Dr Seuss VS Shakespeare. Epic Rap Battles of History #12

Date: 2011
Posted by: Nice Peter
Cast: George Watsky (William Shakespeare), Nice Peter [Peter Shukoff] (The Cat in the Hat), EpicLLOYD [Lloyd Ahlquist] (Things 1 and 2)
Credits: Beat: Edward Cayce; Sean Barlett: Editing and Illustration
Duration: 2.50

There doesn’t seem to be any easy way of producing a list of what are the most viewed Shakespeare videos on YouTube, but there’s no arguing over which is the most popular of all. Currently boasting 79,272,036 views, this brash jape brings together William Shakespeare and the author of The Cat in the Hat in the promised epic rapping battle. First William Shakespeare fires off some piquant insults (“I’ll put a slug between your shoulder blades / Then ask what light through yonder poser breaks?), then The Cat responds (Dr Seuss himself remains silent throughout) with the expected retorts (“you bore people to death / you leave a classroom looking like the end of Macbeth”). Shakespeare fires back with a spectacularly rapid rap, gaining the others’ respect, only for the Cat to fight back with Things 1 and 2 … So who wins? You decide.

Epic Rap Battles of History is a massively popular YouTube series, indeed one of the leading channels on the site. The brainchild of Peter Shukoff (‘Nice Peter’) and Lloyd Ahlquist (‘EpicLLOYD’), it pits together historical and cultural figures, some fictional and some real, in comic contents that strike a successful balance between goofy humour and credible rap. Indeed the music tracks themselves have been released as successful singles, which along with an accompanying live show hour help support the high quality of the video productions. Others in the series include Darth Vader vs. Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein vs. Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates, and Romeo and Juliet vs Bonnie and Clyde. The series began in 2010 and to date has reached five ‘seasons’, earning a number of Streamy awards along the way.

So what does this tells us about Shakespeare? He’s a guy in tights with a skull who uses weird words but must be honoured nonetheless. He strikes a peculiar balance between clown and sage, someone instantly recognisable yet never quite understood. It’s akin to the confusion that we feel when we look at the disappointing portraits of the man and try to square the balding bourgeois with our feelings of what a poet must look like within. He is pitted against Dr Seuss as one tongue-twister versus another, each playing with words for their own sake, each born rappers. It’s a video about mastery of language. It’s about respect for the man, no matter how he dresses.

There is – inevitably – a behind the scenes video as well.

Links: YouTube page
Epic Rap Battles of History site
Epic Rap Battles of History forum
Wikipedia entry on Epic Rap Battles of History

Dog Hamlet

Date: 2012
Posted by: Picuco09
Cast: Hamlet (Hamlet)
Credits: Created by Eduardo J. Diaz, Mark Leydorf
Duration: 2.32

It is the 23rd of April, 2016, and all the world over people will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the passing of one of the most successful of all YouTube contributors. William Shakespeare was an Elizabethan playwright with extraordinary insight into what would appeal to a twenty-first century audience with a mobile in its hand and only a few minutes’ attention span. As of today, should you type in his name into the YouTube searchbox, you will get 1,580,000 results. That’s more than any author’s name that I can see (Dickens? a paltry 474,000. J.K. Rowling? a mere 203,000). This is a writer who remains right on the button, with a name worth searching for.

And so, to celebrate this quatercentenary, here is as good an online Shakespeare video as you could hope to find. It is the Hamlet “to be” soliloquy, as seen through the eyes of a New York fox terrier by the name of Hamlet (is he the first Hamlet ever to play Hamlet?). Shakespeare’s somewhat altered words are spoken for him, but we see the world through his eyes (the camera remains at dog height throughout). It’s a delightful jeu d’esprit, with some obvious but excusable punning (“must give us paws”, for example), smart camerawork and editing, a tasteful harpsichord soundtrack, and central performance of great feeling. Yes it’s mostly cute, but it is also a little wise in its way it takes Hamlet from resignation to contentment, and artful in how it marries affection for Shakespeare with affection for a pet.

No other author could have inspired such a work. That’s what we should be celebrating.

Links: YouTube page

Drunk Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

Date: 2012
Posted by: inisnua
Cast: Adam Zpeka (Romeo), Angela Smith (Juliet), Kevin Meehan (Benvolio/himself), Jered McLenigan (Mercutio), Mike Doherty (Tybalt/Jake Blouch), Brian McCann (Friar Lawrence), Darin Dunston (The Prince), Bill Van Horne (The Nurse)
Credits: Filmed and edited by Katie Reing and Jared Michael Delaney. Conceived and directed by Jared Michael Delaney. Production company: Inis Nua Theatre Company
Duration: 7.07

It is undoubtedly true that Shakespeare, down the centuries, has not always been performed sober. It is only recently, however that the idea of ‘drunk Shakespeare’ has been encouraged to develop as a deliberate policy rather than as an accidental embarrassment. And so it is that a mini-genre of drunk Shakespeare videos has started to appear on YouTube. They come in two forms – either individuals slurring into their phones, or theatre companies who try to make an art out of it.

Among the pioneers of the form are American theatre company Inis Nua who started filming a Drunk Shakespeare series of short films in 2012, for a ‘Craicdown’ theatre show, videos that then made it on to YouTube. The video here is good example: a clearly inebriated narrator summarises the story of Romeo and Juliet, while actors play out the scenes and mouth his words. There is more calculation here than the sheer abandonment to drink might suggests, with the narrator getting his words right without need for too many cuts, and the matching of performances to narration being precisely done. As with all drunks, what starts off funny doesn’t take too long to become tedious, but this rendition of the play amuses for much of the time, and even illuminates a little. (The language is a little strong in places, please note)

Other have followed in Inis Nua’s wake. There is even a Drunk Shakespeare Society, which describes itself as a “company of PROFESSIONAL drinkers with a serious Shakespeare problem”. They perform in New York bars after a few stiff drinks, and encourage the audience to do the same, which no doubt helps the entertainment hugely.

