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
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.