Sunday, July 18, 2010

I think you showed a lot of heart! A lot of courage! A lot of -- as Shakespeare would say -- 'chutzpah'

I'm still making my way through Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (I'm on page 426 and loving it!) but I thought I should break up all of the Strange & Norrell posts with something different and I missed this week's blog hop so I have a new book to write about.  Well, new to this blog anyway.  I've read/seen this play so many times I don't really need to look at the pages.  I'm talking about The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Co., Jess Borgenson, Adam Long and Daniel Singer.  We watched a performance of this play in my high school Shakespeare class and not long after seeing it there I got a VHS copy of the performance and bought the book.  I'm actually on my second copy of the book as the original got lost during one of my many moves and I think I need to upgrade to a DVD copy of the play.  I'm a geek, I know.

Complete Works (abridged) is, as the title suggests, all of Shakespeare's plays as well as the sonnets condensed into a single play and performed by 3 actors.  As Singer describes in his intro note "[Audiences] of the last quarter of the twentieth century apparently possessed an urgent need to see Shakespeare performed as if it were a Tex Avery cartoon" and this is certainly what they provide.  Some of the plays get more time than the others which is just fine as I don't need to see more than a brief mention of Troilus and Cressida.  All of the comedies are combined into a single comedy, since they all use pretty much the same plots anyway, and all of the histories and King Lear are combined into an American football game, with the crown being passed back and forth between the "teams".  Othello is performed as a rap, Titus Andronicus is a cooking show, and Macbeth leads into Julius Caesar thus making up the "caesarian" section of the play.  The second act is all Hamlet, but don't worry, they perform it a few different times and there's a little work-shopping in the middle as they bring members of the audience on stage to act out Ophelia's "get thee to a nunnery" scene, complete with an examination of the subtext.

If it isn't obvious already, I'm a big Shakespeare fan,* but even if you don't know all of the little details or even all of the plays this work is hilarious.  If you can see it performed you should!  As mentioned I have a very worn VHS copy and I've seen the newest incarnation of the RSC perform The Complete History of America (abridged). I enjoyed it though my American-history buff friend this seemed to have less in-jokes than the Shakespeare play had.  If you can't see it performed, or really even if you can, you should read the book version.  There are several intros and prefaces as each author, the editor, William Shakespeare and the average reader get their input.  Then throughout the play there are footnotes.  Sometimes the notes provide additional information about a particular joke, sometimes they include additional notes on stage direction and most of the time they fall into the dick-and-fart jokes category.  See most of the jokes in the Romeo and Juliet section. 

I'll probably make future references to this play in my later posts.  I tend to read this play as a sort of literary palate cleanser, mostly because it's short and I know it so well.  And I plan on having a few Shakespeare related posts so I'm sure this will get mentioned again.

Update! I realized while re-reading this post that I can't convey the humor of the play quite as well as some quotes can.  So here is a small sampling of a few of my favorites:

"So now to the feast of Capulet
Where Romeo is doomed to meet his Juliet.
And where, in a scene of timeless romance,
He'll try to get into Juliet's pants." 14

"Here's the story of a brother by the name of Othello
He liked white women and he liked green Jello" 33

"In fact, one of [the Lesser plays], 'Troilus and Cressida', is hardly crap at all." 50

"I told these guys, 'I will NOT do dry, boring...vomitless Shakespeare for these people," 53

One part of Ophelia's Superego during the Workshop portion of the show
"Look, cut the crap, Hamlet, my biological clock is ticking and I want babies now!" 88

*I would like to say thanks to my high school English teachers that taught me to love instead of fear Shakespeare, as so many other teacher seem to do.  So thanks Courtley, Waite and Porrazzo! 

Title quote page 84

Borgenson, Jess, Adam Long, Daniel Singer.  ed. Professor J.M. Winfield.  The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged).  Applause books, New York.  1994.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for hopping by! Wow, I've never heard of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr, but that sounds like a neat premise, and quite funny too. I'll have to check that out!


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