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11 Strange Shakespeare Adaptations

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Today, April 23rd, is Talk Like Shakespeare Day (as well as Shakespeare's birthday). To honor the occasion, here’s a look at 11 of the strangest productions, original plays, and acting companies based on the Bard’s inimitable work.

1. 15-MINUTE HAMLET

Written by Tom Stoppard, whose earlier Hamlet-based play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead earned immense international acclaim, Fifteen-Minute Hamlet comically retells the classic tragedy twice—first in 13 minutes, and then again immediately thereafter in a heart-pounding two.

2. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, AS RETOLD BY THE BEATLES.

In a TV special that aired in April 1964, the Beatles honored Shakespeare’s 400th birthday by putting on an extremely-abridged version of one of his most beloved works. Cast in this unforgettable version of the “play within a play” shown in Act V, Scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream were Paul McCartney as Pyramus, John Lennon as Thisbe, George Harrison as Moonshine, and Ringo Starr as a bumbling lion.

3. TINY NINJA THEATER’S MACBETH

An advertisement describes this 2000 production as “Shakespeare’s classic tale of murder and intrigue performed by inch-high plastic ninjas and assorted dime store figures on a briefcase-sized stage. Grand spectacle on a tiny scale.” They've also done Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

4. THE PUPPET SHAKESPEARE PLAYERS

According to their mission statement, this unique production company aims at making Shakespeare’s work “accessible” through a host of creative methods, most notably puppets which “can be built to highlight aspects of a character that we want to exaggerate or to direct attention to certain ideas in Shakespeare that are so often hidden behind flowery language (and flowery acting).”

5. OTHELLO: THE SASSY GAY FRIEND VERSION

How would Othello have ended differently if a bombastic friend had encouraged Desdemona to dump her regularly-abusive boyfriend? The Second City Network took a stab at the question a few years back.

6. WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

We’re all familiar with the theory that “If one gave a million typewriters to a million apes, they’d eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.” But what if one of them gets writer’s block? In this David Ives play, three frustrated chimps lament their assigned task of writing Hamlet despite having absolutely no idea what it’s about, liberally quoting the bard in the process.

7. KLINGON HAMLET

Star Trek fans are well aware of the Klingons’ knack for referencing Shakespeare. A full translation of Hamlet in their distinctive tongue was first published in 1996 and a few highlights have since been performed on YouTube.

8. IAN MCKELLEN'S SHAKESPEARE RAP

In 2008, a recording of Sir Ian McKellen’s rendition of the Bard’s evocative eighteenth sonnet (which opens with “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) was digitally modified and mixed with beat-boxing and electronic music.

9. THE PEOPLE VS. FRIAR LAURENCE

Set immediately after the untimely deaths of the title characters in Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence is interrogated and must explain his role in their expiration (the monk raises some eyebrows for having given a coma-inducing potion to a 14-year-old girl) in this courtroom comedy.

10. THE HIP-HOP SHAKESPEARE COMPANY

Award winning rapper Akala has been running a series of workshops to highlight the links between the Bard’s prose and present-day rap since 2009, and later helped found The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company.

11. SILENT SHAKESPEARE

How can you honor the English language’s most famous wordsmith without using any of his dialogue? Arlington, Virginia’s Synetic Theater has, to date, staged nine Shakespearean plays via “pure visual poetry” with colorful sets and live music. This past March, the group gave their unique treatment to The Tempest, adding it to a repertoire that’s also included Antony & Cleopatra, The Taming of the Shrew, and King Lear.

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12 Things Called ‘French’ In English and Whether They're Actually French
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Happy Bastille Day! To celebrate this French holiday, let’s take a look at some of the things we call "French" in English that may not be French at all.

1. FRENCH TOAST

They don’t eat French toast in France. There, it’s called pain perdu ("lost bread," because it’s what you do with stale bread) or pain doré (golden bread). In the 17th century French toast was a term used for any kind of bread soaked and then griddled: In a 1660 citation, it refers to bread soaked in wine with sugar and orange and then cooked.

2. FRENCH VANILLA

Vanilla is a bean from a tropical plant not grown in France, so what’s so French about French vanilla? French vanilla was originally not a term for a type of vanilla, but a type of vanilla ice cream, one made using a French technique with an eggy, custard base. It’s since detached from ice cream and become a flavor with a certain rich profile.

