You, the dedicated/casual/first time/accidental/reluctant reader of Dwarf and Giant do not like Shakespeare, or so I have gathered from your relative lack of clicks on any Shakespeare-related post I’ve written. (Like this one and this one and this one – which was an April Fool’s Day post.) I mean, you and I have a lot in common, but this one thing is where we go our separate ways, and I am concerned. It’s not that my tastes are better than yours – far from it, I am sure [pauses for a shot from the CheezWhiz canister] – it’s just that I think you’re really missing out.
Are you put off by the fact that he’s a dead, white male, and we already read too many dead, white males? Fair enough – but bump some other dead, white male off your list. Not this guy.
Or is it just that the language puts you off?
Listen, with just a bit of a push, I bet you could poke through the very thin barrier of Elizabethan language – which is actually the earliest form of modern English. It’s not as tough as you think. This slight push would connect you to a treasure of poetry, prose, hilarity, tragedy, horror, romance, philosophy, irreverence, humanity, heroism, sex and fart jokes. I used to do Shakespeare in schools, and I’m telling you, kids with little to no experience with the language could still understand what was going on. That’s good writing (and perhaps…. good acting). You just have to get in there and acclimate, like when you start a new TV series and it takes a couple episodes to click.
As an aperitif, I offer here a few non-Shakespearean pieces done in the linguistic style of Shakespeare. I hope it will be enough to tease you into the real thing.
First, a special guest, a buddy of mine, Jordan Monsell. He has written two prime examples of this kind of work: Pulp Shakespeare (based on Pulp Fiction) and Ministers of Grace (based on Ghostbusters). Here’s our conversation, then a few recommendations.
Eric Larkin – You and I met go-kart racing for a mutual friend and fellow Shakespeare-o-phile’s bachelor party. Since then, I see you at every comic and Halloween convention. You did art for Last Spookstore and have had your own shows besides. I also see your name constantly pop up in LA theater happenings. What exactly do you do?
Jordan Monsell – Too much! Some people have told me I need to focus on one thing to make it in Hollywood, but I have so many interests and try to devote time to all of them. I received my degree in theatre but my bread and butter comes from doing visual art—storyboards, silhouettes, posters–which is why you have seen me at art shows. Those mostly fall on weekends, so during the week I take my laptop to the local café and write.
EL – So, what’s the first Shakespeare you remember and what was your reaction to it?
JM – My mom took my brother and I to see a double feature performed by Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. I think the plays were As You Like It and Julius Caesar. I wasn’t much older than 7 at the time but remember being in awe. The stage was outside, and I recall the actors emerging from the trees wearing masks. I was on the edge of my seat and knew from that moment I wanted to be a part of this magic.
EL – You’ve done adaptations or parodies – whatever we want to call it – of Pulp Fiction and Ghostbusters. Why pick those two? Why use Shakespeare at all?
JM – I wanted to select films that were well known with audiences. The Wizard of Oz, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came to mind. Star Wars, The Godfather, and The Big Lebowski had been adapted by other authors. I settled on Ghostbusters because it is one of my all-time favorite films. But both Pulp Fiction and Ghostbusters are very quotable and for those people whom Shakespeare is a mystery, these plays take them by the hand as if to say “see? You know the plot and the characters, it’ll be a piece of cake!” The best comments I got after Pulp Shakespeare were from people who had never seen a Shakespeare play before and would say they were so happy they could understand the language and enjoy it…and that they would now go check out plays actually written by Shakespeare! That’s really the most rewarding part of it–to introduce the poetry of William Shakespeare to new audiences.
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. 38 if you count Cardenio. And that’s wonderful. But people are hungry for more. Just recently CNN did an article about The American Shakespeare Center in Virginia which is offering to pay $25,000 for new Shakespearean adaptations.
There is a myth that Shakespeare isn’t relatable to modern American audiences. That Shakespeare was something they were forced to read in school. By taking modern films, popular films, and translating it into the poetry of Shakespeare bridges a gap…becomes almost a gateway drug for audiences and readers alike.
