Monthly Archives: October 2015

A skit of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

News comes that the publisher Hogarth has commissioned several authors to write novels based, however loosely, on Shakespeare’s plays. Margaret Atwood, for instance, will take on The Tempest, while Gillian Flynn will tackle Hamlet. According to a New York Times piece by Alexandra Alter, Jeanette Winterson asked to be given The Winter’s Tale — “and,” recalled Winterson, “they looked at me like I was insane.”
That’s not surprising, given that the first half is a grotesque tragedy and the second half is a romp (complete with a character, presumed dead, choosing to pretend to be a statue).
For a quick precis of the play, here is a short musical version of The Winter’s Tale, taken from Nestlings Press’s book Meet the Shakespeares.

The Winter’s Tale

NARRATOR: Good evening, and welcome to The Winter’s Tale. Our play opens as Leontes, King of Sicilia, decides for absolutely no reason that his wife, Queen Hermione, is cheating on him with Polixenes, King of Bohemia. He assigns one of his lords to poison Polixenes, but the lord helps Polixenes to escape instead. So Leontes locks up Queen Hermione. Well, let him explain it.

LEONTES: There are those who say – and you may be among them –
That jealousy is irrational.
But for centuries the drama where Pop accuses Mama
Has been extremely fash’nable.
And it doesn’t even matter if the cheating is real.
The very thought can make folks squeal.
So if your flaw is tragic, it’s box-office magic.
Three cheers for adultery.
Gimme an A! [CHORUS, from behind curtain: A!]
Gimme a D! [CHORUS: D!]
I can’t believe my wife is cheating on me.

HERMIONE [poking her head in]: I’m not cheating on you!

LEONTES [waves hand dismissively]: Ssh.
And the great thing is, that if I cry adultery,
I’m free to be a sociopath.
I can be a total rotter, endangering my daughter
And making neighbours feel my wrath.
And because I’ve fallen under an irrational spell,
With a snap of the fingers – [snap] – I’m well.
You may think I’m addle-pated, but the plot is highly rated.
Three cheers for adultery.
Gimme an A! [CHORUS: A!]
Gimme a D! [CHORUS: D!]
It’s fun to think my wife is cheating on me.

NARRATOR: Hermione gives birth to a daughter in prison. Leontes, convinced for absolutely no reason that Polixenes is the father, orders Antigonus, another of his lords – he’s running out of them by now – to take the baby into the wilderness and leave her to die. He puts Hermione on trial. Then word comes that their other child has died. Hermione collapses. Emilia, Hermione’s lady-in-waiting, says the Queen is dead, but she has really gone into hiding.

HERMIONE: I got a little secret, if you promise not to tell.
[CHORUS: We promise. We promise.]
People think I’m dead but I am feeling rather well.
[CHORUS: Do tell us. Do tell us.]
My husband’s off his rocker, so I’m livin’ in a hut.
All sealed up just like King Tut.
So nobody expects any lines from me.
Until Act Five I’m free.

I can sit around the dressing room and have a little snooze.
[CHORUS: Do tell us. Do tell us.]
Maybe if it’s boring I can sip a little booze.
[CHORUS: We’re jealous. We’re jealous.]
I lie on the couch with a glass of sauvignon,
Watch New Girl. Deschanel is so mignon.
I munch a little cracker with a layer of Brie.
Until Act Five I’m free.

Any actors who are list’ning, if you want a little nap.
[CHORUS: Do tell us. Do tell us.]
Try to find a role with a really long gap.
[CHORUS: You tell us. You tell us.]
People say the show, it must go on.
But it goes on without me while I’m savouring a prawn.
Darling, did you just get a tweet from me?
Until Act Five I’m free.
I do very little, but I still get a fee.
HERMIONE, CHORUS: Until Act Five I’m free!

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, Antigonus, who has been assigned to abandon the baby daughter in the deserts of Bohemia, finds himself staring into the face of a bear. This is where we get the most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare: Exit, pursued by a bear.

ANTIGONUS: You’ve read Shakespeare’s plays, so you’ll know that he’s famous
For tales in which everyone dies.
The classic is Hamlet, whose play ran the gamut
Of murder and spirits and lies.
Had Titus Andronicus a nice gin and tonic as
He sat with his wife for a meal.
It wasn’t her fault as he passed her the salt,
That she didn’t detect a faint squeal.
But the play The Winter’s Tale
Has a fate to make you quail.
I reach my last scene, and imagine what’s there:
Exit pursued by a bear.
CHORUS: I reach my last scene, and imagine what’s there.
Exit pursued by a bear.

ANTIGONUS: Poor Richard the Third wondered why no one heard
When he promised his crown for a horse.
A rather good trade, but he died, I’m afraid,
Before it could go into force.
Macbeth in his castle expected a hassle
When trees started moving about.
Things got a bit rough as the mighty MacDuff
Explained that he’d once been ripped out.
But that’s just a summer breeze
Or a quiet country fair
Compared with instructions that sound like a dare:
Exit pursued by a bear.
CHORUS: Compared with instructions that sound like a dare:
Exit pursued by a bear.