3. FRENCH DRESSING

Originally the phrase French dressing referred to the type of dressing people might actually eat in France: oil, vinegar, herbs, maybe a little mustard. But somehow during the early 20th century it came to be the name for a pinkish-red, ketchup-added version that’s totally American.

4. FRENCH PRESS

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In France, the French press coffeemaker, a pot for steeping coffee grounds with a plunger for filtering them out, is called a cafetière à piston or just a bodum after the most common brand. It may have been invented in France, but the first patent for one was taken out by an Italian in 1929. The style of coffee became popular in France in the 1950s, and was later referred to by American journalists as "French-press style coffee."

5. FRENCH KISS

The term French kiss, for kissing with tongue, came into English during World War I when soldiers brought the phrase—and perhaps the kissing style—back from the war with them. French had long been used as a common adjective for various naughty, sexually explicit things like French letters (condoms), French postcards (naked pictures), and French pox (VD). In French, to kiss with the tongue is rouler un patin, “roll a skate” (having to do with gliding?), but in Québec they do say frencher.

6. FRENCH HORN

In French, a French horn is a cor d’harmonie or just cor, a name given to the looping, tubed hunting horns that were made in France in the 17th century. French became to the way to distinguish it from other horn types, like the German or Viennese horn, which had different types of tubes and valves.

7. FRENCH FRIES

The phrase French fries evolved in North America at the end of the 19th century out of the longer “French fried potatoes.” The dish is said to be more properly Belgian than French, but it was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson after he brought a recipe back from France. In French they are simply pommes frites, fried potatoes.

8. FRENCH MANICURE

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The French manicure, a pinkish, nude nail with a bright, whitened tip, was apparently invented in Hollywood in the 1970s. It began to be called a French manicure after the look made it to fashion runways. The style isn’t as popular in France, but women there do tend toward a groomed look with a natural color. In France, the term has been borrowed in from English: It's called la French manucure.

9. FRENCH BRAID

The term French braid (or French plait in British English) has been around since the 1870s, but the braid style itself, where hair is gathered gradually from the sides of the head over the course of braiding, has been around for thousands of years, according to archeological artifacts. It may have become associated with France simply for being seen as high fashion and French being equated with stylishness. In French, they also call this specific style of braid a French braid, or tresse française.

10. FRENCH TWIST

The vertically rolled and tucked French twist hairdo also came to be in the 19th century, and was also associated with French high fashion. In French it is called a chignon banane for its long, vertical shape.

11. FRENCH MAID

Housemaids in 19th-century France did wear black and white uniforms—though they were not quite as skimpy as the French maid costumes you see today. The French maid became a trope comic character in theater and opera, and the costume, along with other titillating characteristics, came to define what we now think of as the classic French maid.

12. FRENCH BREAD

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These days French bread has come to stand for any white bread with a vaguely baguette-like shape, whether or not it has a traditional, crusty exterior. It has been used as a term in English as far back as the 15th century to distinguish it from other, coarser types of bread.

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The Chemistry of Fireworks and Sparklers
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Independence Day is upon us, and that means grilling, s’mores, and plenty of good old-fashioned explosions. In other words: lots and lots of chemistry. For a breakdown of exactly how our favorite pyrotechnics work, check out the videos below from the American Chemical Society.

As a professor emeritus at Washington College, John Conkling may have one of the coolest jobs ever: experimenting with explosive chemicals and teaching his students to do the same. As Conkling explains in the video above, every explosion in a fireworks display is the result of two separate chemical reactions: one to launch the device into the air, and another that produces all those ooh- and ahh-inspiring sparkles.

The sparkles themselves are tiny flecks of metal, burning up in midair. Getting them to explode is easy, Conkling says. But getting them to explode blue? That’s a science

While sparklers may look like miniature, handheld fireworks, the mechanics are quite different. They do rely on fuel and oxidation like fireworks, but rather than just going off in midair, those reactions have to occur safely on a metal stick. Sparklers’ reactive chemicals are mixed with a binder that keeps the fire in place and slows it down, so you can enjoy your tiny explosions for just a little longer.

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