Vulcan’s Peak

The Shakespeare Code

April 28, 2007 2:38 pm

Since I’ve finished what I have of Babylon 5 and school is wrapping up for the moment, the obsession d’jour has become Doctor Who. I watched enough on SciFi last fall to be a bit disappointed when the new season started on BBC without my having access to it, but it wasn’t until I ran across the clip of Harry Potter references (which I told you about a few posts ago) that it occurred to me to check online…

The Harry Potter jokes come from the episode broadcast on April 7, the title of which grabbed my attention: “The Shakespeare Code.” Definately a fun romp through Elizabethan England, with several scenes filmed at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London, whee! Besides the HP amusement, there are no less than six instances in which the Doctor quotes Shakespeare to Shakespeare (though Will comes up with “to be or not to be” on his own), as well as other references to the Macbeth witches and their “blasted heath,” the “Dark Lady” of the sonnets, and the scholarly debate concerning Shakespeare’s sexuality (“Ooh, fifty-seven academics just punched the air…”).

I particularly appreciated that the episode revolved around a Shakespeare play that is not Romeo and Juliet! Instead, they used the less known Love’s Labors Lost, playing on the fact that there may have been a sequal, now lost, called Love’s Labors Won. [Tangent: Now I want to read Love’s Labors Lost next month, it’s one I don’t know.]

After so much Renaissance lit in college, though, a few things jumped out at me as odd. Though the Doctor and his companions sometimes dress to be period-appropriate when they time-travel, but this time they did not, meaning that Martha was wearing jeans throughout. When we discussed plays like As You Like It or Twelfth Night, in which the heroine spends most of the play pretending to be a boy, it was suggested to us that crossdressers like Rosalind and Viola might not have seemed so absurd: because no women wore pants, anyone wearing pants would have been assumed to be male. Of course that sounds ludicrous now, but let me suggest this: if someone is wearing a skirt, even if the person has boyishly short hair and a flat chest, at a glance, wouldn’t we assume that the person is female? And of course, the more layers you wear, the easier it gets. Confusion over Martha’s gender would have been an interesting twist, but this episode didn’t go there.

Another cultural detail involved the Doctor’s constant quoting. Though most of it was Shakespeare, in one instance he referred to “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas. Shakespeare liked the line and said he might use it, to which the Doctor replied “You can’t, it’s someone else’s.” The line is funny, but it’s also true that Shakespeare and his contemporaries borrowed (and stole) from each other like mad. At the time, copyright existed to protect printers’ profits from being undercut by unauthorized editions, not to protect authors’ intellectual property. So while the Doctor’s tone of voice might have deterred Will, his words alone probably would not.

I also wonder whether the writer of this episode has ever tried to write with a pen and inkwell: twice we see Shakespeare writing late at night, ending up with his forehead on the pages in front of him. He should have had ink spots all over his face from that!

Spiralling down to the most nitpicky bit of the episode, we see Shakespeare reciting “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” to his “Dark Lady,” when in fact that sonnet is one of those addressed to a “fair youth.” The writer got major kudos from me for avoiding Romeo and Juliet, but he did lose a few for choosing one of the most well-known sonnets.

Before I sound bitter, though, let’s end with a bit of fan love.

fanboy dylan dw-sycorax-atellix.gif
reading dw-reads-hp-atellix.gif groupies

Shakespeare: And I say, “A hart for a hart, a deer for a deer.”
Martha: I don’t get it.
Shakespeare: Then give me a joke from Freedonia.
Martha: Ok. Shakespeare walks into a pub and the landlord says, “Oy mate, you’re Bard.”

Image credits: LJ users ladybrick (“fan boy”) and atellix (all the others).

2 Responses to “The Shakespeare Code”

Tae wrote a comment on April 29, 2007

Katie, sweetie, this post just cracks me up because it just cements the fact you’re a Shakespeare fangirl. ;P
I haven’t actually read “Love’s Labor’s Lost” but I know the premise and have seen a Kenneth Braughnan version- one of his lesser ones actually. But, the lines of Shakespeare were lovely. I’d like to read it myself.
I never knew that “Shall I Compare thee to a summer’s day” was to his “fair youth”.
Oh, and take into account, the writers probably choose more well known Shakespeare’s (w/out Romeo & Juliet) stuff just so most of his audience can identify it. Because, despite the geek factor of watching “Dr. Who”, not many people are going to find as many nitpicks are you, dear. ;P

Odette wrote a comment on April 30, 2007

Really? You weren’t sure before? 😉 Heeheehee, love ya, hon!

Actually, I didn’t know that it was a “fair youth” sonnet either, but with all the play on Martha being the “Dark Lady,” I looked it up.

And come on! If everyone found all my nitpicks, I wouldn’t have reason to blog them. 😀 The only one I really wish they had thought about is the bit about having ink on his face, heheh.

Care to comment?