[Milton-L] class distinction between wine and beer (was fairies and ale)

John Leonard jleonard at uwo.ca
Mon Feb 26 09:21:49 EST 2007

Salwa Khoddam wrote

 >I also have not read the work, but the speech seems to be
> a satirical attack on the Puritans for their plebeian and vulgar traits as 
> opposed to the ruling aristocrats who feast with wine and in good 
> fellowship.  Shakespeare's plays are full of such class consciousness 
> associated with food and drink.
> Hope this helped.
> Best Wishes,

This sounds right to me.  English culture has long drawn (and still draws) a 
class distinction between wine and beer.  It is not that refined tastes (or 
affluence) disdained "the spicy nut brown ale", which Milton too seemed to 
enjoy on occasion, but rather that "the wine / That fragrant smell diffused" 
was in a class of its own.  Just imagine how different the banquet in PR 
would be if Satan had proffered Jesus a foaming tankard (arguably more 
appealing, in the desert).  An explicit class distinction between wine and 
beer may be found  in Robert Herrick's poem "The Hock Cart," where the 
speaker tells the lads to enjoy their pints because that is as good as it is 
likely to get, for the likes of them:

And here all-tempting frumenty.
And for to make the merry cheer,
If smirking wine be wanting here,
There's that which drowns all care, stout beer ;
Which freely drink to your lord's health,
Then to the plough, the commonwealth.

Raymond Williams has an excellent discussion of this poem in The Country and 
the City.

John Leonard

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