I don’t know how I missed this back in May, but Keanu Reeves – Man of the Internet Hour – John Wick, “Neo”, “Ted Theodore Logan”, player with puppies, rider of subways, anonymous donator to children’s hospitals – is an admitted Oxfordian.
The man played Mercutio at 15, Don John at 29 and Hamlet at 31. My Own Private Idaho is an acknowledged retelling of Henry IV. But in his own words, he’s “always been an Edward de Vere” guy:
I always wanted to know — ever since I was growing up — who really wrote the plays of Shakespeare. So I wanna be there at that moment with “Shakespeare” — cause I don’t really think it was “Shakespeare.” I’m an Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford [guy]. So I’d like to be there in the 1600s “Shakespeare” writing Hamlet.
I guess he’s staying away from Macbeth, The Tempest and other later plays lest someone ask him how Oxford wrote those when he was dead.
Now I’m sad. Just goes to show that you can be a great guy – successful, even – and still not have any common sense. As far as I’m concerned he’s flat Earth and anti-vaxx, too. What a shame.
I was beyond excited when I learned that Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman was being turned into a tv series. If you’re not familiar with the backstory, the two friends had basically agreed that there’d be no further work done on the property – no spinoffs, no merchandise, etc.. – unless they were in agreement. Well, Terry Pratchett went and died (*). And that was the end of that hope. Except for the part where he personally left a letter asking Neil Gaiman to make the movie version. Well, now that’s just ineffable, that is.
Anyway, this post would be a mile long if I keep blathering. The story tells of the friendship that is formed over thousands of years by the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (formerly “crawley”, as in snake…, played by David Tennant) because they’ve been stationed on Earth ever since Man was there, basically cancelling each other out so often that they get bored and stop wasting their time. I convince my kids to watch it with me, and they seem to like the first episode, so now it’s become family viewing time. One weekend night when everybody’s available we’ll all wind down and watch an episode, the whole family in the room, no electronics. Is very nice. My wife and oldest are on the big couch, my middle on the love seat, and my son on the chair in what I’m only just realizing is very Goldilocks and the three bears of us. I’m on the floor with pillows. Just to set the scene.
Each episode of the series shows how the friendship between angel and demon evolved (while, in the bigger arc, they plot in modern day to stop the end of the world). They show up in the Garden of Eden, they show up for Noah… Each time the angel is there as a sort of witness, and David Tennant is there to look confused and ask some very interesting questions. They actually show the crucifixion of Jesus in one episode, for example. Tennant’s demon asks, “What did he do?” and the angel responds, “Told people to be kind to one another.”
And then a title card pops up saying “1601 London” and I threw both hands up in the air and yelled excitedly, “They’re visiting Shakespeare! They’re visiting Shakespeare!!”
Cut to Aziraphale watching a rehearsal of Hamlet. It’s not very good. But the Shakespeare character keeps calling him Burbage, which is appreciated (though he’s too young and skinny for Burbage). Crowley shows up to watch for a little while and out of the clear blue drops some out of context Shakespeare (from another play that I won’t spoil) and I did an excited little dance there from my spot on the floor, arms up in celebration, because when I sat down to watch tv tonight I didn’t expect to get David Tennant doing Shakespeare.
I heard my oldest’s voice behind me say, “Yay, Daddy’s happy.”
One of my favorite puns in all of Shakespeare can be found in this exchange between Hamlet and Polonius:
‘Tis well: I’ll have thee speak out the rest soon.
Good my lord, will you see the players well
bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for
they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time: after your death you were better have a bad
epitaph than their ill report while you live.
My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
God’s bodykins, man, much better: use every man
after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?
I love it. Hamlet tells Polonius to treat the players well. Polonius responds that he will treat them as well as they deserve. Hamlet says that if he were to do that, no man would escape the whip. But the last line can also be read as a play on “dessert”, making “whipping” a play on whipped cream or some other confectionary treat.
Except that it’s not a pun at all. I have been informed by numerous sources that the term “dessert” did not exist for Shakespeare (first published in 1633 according to the OED). Likewise, “whipping” in reference to confectionary, as in a whipped topping or whipped cream, not until the 1800s.