EL – How do you start on an adaptation, and what are the tough/easy parts of the process?
JM – There are some excellent resources online where you can type in a word and it will tell you if Shakespeare used that word in any of his plays, if so how often, and in what context. Setting Ghostbusters in early 17th Century London is problematic because there weren’t terms like proton pack, nuclear accelerator, or containment unit. Even the term ‘scientist’ didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time. But there were philosophers, and alchemists. People did hold a strong belief of the supernatural, Shakespeare including ghosts in 6 of his plays.
So while finding replacement for such scientific terms could be tough, is was also fun going down the research rabbit hole and learning about people like John Dee who was the court astronomer and occultist to Queen Elizabeth the First.
The easy parts are in finding the Shakespearean counterparts to the characters in the films. The back and forth banter between Peter and Dana in Ghostbusters reminded me instantly of Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, while other characters are a combination of people. Slimer for example uses lines spoken by Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch.
EL – Ah – that’s perfect. What are you working on next?
JM – We did a staged reading of Ministers of Grace at the Hollywood Fringe Festival back in 2014 and that was a lot of fun. Ultimately, I’d like to do a full scale production of the play with ghost puppets, costumes, and sets. Perhaps take the play to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
And I still might write Shakespeare’s Oz. There is definitely a Twelfth Night/Tempest feel to it:
“What country, friend, is this?”
“This is Oz, my lady.”
EL – Right on. Thanks, bub. See ya at Midsummer Scream.
Here is a short selection of the best Shakespeare adaptations, homages, parodies, pastiches, burlesques: any of these could work, depending on what was done with the source material.
Ministers of Grace by our man Jordan Monsell – This is, of course, Ghostbusters as Shakespeare. They’re all here: Doctor Venkman, Lady Dana, Sirs Egon, Winston and Ray, the fool Louis and Gozer the Traveler/Demon — plus a soliloquy for Slimer. If you know your Shakespeare, this is actually the kind of movie he would have made, if he’d made movies. It even gets the thumbs-up from Dan Aykroyd himself. Jordan is doing a signing at Dark Delicacies on May 26th – so you can ply him with your questions in person – and get an actual physical copy for him to sign. (You should check out Dark Delicacies anyway; pretty sweet digs.
Pulp Shakespeare – Monsell with Ben Tallen, Aaron Greer, Chris Adams and Brian Watson Jones – Yep, Pulp Fiction. This one crushed the 2011 Hollywood Fringe Fest and was an Encore selection at the FringeNYC Fest.
The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski by Adam Bertocci – The Dude becomes The Knave. A sample:
On our most holy Sabbath I am sworn
To keep tradition, form and ceremony.
The seventh and the last day rests the Jew;
I labour not, nor ride in chariot,
Nor handle gold, nor e’en play the cook,
And sure as Providence I do not roll.
Hath not a Jew rights? Hath not a Jew hands,
Organs, bowling-balls, Pomeranians?
If you schedule us, must you not do right?
If we step o’er the line, do we not mark it nought?
The Sabbath; I’ll roll not, God-a-mercy.
Again, if Shakespeare had made movies….
Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope and its many pre- and se-quels by Ian Doescher – Exactly as advertised, even available in a box set – our greatest modern mythology, retold in 400 year-old language, with fantastic illustrations by Nicolas Delort.
Ian Doescher has also done Deadpool in a Shakespearean setting and William Shakespeare’s Christmas Carol. The Christmas Carol is a bit different from the others, in that it incorporates characters like Hamlet’s Ghost, Benedick & Beatrice and even Christopher Marlowe, who was a friend and collaborator of Shakespeare’s. The Deadpool is… Deadpool. With a fancy collar.
Ok, so if you think the real-deal is too much hassle, break off one of these and see how that goes. I swear to you: if you give Shakespeare a chance, the spaces inside you will grow larger due to being filled with great things. I beg of thee.