“Zombie Shakespeare” has me fired up (much like Hamlet, Sr.: “My hour is almost come, / When I to sulph’rous and tormenting flames / Must render up myself”…but in a good way!) with ideas about writing and teaching piebald shadings of undeadness, especially through the lens of D&G’s BwO, which, as Boyle/Pillai suggest(s), exposes the ghostlier demarcations between the quick and the dead and promises resurrection (if not redemption) via serial afterlives…re- re- re-mediations that form and re-form prosthetic memories and relived experiences of what counts as “Shakespeare-ness”—from the ever-widening gyre of performances of his plays (sheer discontinuous overload of exponential emanations of actors/characters, scenes, speeches, lines, quotable catch-phrases, words…even down to the oscillations of a single actor’s pronunciation of a single syllable [e.g., an “O” pronounced woodenly!]…ad infinitum…), to all manner of tourist trappings (reconstructed Stratford, reconstructed Globe; fridge magnets; bobbleheads; etc.), “the man himself.” That last one certainly “opens up portals (possibilities) of disorganization”: not just documentaries, biographies, portraits, et al., but the very real potential now of ciphering the genetic afterlife of Shakespeare by unburying his DNA…digging the dust enclosed in his grave and cloning the Bard’s bones, creating a walking, talking, breathing Shakespeare zombie (“Curs’t be he that moves these bones”). Clearly, Will was already thinking that way (e.g., the emphasis on “immortality” via the relatively new and changing medium of print reiterated throughout the sonnets, plus said pitch-perfect epithet hovering above his bones).
I love the silence (once Shatner stops yappin’) that fills Boyle/Pillai’s montage of Shakespeares etre dans le gaz. The silence eerie and more enlivening than setting the sequence to words or music (like the staticy silence of Peter Brook’s LEAR with Paul Scofield)—full of emptiness, a deadness that lives.
The silence got me thinking back to the quotes lines that propelled Boyle/Pillai’s expansive ruminations… A question of remediation by attention to the medium of poetry, and especially in this case, of performed/spoken poetry. The lines were of course bound to the print medium, imprinted and bound together in the multitudinous print copies/variants of these lines through the past four centuries. But also unbound from the printed page via aural + visual medium of dramatic performance (stage, film, etc.) but also via poetry medium? That is, should we consider the medium-specificity of “poetry” (or, more particularly in this case, “blank verse”) as a further form of re-mediating Shakespeare. That is, a working definition of “poetry” as a genre typically more attentive to heightened combinations and collisions of sound and sense. We move from what seems very prosaic dialogue between Hamlet and Hamlet, Sr.’s ghost into seamless blank verse. But even the prose-y back-and-forth between undead father and son scans neatly, though each requires the other to complete the circuit of meter. Poetic rhythm in the lines, the play, Shakespeare’s corpus as a “whole” enacting a further call-and-response to the reader/viewer/auditor, performing and re-performing time and again and again the Orphic task of beckoning the other out of the darkness. Poetic rhythm understood here as inarticulate, somatic impulse, evoking parallel movements and affective performance in the “body” (construed as amalgam of physiological pulsings, shiftings, fluidities, overlaps—a form of D&G’s “BwO”) of the reader/auditor/viewer as well as in that of performer speaking (repeating by rote) and enacting (re-enacting) the rhythmic thrall of the written lines. Rhythm as a deadness (inarticulate, ineffable, “sublime” in a verymuchpostKantian sensibility—that is, “sublime” as overwhelming affect that disintegrates borders between subject and outer other, “sublime” as nontranscendent excess) that’s alive (enlivening through its insistent reiterations, its lively impulses). Rhythmic sound undoing, unthinking—viscerally, if momentarily—conscious, “made” sense. Rhythm as “an architecture of absence” (poet Charles Wright), as the music beneath and beyond the words and their meanings: a principle of organization (unrhymed pentameter base), but one that unveils the void of arationality undergirding strict sense, that yields “portals (possibilities) of disorganization.” The pentameter thrum of the blank verse structuring said dialogue comes humming along at a somatic level—approximating “HABIT” in Elaine Scarry’s understanding. The inarticulate power of the rhythm deeply felt, bodily imprinted, but realized only after the fact. The unconscious force of rhythm-in-the-words, the meter’s call to performative affect and interchange between speaker-receiver, is allegorized by the words’ content/contexts/meanings, as we work WILLfully, consciously to MARK and RENDER their meanings. What you will.
Even if/as my tangential musings misprisioned the point of the post, Boyle’s/Pillai’s prompt should not suffer. Really fine stuff. Well done!
Perhaps, too, as Second City moved on to lesser-known works, the SGF appeal began to lose its edge. I agree with Tripthi and Gregory; a reinvention of this character (or the integration of a less predictable character) could lead to a rejuvenated viewership.
Sarah’s comment makes me wonder if producers chose Shakespeare because of audience familiarity, because the monologues provided “high culture”-sounding audio for the TV show, or simply because Shakespearean texts allowed them to continue to highlight the selling point of the show — sex.
