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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
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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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High School's Anonymous Pantry Offers Discreet Access to Necessities
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Being a teenager is tough enough without having to worry where your next meal is coming from. At Washington High School in Washington, North Carolina, students are able to access an in-house pantry stocked with basic resources, away from the prying eyes of their peers.

In 2015, the high school’s former principal Misty Walker opened a hygiene closet in partnership with Bright Futures, an organization dedicated to helping schools in the community. She told the Huffington Post that she got the idea after being approached by students looking for basic items like toothbrushes and toothpaste. Today, the pantry stocks food, clothing, and school supplies provided by local donors.

If students ever wish to use the closet, all they need to do is confide in a teacher, counselor, or administrator. They will then be taken by a staff member to one of the school’s pantries where they can shop in a private setting free from stigma. Because the program is anonymous, there are no flyers hung up advertising the pantry. Instead, the administration relies on word of mouth to spread the news.

Washington High School's assistant vice principal Melissa Harris took over the project following Walker's departure, and she tells Mental Floss that today it's stronger than ever. "The food pantry is being replenished by partners and student organizations," she says. "Our carpentry kids are also participating in the overhaul and design of the new space. The toiletry closet and clothes closet are in constant use and our partners are assisting in keeping that replenished and it has been a blessing to our students."

Some high schools across the country have followed Washington's lead in recent years. William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware, and Northridge High School in Layton, Utah, are just a few of the institutions with similar programs.

But Washington High remains ahead of the curve. In preparation for the holidays, the school is hosting food drives for its December backpack program: The plan is to send students home with backpacks filled with two weeks' worth of supplies to get them through the long break. 

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