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Saturday, February 02, 2019

Just Discovered... Upstart Crow!

Last night, I decided to curl up in bed with my phone and watch something on iView, on which the ABC shows programs that you might have missed, for a few weeks after they have been on. Usually, I check out Father Brown, if it has been on, but this time I saw the blurb for a show I tend to miss on Friday nights, because of family commitments, and had never heard of.

“Upstart Crow?” I wondered. “Isn’t that what that awful man Robert Greene called Shakespeare early in his career?” (Robert Greene was a rival author and Shakespeare even used one of his stories for The Winter’s Tale. Yeah, fan fiction of a kind. That’s how it was done in those days.)

Public Domain

And sure enough, it was a sitcom about the Bard! Think Blackadder, if a little less over the top, and no wonder, as the author is Ben Elton, who was the co-author of that amazing series. David Mitchell, who plays Shakespeare, even sounds a little like Rowan Atkinson. There are a few episodes available on the site. I intend to buy the DVD, which is currently on pre-order.

It’s very funny and pokes fun at a number of issues, such as all the fighting over whether or not Shakespeare wrote his own plays. Each episode deals with a play he wrote - in that episode he wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost, which he writes on the suggestion of his teenage daughter Susanna. Another episode had him working on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which isn’t funny until he adds the ass’s head. On the other hand, his friends and family all think Hamlet, on which he is working, is hilarious; when they tell him why, you can actually see their point.

Christopher Marlowe is hiding out from his creditors at Shakespeare’s London lodgings. He is presented as a sort of Lord Flashheart.

Marlowe, Public Domain

It is oddly educational, despite the anachronisms, which have to be deliberate, or how else can you do it as a sitcom? I haven’t seen the end of Season 3 yet, but some sad things are history and you can’t change them. On the positive side, with everyone having different ideas abou  what happened to Marlowe and why, you can fiddle with that a bit.

There is a delightful, bouncy theme tune, “Jamaica” from Playford’s “Dancing Master”, which was familiar to me because I have a recording of Maddy Prior singing a song to that tune, and animated drawings.

I am a huge fan of the Bard. I’ve loved him since I discovered a battered old copy of Julius Caesar in
the house at about 11 or 12, and declaimed Brutus and Antony’s speeches. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful English teacher in Year 11, whose teaching of Richard III eventually ended in my joining the Richard III Society, and studied King Lear in Year 12. I remember opening my book to the page where Lear is banishing Cordelia and... Oh, the magic! The magic of it all!

I’ve seen so many different productions of Shakespeare’s work, including three in Hebrew. I’ve worked with the kids filming  scenes from Macbeth and Hamlet with a lady from the Bell Shakespeare company. She had a grant to do this, and had got the idea from a documentary called Shakespeare On The Estates. We discovered a promising young Shakespearean actor at our disadvantaged school,  who got to go to a holiday workshop as his teacher and the school rummaged up the money for him.

I’ve read Harry Turtledove’s wonderful alternative universe novel Ruled Britannia, in which  the Spanish Armada succeeds in conquering England, the Queen is locked up and Shakespeare is hired by both the Spanish and the British underground led by Lord Burleigh to write a propaganda play for them. Christopher Marlowe is alive and still writing plays. My copy is so worn out, I had to buy it in ebook!

There has to be a good reason why people are still reading, viewing and loving his work all these hundreds of years later, right? And reworking it in modern versions, such as setting Twelfth Night in a high school soccer team(She’s The Man), a teenage version of The Taming Of The Shrew(Ten Things I Hate About You). They are even refilling West Side Story.

I can’t see why they shouldn’t have the brilliant Ben Elton write a sitcom, especially as it was commissioned to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Here’s a toast to you, Will! 


Brian Joseph said...

I also love Shakespeare. On the surface I would have mixed feelings about such a sitcom. However based upon your description it sounds imaginative and worthwhile. I will probably give it a watch.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have. If I had any doubts, the name Ben Elton attached to the show would have made me give it a go. He really is a wonderful writer.

AJ Blythe said...

I'd heard great things about the series, so good to hear it lives up to its reputation. Can't afford to start watching a new series (no time), but might come back to it in a few years when I don't have Barbarians bugging me at every turn.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Chuckle! You are much more patient than I am.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue ... I really should take note of these series - I rather pass them off ... but if I concentrated - I'd learn new things about Shakespeare ... one day! Glad Ben Elton is bringing Shakespeare to light ... the playwright has certainly influenced many around the world ... cheers Hilary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hilary! I hope you discover day - for fun. I intend to buy the DVD as soon as it’s available.

Maria Behar said...

Oh, this sounds absolutely WONDERFUL!!! I have never heard of it, but, since you've mentioned a DVD, I'm rushing over to Amazon to check it out!!

I LOVE The Bard myself!! I have a few of his plays in wonderful editions called Signature Shakespeare, that I got at good ol' Barnes & Noble!

Here's the Amazon link to these beauties! Sadly, it seems that not many of them were produced.... (Be sure to scroll all the way down the page, as "Macbeth" is near the bottom.)

Of course, this is Amazon U.S. I'm referring to. But you might be able to order these, if you want to.

I own "Hamlet", "Romeo and Juliet", and "Much Ado About Nothing".

Thanks for sharing!! <3 <3

Hope you enjoy your Sunday!! HUGS!!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Maria! I believe Upstart Crow is currently on pre-order, so I’m waiting patiently. The DVD set is all three seasons(only six episodes to a season and a couple of Christmas specials. I can use Amazon if I want , by adding .au to the URL, though we don’t have all the same books and DVDs listed.

However, I am lucky enough to have plenty of Shakespeare plays on my shelves, including an edition of the complete works that includes some plays he co-wrote or didn’t finish.