies in bed. The caption "rise, you drunken slave" are her words, which appear in the piss and vomit from a spilled chamber pot.

(38.) See Charlotte McBride, "A Natural Drink for an English Man: National Stereotyping in Early Modern Culture" in Adam Smyth, ed., A Pleasing Sinne: Drink and Conviviality in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004).

(39.) Taylor's "Farewell to the Bottles" points to the immense variety of foreign wines:
   With bastart, sack, with allegant and Rhenish,
   Your hungry maws I often did replenish,
   With malmsey, muscadel, and Corsica,
   With white, red, claret, and liatica,
   With hollock, sherry, malaga, canary,
   I stuft your sides up with a susarara,
   That though the world was hard, my care was still,
   To search and labour you might have your fill,
   That when my master did or sup or dine,
   He had his choice of fifteen sorts of wine.

(40.) The narrator's claim to have renounced sack resonates with Nym's report of what might have been a deathbed renunciation by Falstaff in Henry V: "they say he cried out of sack" (2.4.24).

(41.) Sanjay Subrahmanyam reminds us that attempts at intercultural imposture were likely not as successful as some travelers claimed: "Despite the many, and quite well-known, instances of imposture that characterize intercultural dealings in the early modem world, it is easy to exaggerate the protean character of identity. It was distinctly easier to impersonate someone in particular than assume, in the face of a discerning audience, a series of cultural attributes one did not in fact possess" (Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Three Ways to be Alien: Travails and Encounters in the Early Modern World (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2011), 13). Subrahmanyam is especially treating Christian travelers who claimed to have successfully impersonated Muslims, but his point is perhaps reinforced by the fact that the archive of the Canary Inquisition preserves records of failed attempts of English merchants to claim Irish or Scottish nationality.
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Title Annotation:FORUM: Diet and Identity in Shakespeare's England
Author:Sebek, Barbara
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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