Women Beware Women
25 Mar 2021
Shakespeare has given us some of the greatest ever moments on stage. The romance of the balcony scene, the thrill of the Hamlet fencing match, the hilarity of Bottom’s transformation. But it’s not all genius. In fact, sometimes things get completely bizarre. Here’s a list of the top 5 strangest moments in Shakespeare (well, four moments and one entire play) that have us wondering, what was he thinking?
EXIT, PURSUED BY BEAR
The Winter’s Tale is Shakespeare’s genre-fusion experimental mashup spanning 16 years and two kingdoms. Is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy? Nope. But it does feature Shakespeare’s most infamous stage direction: Exit, pursued by a bear. King Leontes thinks his wife has been having an affair and that their newborn child isn’t his. He orders courtier Antigonus to take the baby “to some remote and desert place” and leave it there. Antigonus obeys, with (to be fair) some misgivings. He names the girl ‘Perdita’, puts her on the ground and is promptly chased offstage by a bear. We later hear a graphic report from a shepherd that the bear “tore out [Antigonus’] shoulder bone” and was seen dining on him. Brutal. But how do you portray the bear? Puppet? Animatronics? Actor in a bear suit? Perhaps you could cop out and make it ‘invisible’. Or how about an actual trained bear? I don’t think we’ve quite cracked it yet.
DEMETRIUS AND THE LOVE DRUG
Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies, order is restored at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After all the fury, fighting and fairy interventions, each lover is reunited with their one true love. But hang on. Demetrius never got the love-juice antidote. He’s still under the flower’s spell. So is his love for Helena real, or is it all a drug-fuelled fantasy? And is Helena aware and/or happy with this arrangement? And while we’re at it, how long does this love potion last? Is it lifelong, like the measles vaccine, or does it wear off, like a tetanus shot? Puck might have his work cut out for him, topping the juice up whenever Demetrius and Helena’s relationship starts to wobble. But Puck’s an immortal fairy, so, you know, he’s got time.
LION ATTACK – IN A FRENCH FOREST
As You Like It is known for its deep exploration of love and the sparkling wit of its protagonist, Rosalind. But by the time we get to the end of Act 4, it looks like Shakespeare has had enough and wants to wrap it all up. Oliver, like most of the other characters in the play, has been kicked out of the city and wanders into the Forest of Arden. He falls asleep under an oak tree, where he is stalked by a hungry lion. His estranged brother, Orlando, sees this happening, heroically fights the lion in hand-to-paw combat and wins, saving his brother’s life. I just googled it for you – there haven’t been lions in France for over 12,000 years. But just to be safe, maybe avoid sleeping under oak trees in French forests.
BROTHERS BAKED INTO A PIE
Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s most gruesome tragedy. It’s a bloodbath. Titus has 25 sons. Well, Titus had 25 sons. Twenty-one of them die in battle. Of the remaining four, Titus kills one for disobeying him, and another two are executed by the Emperor. Also, Titus has his own hand cut off when he thinks it will save the life of his two condemned sons. It doesn’t. Finally, Titus’ daughter, Lavinia, is viciously attacked and mutilated by Chiron and Demetrius, the sons of Titus’ sworn enemy, Tamora. Yes, Titus is having a bad day. So you can’t really blame him for going nuclear when his enemies turn up at his house. Not only does he bake Chiron and Demetrius with some sauteed mushrooms in a light, flaky crust, he serves the pie to their mother, taunts her for eating it, then slays her as well. Gross.
THE SPINOFF NOBODY NEEDED
Blame Falstaff. “That bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts” etc. Apparently Falstaff was so funny and popular in the Henry IV plays that Shakespeare decided to give him his own spinoff. The result? The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare’s unfunniest comedy. I mean, yes, Friends was great in the ’90s, but did we need more Matt LeBlanc in Joey? No. No, we did not. The ‘plot’ of the play involves Falstaff trying to seduce two women (the “merry wives”) at the same time. They outsmart him and make him hide in a laundry basket to evade their husbands. Finally, they humiliate him by sending him into the woods and getting some local kids to dress up like fairies and freak him out. Falstaff realises he’s been tricked and has a good laugh about it with the women and their husbands. The end.