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11 Strange Shakespeare Adaptations

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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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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holidays
10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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