What other author could be so honoured? James Joyce no doubt, but few besides. Drunken Austen or Dickens just wouldn’t work at all – there isn’t the same sense of affinity or affection. Drunken Shakespeare is a questing for poetry, a struggle with words through an alcoholic haze to pinpoint truth and beauty. Shakespeare himself gives us drunkenness in Twelfth Night and Henry IV(i) that finds an extra poetry through inebriation, an elation and a sadness. It’s just that the actors involved are that much better able to convey this for being sober.

(Actually, now that I think of it, maybe drunk Austen could work…)

Links: YouTube page
Inis Nua Theatre Company
The Drunk Shakespeare Society

Hamlet – The Fall Remix

Date: 2008
Posted by: SteveR
Cast: Johnston Forbes-Robertson (Hamlet)
Credits: Edited by SteveR. Music: The Fall, ‘There’s a Ghost in My House’
Duration: 2.34

Shakespeare films cut to pop music are legion on YouTube, so one looks for something with a little more imagination than the usual matching of heartfelt scenes to maudlin ballads. This example is not all that adroitly constructed, but its bizarre juxtaposition of classical actor in silent Shakespeare with the Fall catches the attention.

The actor is Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, one of the greats of the English stage of his time, who at the end of his career chose to have his Drury Lane Company’s production of Hamlet immortalised by the cinematograph. Directed in 1913 by Hay Plumb for the Hepworth Manufacturing Company, and filmed at Walton-on-Thames studios and on location at Lulworth Cove (seen here), the feature length film – an hour-and-a-half long – sought to capture in amber a famous theatrical performance. It did that to a degree, with Forbes-Robertson showing sufficient signs of greatness in his sensitive reading of the part, for all that he was sixty at the time of filming. But film is never a simple reflection of reality. Hepworth’s Hamlet captured a moment of change, in which the plausibility of the theatre was challenged by the credibility of the screen. Much of this filmed Hamlet was absurd – illogical as narrative, creaking as performance – exposed by the camera that was supposedly mere servant to the greater art of theatre. Yet Forbes-Robertson transcends this – he gives a film performance, alert to the particular needs of the camera (if one makes allowance for some histrionics and the limited camera technique). We see what he is thinking, and believe it to be true, which is the key to cinema. It is a performance that has enough about it that is timeless, which can therefore bear screening today, and trial by mashup: though the few scenes here do not show the theatrical knight to his best advantage.

The music is post-punk band The Fall’s 1987 version of Holland, Dozier and Holland’s “There’s a Ghost in My House”, originally recorded by R. Dean Taylor in 1967. It’s a characteristic rendition of a catchy original, with Mark E. Smith’s flat, deadpan delivery offset by the punchy musical accompaniment. It is used here as jokey counterpoint to the creaky ghost scenes from the 1913 Hamlet. But what a marvellous cultural crossroads is revealed. An actor born in 1853, who achieved greatness in the late-Victorian theatre, was filmed in 1913 and preserved thereafter, married to music by the composers of so many 60s pop hits, specifically a song from 1967, reimagined in 1987, then mashed-up together in a video in 2008. The breadth of reference in a two-minute video is huge, and all in the service of a play from 1600. Art is eternal, so long as we are able to replay it.

Vimeo page
The full 1913 Hamlet can be seen on BFI Player (without music of any kind)

Stripping Shakespeare – #1 Emilia’s Red Room of Pain, Othello

Date: 2014
Posted by: WMMoriginals
Cast: Sapna Gandhi (Emilia)
Credits: Directed by Ambika Leigh. Creator of Stripping Shakespeare: Nicol Razon
Duration: 2.44

So what’s this – fifty shades of Shakespeare? Emilia’s speech, ‘Yes, a dozen; and as many to the vantage as would’ from Othello, Act 4 Scene 3, is played out in some bondage setting, with a dominatrix speaking the words in taunting fashion to a hooded man, while another woman swings upside-down on a swing. Provocatively staged (but never greatly so), Emilia’s speech becomes a teasing taunt turned into practice, putting emphasis on the words “But I do think it is their husbands’ faults if wives do fall” – with this video’s scenario being the consequence.

This one of a series of ‘Stripping Shakespeare’ videos produced by an American filmmaking collective, We Make Movies, that brings together trained actors and erotic dancers. Series creator Nicol Razon states:

I wanted to create a series that was somewhere between Kubrick’s subconscious cinema and Reading Rainbow. Shakespeare has always been a love and stripping, always a temptation. Stripping Shakespeare will not only showcase the talents of classically trained actors, erotic dancers, and filmmakers, but also strip Shakespeare’s text down to its meaning enriching our understanding of poetry that is usually robbed of its naughty bits.

Others in the short series are Tongues, Tails & Teases: Kate & Petruchio, Taming Of The Shrew, Her Body’s Lust: Iago’s Dream, Othello (which makes use of archive film of Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones) and An Unlessoned Girl: Portia, The Merchant of Venice. They bring Shakespeare into the world of fetish, pole dancing, striptease and burlesque, and what is most striking is how well they are done. The passages from the plays are cleverly chosen, with the words spoken by capable actors with lip-smacking relish. The videos are stylishly made, turning what might have only been a tacky joke into something witty at least and insightful at best.

It looks as though a longer series was originally planned, and one can only speculate why more have not been produced. Shakespeare can certainly supply the filmmakers with plenty of suitable material.

Links: YouTube page
Stripping Shakespeare channel
Stripping Shakespeare website
We Make Movies