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Bloody Deeds and Bad Quartos
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
I'm sure I have earlier here plugged my favorite bit of Shakespeare-related silliness, A Bloody Deed. If you haven't seen it, go watch it now. Or hell, even if you have seen it, it's worth a rewatch. And, y'know, these days you *can* easily rewatch it.

But back in late 2003, I didn't even know that the performance was being recorded, much less that that recording would be widely available. So, in order to share what I could of it with my friends, I wrote down what I could from memory. I just came across the file again. It gives interesting insight into the production of the Bad Quartos of Shakespeare, some of which are allegedly sourced from audience accounts in a similar manner.

What I wrote down is recognizably the same story. It's a lot shorter, and only has about half the laugh-lines. There are lots of paraphrases. Bits of it aren't quite in the right order. It's good, but it's only a shadow of the Real Thing.

For historical interest, I'm going to put that 'bad quarto' here. (In the comments, though, so that I won't get the full text in every reply...)

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Date: Sunday, November 16, 2003 7:21 PM

A few weekends ago, Kes and I went to see a show called "Freestyle Shakespeare". It was a series of riffs on Shakespearean themes put together by a fellow named Michael Anderson, and was mostly quite entertaining. But one segment in particular made me laugh so hard that I thought I might literally die laughing. This is my best approximation of the text, from memory. I'm sure it's not nearly as good as the original, but I wanted to share what I could of it.

A Bloody Deed

The best Shakespeare I ever saw was by a group of twelve-year-olds. My nephew Ray, and his friends Danny and Supiwo. One summer, they spent three weeks at Shakespeare Camp. This was run by the Royal Shakespeare Company; they teach the kids how to read Shakespeare, how to listen to Shakespeare, how to play Shakespeare.

At the end of the summer, the kids break into small groups, and put together an actual Shakespeare scene, to be performed on stage in front of parents and friends. Now, Ray, Danny, and Supiwo had been trouble-makers for most of the summer, so they picked the most violent piece they could find: Richard the Third, Act One, Scene Four, the murder of the Duke of Clarence.

Richard The Third is the first play that Shakespeare wrote that didn't *suck*. It's also his first great comedy. Now, I know it normally gets called a tragedy, but it isn't. A tragedy is when lots of people die, and you feel sorry about some of them. In Richard the Third, a lot of people die, but every last one of them richly deserves it.

It's also interesting because of the set-up. This is actually part four of a story that started in Henry the Sixth Parts One, Two and Three. These were full of treachery, intigue, and bloodshed. But at the end of Part Three, peace broke out. Richard the Third starts with an apology about this:
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

It's as if, at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader has come on screen and said:
" This is no longer a war story. This is now a romantic comedy. *But* -- if you'd rather have some of that great violence you remember -- just stick with me, I'll take care of you."

And the first bit of ultra-violence, at the end of Act One, is the brutal murder of the Duke of Clarence. Clarence has made a terrible tactical error; he was born in a position between Richard and the throne. So Richard hires a couple of mafia hit-men to take him out.

When they first come on, do they kill him right away? They do not. They spend a long time *arguing* about whether or not they should kill him. Then they argue with *Clarence*. They make the classic James-Bond-villain mistake. Now the first rule of Shakespeare, copied to this day, is that there's nothing funnier than incompetent killers. Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, they're all just remakes of this scene.

After they eventually start stabbing, the first folio has Clarence go on for *five* *pages*. Now, the hoity-toity RSC professors say that, "Shakespeare is demonstrating a moment of 'frozen time' here, in which Clarence is outside of normal continuity, examining his life." *Bullshit!* He takes so long to die because the murderers *aren't* *very* *competent*. When Shakespeare means for someone to die fast, they go down right away. When Hamlet stabs Polonius, Polonius gets four words, "O, I am slain!" and *bam*, on the floor. Julius Caesar? Three words in latin and three in english: "Et tu, Brute! Then fall,
Caesar." And that's the title character! No, Clarence takes so long to die, because the people stabbing him aren't doing a very good job.

Hell, Shakespeare even writes into the dialogue, that the murderers forget their line, and Clarence has to cue them:
CLARENCE
Who sent you hither? Wherefore do you come?
BOTH
To, to, to--
CLARENCE
To murder me?
BOTH
Ay, ay.
And *now* they get in character.

Well, back to Ray, Danny, and Supiwo. They asked the counselers if they could get a blood pack for the murder. The counselers looked down their nose at this. "You will show that you are bleeding through your *emotion*, through your *delivery*. Shakespeare was an *artist*, he had no need of cheap special effects."

Bullshit! This is the man who has someone beheaded *on stage*. His plays are full of ghosts, witches, and blood. Shakespeare *loved* special effects.

Moreover, there are few things in this world as downright *cruel* as telling a hopeful twelve-year-old that he cannot have a blood pack.

In the end, the boys decided that, doing such a violent, villainous scene, they would just disobey. They came over to my house the morning of the performance with eight cans of V8, 4 gallon containers of ketchup, and several cans of tomato sauce. They put this stuff in the blender, >vweee<, constantly adjusting the mixture until they got *just* the right consistency. Then they got out one of the *big* ziploc bags; you know, the kind you can store a roast in. They fill this up with *gallons* of this fake blood. Then they attach it to Ray's chest with an entire *roll* of duct tape. Afterwards, they managed to squeeze him and his new paunch into the pseudo-Elizabethan clothes that they'd been given for the show, and they're off.

Well, eventually it gets to be their turn to come on. Here came Danny and Supiwo as the incompetent assassins. It helped here that they actually looked a bit like Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta.

They're having a great time, right up to the time when they get to the actual stabbing, and they realize that they've made a serious error. They have these dinky little retractable stage knives, and they attached the blood pack with *way* too much duct tape. They can't make a dent in it. They give it several tries, but to no avail.

Ray, Clarence, does his best to help, as he speaks his interminable death speech, he hurls himself onto the nearby bench, stomach-first, again and again and again. [Anderson proceeds to demonstrate, as the audience tries to not die laughing.]

At last, it's time for him to finish dying, but Supiwo decides to give it one last try: "Take that, and that: if all this will not do, I'll drown you in the malmsey-butt within." And the Duke of Clarence -- detonates.

Gallons of fake blood *spew* out, all over Supiwo, all over Danny, and all over the first five rows of the audience. More than one yuppie digital camera got its lens smeared, let me tell you!

So, Supiwo is standing there, literally *covered* in fake blood, and looks down at the "body", and has *no* *idea* what he can say -- except for the very words that Shakespeare has already written for him:
"What shall we do?"

And Danny can only reply with, again, the very words that Shakespeare has already written:
"A bloody deed, and desperately dispatch'd!
How fain, like Pilate, would I wash my hands
Of this most grievous guilty murder done!"

There followed an unscheduled intermission, to clean the stage, so that Romeo and Juliet wouldn't fall over from slipping in the Duke of Clarence's gore. When they have to hose down the stage afterwards, *that's* Shakespeare!

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