Either way, I’m sorry I missed the show’s original run. It seems painfully, awkwardly hilarious.
Sarah, thanks so much for your comments. Strangely, my idea is that Shakespearean insertion into reality television, unlike other TV genres, leads ultimately to Shakespearean erasure. My Bare Lady begins with auditions utilizing R&J text, and the women are shown rehearsing and studying only Shakespearean text; Shakespeare retains centrality onscreen at first, even as other authors are studied. It is not immediately apparent, but the women’s monologues and duologues consist of other authors as well, notably Oscar Wilde and John “’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” Ford—the work of these other authors transmitting sexual overtones of love, adultery, and incest. As the series progresses, the sexual aspects overtake the Shakespearean, and Shakespeare is expunged from the advertisements, which feature the porn stars posed sexily in front of various London landmarks.
Reality television itself may act as a mediator between the grim reality of the porn industry (itself arguably a parody of theatre), and illusion (whore to saint conversion). The “real” in reality demonstrates a particularly interesting misnomer; obviously the disruptive surveillance of the camera’s gaze forces the participants to contrive an obliviousness that further separates them from the real. This dialectical conundrum really fascinates me.
What a fascinating — and bewildering — use of Shakespeare as a signifier of high culture! The pornographic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays have been explored (by Richard Burt and others) in discussions of mass culture, but I’m curious to hear whether you think that reality television (and its characteristic features) are somehow better able to commodify Shakespeare-the-brand? Building on Britta’s post from Wednesday, I wonder if there is something in reality TV’s explicit use of meta-commentary/editing that particularly resonates with Shakespeare’s dramaturgy?
One of the more difficult moments I have in getting literature students to engage with drama as a set of instructions for recreating a real-time performance is in situating multiple perspectives within the stage frame. It’s often difficult for them to intuit how the aside works when there are other characters on the stage that could overhear; The Office’s similar breaking of the 4th wall by having characters look directly at the camera is a much more recognizable trope, and I look forward to discussing it in future classes. Thank you for your post!
As a fellow Shakespeare teacher and editor, I agree with you as to the value of denaturing the idea of the Romantic genius and resituating Shakespeare as an operator in a larger context of shifting capital. My students and I answer these questions by turning to questions of source study, collaboration, editorial theory, adaptation, book history, and contemporary performance practices — as do many of my fellow Shakespeareans — just to point out that there are other ways of addressing the monolith Bard that don’t rely on the duality of Bloomian reverence or anti-Stratfordian sentiments.
What has always been the value of the authorship question for me is the way that the so-called authorship “controversy” offers opportunities for students to engage in a critical analysis of the cultural biases about status that underlie these questions: why does it matter that Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde thought that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare? What kinds of stakes do various players have in this fight? Why are conspiracy theories so compelling?
Thanks for this: Interesting to consider the elaborations of the aside in the context of Restoration theater. The aside was a meta, mega production in the later seventeenth century. The spatial framework of the aside— often very close to the stage action — drew such affective, linguistic, and social interaction into theatrical time. Theatrical time thus becomes a kind of spacetime hypothetical, mashing and remixing social and theatrical space with the “as if/ what if” of a more open ended, experimental time image. In The Office context, it is fun to imagine the ways in which this same apparatus dislocates and disorients the spatial citations of office space (often explicitly understood in spatial terms; in some instances seemingly as a resistance to “clock time,” at others as a re-doubling of as much: “the cubicle”).
Excellent post, Sarah. And I very much agree with you, Tripthi. The Sassy Gay Friend, employing “common sense,” functions as a figure of containment, taming excessive passions and what appear to be socially harmful or unproductive desires. In doing so, he reframes tragedy as comedy and integrates the heroines into a “functional” affective order. How much more interesting it would be to see a Queer Gay Friend, intervening to help Shakespeare’s characters more happily embrace the barbed edges of their excessive and/or unsanctioned desires. Baz Luhrrman’s Mercutio is almost such a figure. As is (maybe) Annie Lennox’s chanteuse in Jarman’s version of Marlowe’s Edward II.
Excellent post. And timely, as Jen Boyle has noted. The longstanding author fetish coincides with an equally dense history of the whistleblower’s place in culture, specifically literary culture. If Shakespeare has been toted as the author “not of an age, but for all time,” Anonymous serves as a useful reminder of the whistleblower’s anxious situatedness within the politics and particularities of specific ages and times. The culture of paranoia as marked by whistleblowers is just as secure as is Shakespeare’s identity as the author whose authorship is always a matter of news. The irony of course is that both fetishes propagate the theory of a direct relationship between authorial identity and authorial responsibility. The questions you raise at the end of your post are crucial because they invite us to explore the pedagogical possibilities (also the problems and questions) that reclaim the reader’s/viewer’s power and place within what Edward Soja might refer to as the “trialectics” of the real and imagined reader, author, and meanings.