I really wanted this pun to work. I even did my own research, coming across this recipe for a “dishful of snow”, which is basically whipped egg whites and sugar:
Alas, I have to admit that this is in no way called a dessert, nor does it say to whip anything. Oh well. I was actually informed that if Shakespeare was thinking about what we know as dessert, he was probably thinking of something more in line with, “eel baked in Marchpane or lamprey roasted in a sweetened sauce made of its own blood.” Go ahead and think about putting whipped cream on that!
Anyway, what’s your favorite pun of Shakespeare’s? I’ll leave you with another favorite that nobody has yet spoiled for me. This one from Two Gentlemen of Verona:
Nay, I’ll show you the manner of it. This
shoe is my father: no, this left shoe is my father:
no, no, this left shoe is my mother: nay, that
cannot be so neither: yes, it is so, it is so, it
hath the worser sole.
Found a wall of text. Thought maybe it was an academic article. So I grabbed the first paragraph and ran it through Google Translate, only to discover that it appears to be your typical summary of Hamlet. Only…wait a second…
The story takes place at the Elsinor Castle in Denmark. Prince Hamlet reveals his father’s spirit and learns the truth that his father has murdered his uncle Claudius, who soon married Hamlet’s mother after his father’s death. Hamlet, who longs for revenge on his father, pretends to be mad.
Ok, this new version of Hamlet sounds awesome. Hamlet reveals his father’s spirit, apparently he was keeping it hidden somewhere. Then we learn that it was indeed Hamlet’s father who killed Claudius! Awesome. Claudius, soon after he was murdered apparently, marries Hamlet’s mother. For pointing all of this out to him, Hamlet wants revenge on his father.
I have to get more of this. I start cutting and pasting more paragraphs:
Because he had no evidence, he organized a theater performance to find out the truth, of course, it was a show of murdering his brother.
Hamlet working out his issues, organizing a performance of him murdering his brother.
Hamlet went to his mother to explain to her how things were and unwittingly kills Poland, the Supreme Chamberlain.
Farewell, Poland. We shall not see your like again.
Claudius was called upon to fight against Lear,
A new player has entered the game! That’s hardly going to be a fair fight, one would think.
Unfortunately the rest of the translation isn’t as good, dissolving into the usual auto translation gibberish. But that was a fun little diversion!
Galt McDermott, composer of HAIR and Two Gentlemen of Verona, has passed away. As we like to do here on the blog, let’s take a moment to appreciate and celebrate the man’s contribution to Shakespeare.
Forget about the obvious for a minute. I mean, come on, the man wrote a musical Two Gentlemen of Verona that won the Tony for Best Musical in 1971 (beating out Grease).
If you’ve only ever known HAIR as a “tribal love rock musical,” then you haven’t been listening closely enough. One song is entirely Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” speech:
(The song isn’t in the movie, you either need to know the soundtrack, or see the live show.)
My favorite, though, is the big finale number, typically known as “The Rest Is Silence / Let The Sunshine In”. The Hamlet reference is right there for everybody to see … but if you listening very closely, the background singers are on a whole different play:
Eyes look your last
Arms take your last embrace
And lips oh you the doors
Of breath… seal with
A righteous kiss
Seal with a righteous kiss
The rest is silence
That’d be Romeo and Juliet. The hippies are layering one Shakespeare tragedy on top of another. Which then segues seamlessly into the big celebration that is Let The Sunshine In.
Ready for the best part of this story? My middle daughter is really into her vinyl (album) collection right now. She’s a huge fan of musicals, but she’s also into the classic rock that I’ve introduced her to. I’d forgotten, until today, that for my birthday a number of years ago a friend had presented me with a framed HAIR album. It’s been sitting in my office ever since.
So I called my daughter from work and said, “You want to go on an adventure? There’s treasure to be found.” She was up for the challenge. I texted her the bright orange and green picture of the cover and said, “Go find this picture.” She found it. I said, “Open it.”
“It’s a record!” she squealed. “It’s HAIR. Can I play it?”
“Of course,” I told her. “That’s the treasure. It’s my favorite.”
“I know,” she replied.
“And it’s very special today, because Galt McDermott, the man who wrote it? He died.”
“So I want you to have that. I want you to play it, loud, and when I get home tonight I want to listen to it with you.”
“I’ll do that right now. I’ll wake people up.”
Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, Mr. McDermott. For others I might say “The rest is silence” here, but you brought too much music into the world, so we’re going to play you out with much volume and celebration.