Starring Richard Pryor As Hamlet?

Bardfilm and I have something of a game we like to play of looking for “could be Shakespeare” references in old movies. Not cases where people randomly quote Shakespeare, that’s easy. I mean moments that, in context, have nothing to do with Shakespeare but that we as Shakespeare geeks recognize could have been.

Recently I’ve been on a Gen X / 80s / Retro kick, going through the movies of my teen years, and I stumbled across Brewster’s Millions starring Richard Pryor and John Candy. Remember it? Pryor’s character finds out that he’s inherited $30 million, but if he gives it all away in a month, he’ll inherit $300 million. Of course, he can’t tell anybody (among other rules). Which leads to this scene where he tries to explain to his best friend, John Candy:

I’m gonna go crazy for a little while. People are going to think I’m crazy, but I’m not. Sound familiar?

Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on),


It’s exactly what Hamlet says to Horatio,

By itself that would just be a weird coincidence. But, dig this. He’s *just* been given the news by … a ghost. In this case, a great uncle that died and left a video-taped last will and testament. So, he’s still getting his marching orders from someone who has gone off to the undiscovered country. That’s two!

That’s still pushing it a bit, though, you say. I hear you. Then explain this? Pryor, a mediocre baseball player, makes his first phone call to his coach, played by Jerry Orbach, to tell him that he’s going to buy the team and arrange to play the New York Yankees. What does Orbach tell him?

He tells him “Nighty-night, sweet prince.”

Seriously? That’s a direct Hamlet reference (“Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”) It has no reason to be there. Orbach’s got no context to call Pryor sweet prince. I honestly believe that the director was a Shakespeare geek who recognized the similarity in the “I’m going to pretend to be crazy but I’m not” plot and threw in an easter egg for us. Found it!

Al Pacino As King Lear. Again?

AI's idea of Al Pacino as King Lear
Al Pacino as King Lear (AI version)

If Collider is to be believed, Al Pacino as King Lear is coming sometime in 2024. Normally I’d be excited by this. But, you see, you get jaded when you’ve been doing this for nearly twenty years.

You remember when you first heard about the idea…in 2009:

Seriously, has Pacino ever had it in him to play Lear?  He’s been a great actor, no doubt – but has he ever really had that kind of range?

I guess I wasn’t too keen on the idea back then. But in fairness, I was still pretty new to the game.

Random references to this movie haunt my archives, such as this one from 2011:

Which I like, in hindsight, because at least 4 of the movies mentioned did eventually come out.

How did I feel about it in 2015, where Pacino plays an actor performing King Lear?

I’m ok with that, though, because it means we get to watch Al Pacino perform some of King Lear.

Apparently, in those intervening years, I started to look forward to Pacino doing King Lear

So here we are looking ahead to 2024, thirteen years after the rumor started. Will this be the one? Will we finally see Al Pacino’s version of King Lear? Time will tell!


Guest Post : Zounds, A Rat!

Dana Gower has been a follower of ShakespeareGeek for years, mostly via Facebook, and often sends me interesting links and curiosities. He runs his own page ShaksperFauxFest. Ask him his thoughts on Sonnet 136 if you get the chance. When he sent me his thoughts on an interesting Mercutio/Marlowe connection I offered him the opportunity for a guest post!

Did William Shakespeare publicly accuse Queen Elizabeth and her advisers of ordering the murder of Christopher Marlowe?

On May 30, 1593, Marlowe died after being stabbed at a Deptford inn. The London theaters were closed at the time due to the plague, but shortly after they reopened, Shakespeare presented a new play. Not everyone may agree, but it appears fairly certain that “Romeo and Juliet” was presented in 1594 (not 1597), and that the character of Mercutio was included in order to allow Shakespeare to mention Marlowe’s death.

Christopher "Kit" Marlowe
Mercutio? Is that you?

There are a number of hints throughout the play tying Marlowe to Mercutio, but there is one stunning phrase that makes Shakespeare’s intent clear. It tends to be overlooked by, and can be confusing to, modern audiences, but it would have been clear to many of Shakerspeare’s own. Early in the play, Tybalt, the character who will kill Mercutio, has been called “more than the prince of cats” and the “king of cats.” The reference is to a series of animal tales, still popular in Shakespeare’s time, that included a cat variously named Tybalt, Tybert, or Tibert. Shakespeare clearly has named Tybalt as the cat. As he dies, Mercutio calls out, “Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death.” That phrase is a reference to a piece of doggerel from the time of King Richard III, which would have been well-known to Shakespeare, writer of the English history plays, and to many in his audience:

“The Rat, the Cat, and Lovell, our Dog
Rule over England under the Hog.”

