Shakespeare Writes Comedy26 July 2018
It was 1578. William Shakespeare was 14 years old when he left school. Then he disappeared. Between 1578 and 1582, there is no documented evidence linking the bard to any job or location. Nobody knows what Shakespeare did in those years. Until now.
Shakespeare was sitting by some books in a large and comfortable chair. His intellect was ensconced in some beautiful literature, reposing his mind in the Rowden White Library. A short, little man swiftly walked into the space and wasted the tranquillity.
“Comedy!! Comedy in the library!! Woo! Hey everyone, there’s going to be a comedy show here in a few minutes, so make sure you hang around for that. We’re really funny.”
Our bard’s eyes twitched slightly, observing with puzzlement as someone with long, frizzy hair began hanging a banner to the wall, all folded and concealing its content. A nervous looking denizen clad in blue appeared, shoulders hunched. He helped her unfold the banner and stick it to the wall. The Melbourne University Comedy Revue Board were the words on the banner.
Shakespeare remained and watched the show with bemusement. At one point, a strange-looking lad with a square jaw spoke of a foreign man called “Voldemort” doing a foreign thing called “wanking”, to which the audience around descended into deep cachinnations. Our bard sat, frowning and confused, not understanding the source of the humour. At another point, a woman with long dark hair was being horribly rude to a bewhiskered wight with a monotonous voice. Again, it was met with rumbustious laughter. Our bard could not understand such witchcraft, a hypnosis so strong that these people were sinking into a trance and laughing at such drool. The show ended to Shakespeare’s relief, and a woman with fair hair and a loud voice ran onto the stage.
“Thanks so much for coming guys! And if you’re interested in getting involved, we also have radio and a writing session on Fridays, so you can come along and write some sketches. Woo!”
Our bard nodded to himself. These folks were in dire need of some better writing and more intelligent jokes. It would be his duty now to help these self-proclaimed comedians reach a superior level of wit.
Shakespeare opened the door and shuffled into Mary Cooke A. There was a smattering of people, many from the loathly play he saw a few days prior.
“Hello,” a friendly person with short hair and square glasses greeted our bard, “what’s your name?”
“Hi William, I’m Alex. Are you here for rowdy writing?”
“I am present to write a comedy.”
“Awesome, so we’re just about to go around the table and pitch some sketch ideas.”
“Excellent! And prithee can I perform as well?”
“Of course! JG here is the Artistic Director,” they said, pointing to the nervous-looking boy clad in blue. “And Iszzy is the Producer,” pointing to the girl with frizzy hair. “So chat to them if you want to be in the show.”
Before our bard could engage with these ideas, the sound of conversation withered in the air. JG pointed at those in the room, one by one, and asked for their ideas. Our bard gaped at the quality of these pitches.
“Annoying, tall people at gigs.”
“Imagine trying to drive Brum… the car.”
“We could do a sketch about someone pushing the traffic light too many times.”
Iszzy was furiously typing these down, an intense workout for such fruitless ideas. JG finally pointed at our bard.
“Do you have an idea? It can be anything, doesn’t have to be funny. I know it’s your first time.”
Our bard smugly smiled. He’d been hiding a high-quality joke with much delight, gleefully anticipating their reaction. Oh, how they’ll be in awe of his skill and ask him to return. He cleared his throat.
“I doth wonder if we could do a pun on stable and barn.”
He chuckled and looked around the room proudly.
“I’m sorry, I don’t get it.”
“Dost not thou know? Stables and barns both inhabit a farm, but stable also means firm, which is cheeky innuendo, and barn doth sound like bairn, which doth mean child in Scottish gaelic. So, if a husband on a farm hath a stable, he will also have a barn.”
Shakespeare smiled expectantly at a sea of frowning faces, loudly laughing through clenched teeth. There was a long pause from the group of self-professed comedians.
“Nerd,” muttered the man with whiskers in a low and monotonous voice.
The woman with long and dark hair fell into hysterics, then chuckled, laughing harder at the man’s monosyllabic utterance than Shakespeare’s clever pun. “Oh my god, Shane,” she said amid some chuckles.