ANTIGONUS: Now Julius Caesar was not a weak geezer.
He said, I’m not scared by the ides.
Until at the Forum, his friends broke decorum
And brandished their knives on all sides.
And Coriolanus considered it heinous
That nobody gave him respect.
He met his ma-MA, who said, Son, blah blah blah,
Which had a most fatal effect.
In conclusion, let me say
That you haven’t got a care
Unless you’re in line for a finish like mine.
Unless you are sure you’ll be folded in fur.
Unless you’re aware that you’re in for a scare:
ALL: Exit pursued by a bear.

NARRATOR: Still, we all know there are two sides to every story. It seems only fair to let the bear have a few words.

BEAR: I am a bear. There’s no doubt about it.
I got the hair. I’m suitably snouted.
I’m one of nature’s noblest creatures.
Grace is one of my finer features.
But what do humans see? A lumbering galoot.
Hirsute in a fur suit in pursuit.
CHORUS: Hirsute in a fur suit in pursuit.

BEAR: I’m not the kind of bear to knock a fellow’s head off.
I may have a temper, but it’s hard to set off.
When people say I’m mean, I cry because I care.
I smart like the average bear.
My tummy doesn’t favour humans over raw fish.
I just want a hug, but they get stand-offish.
Maybe it’s the growl. Maybe it’s the fur.
I wish I’d been given a purr.

Never you mind. I’ll find a nice meal.
Back to my mate. Her name is Lucille.
We’re gonna raise a whole pack of cubs
On pick-a-nick baskets and day-old subs.
And maybe I’ll be seen as more than something to shoot.
Hirsute in a fur suit in pursuit.
CHORUS: Hirsute in a fur suit in pursuit.
ALL: Hirsuit in a fur suit in pursuit.

NARRATOR: Well, the plot abruptly takes a turn for the happier. The abandoned baby daughter grows up to be a lovely young woman named Perdita, who falls madly in love with Prince Florizel, the son of King Polixenes, the man her father accused of adultery. Hey, it could happen.

FLORIZEL: I found love. My heart is beating wildly.
PERDITA: I found love. And that’s putting it mildly.
BOTH: Oh, happy day. Love came our way
In a tonally inconsistent play.

PERDITA: The opening was positively horrid.
My father lost his ever-loving mind.
But life with my new boyfriend will be torrid.
We’ll leave the past behind.

FLORIZEL: If my dad had cheated with your mother.
That would mean … I’d be your half-brother.
PERDITA: What a thing to say.
FLORIZEL: I’ll test your DNA
In this tonally inconsistent play.

PERDITA: Okay.. it’s true… the years have been a strain.
My fa… ther tried… to have your father slain.
My ma… for years… pretended she was dead.
How soon can we be wed?
FLORIZEL [pause]: Um….

PERDITA: Something wrong?
FLORIZEL: I got a funny feeling.
PERDITA: Must be love.
FLORIZEL: True, my mind is reeling.
BOTH: Oh, happy day. Love came our way
In a tonally inconsistent play.

PERDITA: Our generation has the chance to clean up
The legacy of loony kings and queens.
FLORIZEL: [to audience] But I will be insisting on a pre-nup.
I fear her fam’ly’s genes.

BOTH: I found love.
FLORIZEL: It’s not as though I’m balking.
BOTH: I found love.
PERDITA: There’s no way you are walking.
BOTH: Oh, happy day. Love came our way.
FLORIZEL: Oh, happy day. My smile may start to fray.
PERDITA: Oh, happy day. Come what may.
In a tonally inconsistent play.

NARRATOR: Perdita lets it be known that she didn’t die as a baby. On hearing the news, Queen Hermione leaves her room and tells everyone she’s alive, but not before she pretends to be a statue. Don’t ask. And the whole play would just lurch to a halt if it weren’t for this rousing closing number.

EMILIA: Come along and sing with us a winter’s tale.
It got a little out o’ hand.
Leontes fought the battle of jealousy.
Hermie spent her life inside a room.
ALL: Pity the guy who got the bear angry.
Pity the actor wearing this suit.
EMILIA: Got a lot of mileage on these shoes.
But the happy couple looked cute.
Anybody want to sing a winter’s tale?
It helps to have a drink or two.
Wasn’t this plot from Othello’s play?
Are we sure that nobody will sue?
ALL: Never you mind, the ending is happy.
Just wipe away the stuff that came first.
EMILIA: Keep your eye on Cutey-Pie and Handsome Prince.
God, they’re both so happy I could burst.
ALL: That’s the cheery ending to The Winter’s Tale.
God, they’re both so happy we could burst.