The Hog, of course, was Richard, whose personal badge was the white boar. The Rat, the Cat, and Lovell, the Dog, represent Richard’s closest advisers. The Rat is Sir Richard Ratcliffe. The Cat is William Catesby. A descendent of Catesby’s, Robert Catesby, would one day become a leader in the Gunpowder Plot against King James the First and members of Parliament. Francis Lovell, First Viscount Lovell, was a longtime supporter and close friend of Richard’s. His heraldic device was the white wolf, but the poem probably was referring to him as Richard’s lapdog. These men were the closest of Richard’s inner circle.

If you move these positions up to Shakespeare’s own time, you have Queen Elizabeth and her own inner circle of advisers, with Queen Elizabeth taking the part of the Mouse. I don’t know which of her advisers were meant to take the place of the Dog, the Cat, and the Rat, but it really doesn’t matter. By having Mercutio label Tybalt, his killer, as the Cat, Shakespeare clearly is laying Marlowe’s death squarely at their feet.
Shakespeare’s response to Marlowe’s death, an act of incredible courage, had no immediate effect. Marlowe, of course, was still dead. None of the men said to have been with him at the time were ever held to account, and no one else dared, as far as I can tell, to publicly tie his death to the queen. Still, Shakespeare had made his point: “We are watching.”

I’ve borrowed most of this from a very short book I just self-published on Amazon, “Remembering Mercutio: Some thoughts on Michael Hastings’ death.” This is the only part about Shakespeare, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to mention, “Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat…” The connection between Marlowe and Mercutio is well-known, but I think the meaning of that line has been forgotten. I’d love to hear what everybody thinks.

Woops, Wrong Falstaff. A Geeklet Story.

I have been writing about Shakespeare on this site for literally my children’s entire lives. If you go back far enough you’ll find the sonnet I wrote for my daughter when she was born. Over the years whenever my love for my children crossed over with my love for Shakespeare, “geeklet stories” were born. The kids are off to college now so the precocious nature of the stories has waned quite a bit, but my desire to share them with the world never will.

Last week I’m driving my daughter home from college when she says, “Next week they’re showing Falstaff at school.”


“See it,” I say, barely letting her finish the sentence. “That’s the other name for Orson Welles’ Chimes At Midnight, arguably one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever put to film. Just last week I was talking about it with a coworker who asked for recommendations about Shakespeare movies and I told him that one. The fun thing is that he’s not a Shakespeare fan, he’s a movie fan, so it’s a good test because when you like a Shakespeare movie because it’s a movie, without even knowing the Shakespeare, you’ve got something special. Absolutely make sure you get the opportunity to see it if they’re showing it.”

“Did he like it?”

“He loved it. Came back into the office raving about it. You kids have seen parts of it, it’s the one with that famous I know thee not, old man speech I’ve shown you. One of my favorite Shakespeare scenes of all time.”

While I was babbling she was looking at her phone, as teenagers tend to do when their parents talk. “It says here it’s by a guy named Verdi.”

Sad face. “Oh. That’s the opera. Entirely different thing, ignore everything I just said.”

I know it’s not “entirely” a different thing, it’s still about the same Shakespeare character, and I did explain that.

Operation Othello

You never know where you’ll find some Shakespeare. I saw the trailer for the new Air movie about Nike, which prominently features people talking *about* Michael Jordan but no actual Michael Jordan. So off I went to IMDB, curious to see who would be playing him. I found it interesting that the actor in that role is listed seventh, behind the actor playing his father, Julius Tennon, who doesn’t even have a headshot. So I clicked to learn more about Julius Tennon and found …

Operation Othello is “a futuristic adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello set in the world of an elite naval special forces unit.”

Oh? Tell me more!

Othello Vintage Poster

Tennon has multiple acting credits dating back to the 1980s, not sure why he doesn’t have a headshot on file (there are plenty of photos). In fact, he’s got a production coming with Viola Davis, JuVee Productions, and this is their project. Debuting at Cannes in 2019 as a “VR series,” and I’m even more curious now about what that means:

“We believe Immersive Media is an integral part of the future of storytelling and presents a unique opportunity to bring a voice to the voiceless. As an ‘empathy machine,’ we’re excited to see how VR can allow viewers to be intimately present with powerful characters across the broad spectrum of humanity.”

“As an avid Shakespeare lover who has been lucky enough to witness and perform his profound words on stage,” Chieffo says, “I was inspired to present the original text in a way that is accessible and exhilarating to a modern audience.”

IMDB calls it a TV Movie. I’m wondering if they adapted it into something more traditional for wider release because the press release seems to imply it’s something more like a game. I don’t think we have a good name yet for immersive movies where you put on the headset and “experience” the story, but really the story is still the same no matter what you do.