“I think it could be a good sketch,” lied JG.
The short, little man at the other end of the table spoke up, “I disagree. I’ve just been reading some Bergson, who was a French philosopher who wrote about comedy. The trick to good comedy writing isn’t puns. Rather, Bergon suggests writing about someone who is not in control of their situation.”
“Thanks, Schaffy,” JG muttered. “What do you think of that, Will?”
“Well how about,” Shakespeare reasoned, “we get a man to wear yellow stockings and cross garters.” He proceeded to cackle uncontrollably at his own joke, a response that was met with complete silence.
“Yeah, we can put that down. It’s a bit dated though,” Iszzy said.
“Yeah,” agreed the woman with dark hair. “Shakespeare already did it in Twelfth Night and it wasn’t even funny in that.”
“We get it, Lucy,” Shane said monotonously. “You read Shakespeare.”
Lucy responded with unreasonably loud laughter. Shakespeare twitched a whit at mention of his name.
“Okay,” JG interjected. “We’ve got our ideas down, so let’s start writing.”
The following Wednesday our bard milled behind a bookshelf and jittered from foot to foot.
He was about to perform a short play he had written in their weekly comedy show, gracing the audience with more sophisticated humour and a subtle style of acting. The other comedians were warming up too, some in the most peculiar of ways. Iszzy was going over her lines while nodding her head, and Lucy was running around in circles. Shane just watched her bemused. The woman with fair hair was walking around and randomly hugging other people, while a man with orange hair stood back laughing. ‘Twas a truly bizarre group of people.
JG gathered everyone together and instructed they form a circle and place their hand in its centre. They then lifted their hands simultaneously and quickly, all chanting some inaudible phrase. Shakespeare laughed at their absurdity.
Iszzy ran onto some floor (she called it the stage) and delivered a prologue to those sitting by some books. The prologue soon ended and JG ushered our bard forward, pushing him onto the floor, wishing him luck for his first ever performance. ‘Twas now the time to perform his droll script, a convoluted story of three couples finding love amid mistaken identities and lies. He pulled a long wig from his bag and wriggled it onto his head, applying some makeup as well. He then lunged upon the floor.
He’d been up there a while, delivering a substantially long monologue. The other comedians were all behind a bookshelf, watching him explore the psychology of his characters to a confused and silent crowd.
“I ‘guised myself as my dear Annie’s bed, to touch and feel her skin so close to mine,
but now dear Anne believes I am her bed, I must maintain it also in my head.”
He proceeded to throw the wig off and collapse to the floor, assuming the shape of a bed.
“And now I too believe I am a bed.”
Nobody was laughing with his wit, but he was having such a merry time he couldn’t care of such matters, and his fellow comedians were smiling backstage in a welcoming sort of way. He ascended to the chairs and threw off his wig. There were six characters in his play, and many disguised themselves as the other characters, but as Shakespeare played them all, it was very difficult to follow such the mumbled ramblings of a befuddled fool.
Thirty minutes had passed and our bard was still performing. Many an audience member sitting by some books had now left the literary realms of the library.
The other comedians were standing awkwardly by the books, their smiles were beginning to fade.
“He’s been up there for half an hour now,” Lucy moaned.
“It’s his first sketch,” Iszzy said.
“Yeah, I’d feel bad telling him to stop,” JG lamented.
It was now quite dark outside and our bard was still reciting his seemingly hilarious tale about three intertwining couples. His fellow comedians were all still milling backstage. Some of them had gone and come back, and while most remained present in figure, their minds were elsewhere. Our bard smiled, clenched his teeth, and ended the play with a dance, jumping about the floor while waving his arms disjointedly. Iszzy stumbled onto the stage, fatigued and now uninspired, to a completely empty audience.
“Thanks so much for coming guys! And if you’re interested in getting involved, we also have… radio and a… writing session on… Friday. Come along and write some sketches… um… woo!”
Author’s note: Please join the Mudcrabs. We love puns, and befuddled fools are especially welcome. Original art of the bust of Shakespeare is by Bethany Cherry.