November 1: Shakespeare and Nice Buns

All the world's a mall.

There’s a goodly amount of theater stuff in the Harvard Classics, which they choose to call by the more fancifying name of “drama.” But in the Daily Reading Guide – the “tasting menu” of the 50 volumes – you could call the drama selections “Act I, Scene i: An Anthology.”

Not that that’s all bad. In fact it’s been educational. One thing I’ve learned as a TV writer from this year of reading has been to be less afraid of the obviously expository. Your audience needs exposition! And that’s what we get today, pages of it, in the opening of “The Tempest.”

Of course exposition on TV, where people can bail on you instantaneously, is a little different than in the theater, where the audience is eager to get into the story, because they paid for their tickets and so are rooting for their money. (Digression: when I was a well-paid TV writer, a condition that sadly no longer obtains, we used to go to New York where we’d see Broadway shows, and there’s an example of people rooting for their money. I never saw jokes so over-liked.) Also, I suspect, people liked lots of fancy talkin’ in Shakespeare’s time -- talk is cheap, and the Elizabethean budget was not exactly spacious. So you get stuff like this:
...I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated
To closeness 7 and the bettering of my mind
With that which, but by being so retir’d,
O’er-priz’d all popular rate, 8 in my false brother
Awak’d an evil nature; and my trust,
Like a good parent, did beget of him
A falsehood, in its contrary as great
As my trust was; which had indeed no limit,
A confidence sans 9 bound.
I do like Prospero's admission, here, that his usurpation is kind of his fault; but otherwise, about the themes and stuff, I can’t say. Or rather I could try to say, but I’m intimidated because it’s Shakespeare. There is one line, however, that really sticks out, and perhaps has been unappreciated by scholars.
Gon. I’ll warrant him for drowning though the ship were no stronger than a nut-shell and as leaky as an unstanched wench.
As leaky as an unstanched wench. Gonzalo is, we are informed, a wise old counselor, so presumably this person was played by the Philip Baker Hall of his day. And he’s saying something dirty! I can’t tell you how tickled I was when I put this together. You see, I (and I am far from only among my comedy writing friends) have an acute appreciation for the trope of old people talking sexy and/or with hiphop slang – like the rappin’ Granny in the trailer for The Wedding Singer or the Granny who says “He’s got nice buns!” in the trailer to, I think, The Runaway Bride. It’s always hilarious! Sexy talk and/or hiphop slang is like the absolute last thing you’d expect an old person to say! It’s like the record-scratch sound effect – age cannot wither, nor custom stale, its awesome effect. Especially in a trailer.

And here I thought the “I speak jive” lady in “Airplane!” was the godmother of this trope. But no, it’s Shakespeare. That dude should have written trailers.

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