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The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr and the Impact of Parody by Lindsey Nestor

Posted by on Monday, October 5, 2015 in News, , , , , , , .

This fall, Lipscomb University Theatre opened their season with a production of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr. Compleat Wrks is a parody play written by Adam LongDaniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, and first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987. As implied by the title, the play combines all 36 of Shakespeare’s plays into one high-energy, lowbrow comedy show. Despite the high number of characters required for such a feat, the play is performed by a cast of only three actors (traditionally all are male, though this production cast one woman.) The script uses various techniques to whip through all of the plays at lightning speed; for example: it narrates the histories as a football game with a crown instead of a football, Othello as a rap song, and Titus Andronicus as a cooking show. The show features a high number of men in drag and frequent breaking the fourth wall – so much, in fact, that improvisation becomes a main feature of the show as the cast interacts with the audience. (A dog in attendance in the amphitheatre became the butt of many jokes at the show I attended). The audience of mostly college students rolled with laughter through the entire show, including myself. The entertained and engaged reaction from an audience of mostly young people calls to mind the following question: As a generation harped on for our irreverence toward and lack of appreciation for classical works, how does a parody like this add to our understanding and/or experience of the original text?

The answer to this question may depend on one’s prior knowledge of Shakespeare. For those with little prior knowledge of Shakespeare, it is possible that a mockery of Shakespeare’s work could alter one’s view of his literary glory and create a disinterest in reading his actual plays at all. For instance, Compleat Wrks quickly dismisses Shakespeare’s comedies as all having the same plots and blows through all of them in a matter of minutes. Shakespeare enthusiasts will fervently tell you that the comedies are each valuable in their own right and convey a different message, but if one’s only exposure to the comedies is the short comedy-combination scene in Compleat Wrks, there’s not a lot of material that leaves an audience member craving more. On the other hand, a play like this does have the possibility of peaking one’s interest in Shakespeare. One scene hints at the teen-soap-esque storylines of some of Shakespeare’s works, in this production by use of metaphor that references the hit ABC Family show Pretty Little Liars. Drawing parallels between classic works and modern popular stories better known to younger generations could birth new Shakespearean scholars as the search for titles similar to their modern favorites.

For those with some knowledge of Shakespeare already, the effect of a show like Compleat Wrks is a little bit different. Is it possible for a parody to add to what we already know about Shakespeare? I think so. Parody changes the way we look at works that we know and love (or maybe don’t like at all). It reminds us that the themes of works like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet are still themes relevant to our lives, even if we don’t speak the same way or live out as dramatic plotlines as the characters in the originals. Compleat Wrks’ stoner-Romeo is the king of rash decisions, his unnecessary death a reminder to think before we act. Parody also can be the seed of real discussions of the original work. When the Compleat Wrks cast instructs audience members on how to play various parts of Ophelia’s mind for a scene, they place spectators in the middle of an important discussion about the mental health of a sometimes overlooked character in Hamlet (even if our role in Ophelia’s mind is to shout “Hamlet, I want babies now and my biological clock is ticking”).

Lovers of literature sometimes see parody as silly, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Just as laughter is often the root of deep friendships and deep conversation, parody creates a space to talk about literature from a new and meaningful way. The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr may not display the very best of the Bard’s work, but it challenges us to find meaning in things we don’t notice or don’t focus on in the original text. It encourages us to read more, learn more, and think more and differently about Shakespeare’s ubiquitous works. And hey, some good laughter is never a bad thing either.


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One Comment on “The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr and the Impact of Parody by Lindsey Nestor”

I also went to see The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr at Lipscomb, and I was also very intrigued by the concept of “parody” in telling all of the stories written by William Shakespeare. I really enjoyed the uniqueness of this play: it was interactive, the actors were able to play multiple parts brilliantly, and the content was entertaining and hilarious. However, I do have to agree that the experience of this play greatly depends on the viewers’ knowledge of Shakespearean plays.

Since the play is a parody, the original text must be considered. In my personal experience, I understood and enjoyed the comedic versions of the plays that I knew much better than the ones I did not. For example, I have not read as many of Shakespeare’s histories as some of his other plays, so during the football scene that simplified all of the histories, it was difficult for me to keep track of the “crown” that was passed. On the other hand, I know a fair amount of Shakespeare’s comedies, and when all of them were combined so haphazardly, I was disappointed that they had been so simplified.

I do agree that the parody allows audience members to completely rethink what the play truly means and explore the most important parts of the play. Parodies make the content more accessible. In this case, The Compleat Wrks made the information more modern so that viewers could pinpoint the most important aspects and respond accordingly. For example, Romeo and Juliet within the parody was less about the politics of families and much more about the angst and love of two young people, which many college students and young adults are able to understand.

Regardless of whether I knew the plays or not, I walked away from The Compleat Wrks wanting to know more about them. If I knew them, I questioned my knowledge and wanted to check their extreme teasing with the facts of the play. If I didn’t know them, I wanted to discover exactly what I was missing so that I could better understand the jokes if I ever saw this parody again. Overall, I would agree with the fact that parodies such as The Compleat Wrks of Wilm Shkspr make the material more accessible and can spark an interesting conversation between those who see it.

Mary Smith on October 18th, 2015 at 11:10 pm

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