By Kathleen McKevitt – Special to the Pahrump Valley Times
Shakespeare and Pahrump may not seem to be the perfect blend, but it seems there is no end to the surprises here, including a group that meets weekly at the Pahrump Community Library to read, act, practice parts, learn new roles in various plays, entertain guests from other Shakespeare groups and put on Shakespearian productions for the public.
This week, formal invitations were sent to friends with an interest in Shakespeare plays, to enjoy the feast and festivities of Twelfth Night, an annual event related to the wise men said to have followed “the star in the East” to Jesus’ birth.
“Usually that’s on the 4th, 5th and 6th of January,” said founder and leader of the Shakespeare group, Judith Strickland, “But the 8th is close enough.”
And celebrate they did. With magical beans baked into cakes, the finder of which would instantly become queen for day (for that particular celebration), or king for a day, or other lofty position, and those people are crowned, and allowed a nod to their temporary subjects, and are awarded special seating.
Twelve teapots filled with various Earl Grey teas and tea cups covered a table adorned with medieval-looking objects, cookies, meat and other snacks intended to resemble elk, boar, rabbit and other “wilde” game.
A song for the health of the newly-crowned queen of the festivities was led by “Mistress of Song,” Peggy Rhoads, with the words: “Here’s health unto her Majesty, with a fa la la la la la la; confusion to her enemies, and he who will not drink her health, we wish him neither wit or wealth, nor yet a rope to hang himself, fa la la la la la la la, etc.”
In Elizabethan times, appetizers at such a feast would be rack of veal, fartes of portunagale (spicy muttonball soup), livering puddinges, baked eeles, herring and a great deal of grog, beer and wine.
Endless toasts to this and that individual for any number of reasons, like the one to be most prosperous, more loved, having better well-being and other good fortune in the New Year, and a closing toast to the New Year: “Now Christmas is past, Twelfth Night is the last. To the old year adieu, great joy to the new.”
Glen Miller, one of the long-time Shakespeare group participants gave Strickland and her husband George, a painting of William Shakespeare made from a collage of other faces, as appreciation for their work as founders, leaders and organizers.
Some may be familiar with the Twelfth Night play, also titled, What You Will, penned in 1601 and written to be performed as Twelfth Night entertainment. Characters become out-of-character in shocking ways, all amid drunken revels and feasts.
Could the fruitcake have come from this time? Considering the antics and what was available, it is believed possible. All fruit was dried during the winter, and a dense cake was generally baked that could last several months — filled with spices, heavy ground grains, and a great deal of rum and sugar made it a seasonal favorite. One woman at this event remarked that Shakespeare would be glad to know that fruitcake was making a comeback.”
The January date that marks twelve days after Christmas, called Epiphany by Catholic and other churches, is noted as the adoration of the Magi. In many countries it is a second Christmas, much like New Year’s Eve is in America but based on the idea of celebration of a new year to revel in and an old one to drum out.
Because of Shakespeare’s play relating to this time, it is often performed or enacted at this time, and while it could possibly fall into the column of “But in Parhump?” the more one probes into the deeper nature of Pahrump, the more one finds gold.
The Shakespeare Round Table here meets every Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the library. If you are interested in learning more about this group and other arts activities in the area, contact the library.