Is This the Beginning of Zombie Shakespeare?

I just got done with a dramaturgy session with my director for Measure for Measure (the show I’m dramaturging this year at Tufts and keep promising to fill you in on).  During the drive home, I was all prepared to write a nice long post about the process, how things are going, what a dramaturge actually does, etc.

…but then one of my friends posted this trailer on my facebook wall which clearly made it all but impossible to do anything but comment upon it.

I’m so egregiously excited that I’m having trouble formulating words.  Zombies?  Hamlet?  Spoof movies?  These are a few of my favorite things.  Add chocolate peanut butter, yarn, and shopping and you’d have a giant ball of Dani-crack.

I will begin with the following confession: I have seen nothing more about this film than this trailer.  I’ve done a small amount of research just to try and ground myself in some film-facts and figure out when it will be released to the general public (no answer as of now, by the way, much to my chagrin and dissatisfaction).

But based on what I’ve seen, I couldn’t be more excited if I tried.  A movie that deals with Shakespeare reverently but playfully?  A movie that makes fun of itself while simultaneously touting some good old fashioned Shakespearean values?  A movie that has the potential to be one of the most hilarious Shakes-scene of our times?

The film’s basic premise is that a group of indie film-makers want to make a version of Hamlet but lack the budget for a Kenneth Brannaugh-esque period piece.  Jokingly, they say the only thing they could make on their given budget is a B zombie film… so they solve their problem with a creative re-mix of both.  Midway through, their backer is found dead and so they become enrapt in a plot to cover up her death to ensure a green light for their film.  I’m sure that this causes plenty of outside complications as well, but I’m less concerned about those at the moment.

With the prospect of a zombie Hamlet, My mind immediately jumped to the possibility of the Norwegians being zombies led by a sort of lich-lord Fortinbras.  Denmark could almost literally become a prison due to high security measures set in place in order to prevent further zombie invasions and, upon the collapse of the court at the end, the zombie masses enter to find the corpses of the Denmarkian royalty.

The inclusion of zombies also problematizes death within the play.  What kind of outbreak are we dealing with?  Runners or Shamblers?  Nanovirus or witch doctors?  If nanovirus, then Claudius could well be made into an arch-villain having infected King Hamlet with the virus and making him patient zero of the outbreak.  Hamlet’s ghost could instead be a return of the shambling King as a sort of covert super-zombie come to wreck revenge upon the individual responsible for the attack.  If Witch Doctor induced, there could still be a measure of this creation-against-creator as King Hamlet would be unable to lift a hand against his Lord and Master now-King Cladius and thus must have his son act as agent.  Alternately, in a world where zombies are created by magic, ghosts become equally plausible.  King Hamlet could be a sort of revenant, requiring a flesh body to perform deeds upon the living and thus spurring his son to the task.

 This also complicates Hamlet’s killing of Polonius, as when he hears a rustling in the curtains of his mother’s bedchamber he could potentially believe it to be an undead foe and, thereby, shoot said foe in the head before it leapt out to attack.  Polonius becomes an unfortunate victim of the country’s political strife as opposed to the sacrificial lamb of Hamlet’s madness.

Ophelia’s death is similarly complicated, and the possibilities innate in a zombie-infested Denmark make richer her last scene in which she appears onstage having run mad.  Perhaps she has been bitten by her risen-from-the-dead father and her not-quite-a-zombie-yet fever is the cause of her madness.  Alternately, anyone can go crazy in the world of the zombie holocaust.  The uncaniness of the walking dead and the permeation of casual death into society will just do that to a person.

Also; what does this mean for Act V?  Does the royal court lay dead at the feet of the zombie invaders only to rise themselves as mindless brain-nommers?  Is Horatio the only human left alive in a world now peopled by the walking dead?

Since the film isn’t actually a zombie version of Hamlet but rather about the making of a zombie Hamlet, I don’t truly expect my questions to be answered.  I do, however, very much look forward to seeing it and firmly believe that I will have found a new go-to “bad day” movie.

…and if anyone has the money and inclination to actually direct a production of Hamlet set

“…Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?”

during the zombie holocaust, please oh please oh please hire me.  I’ll do anything to be involved in that production.  I’ll even put myself on your line and audition to be a piece of meat… I mean… actor.  But mostly, I want to find a reason to have to research what kind of duel you would possibly be able to stage while the zombie hoards were shambling at your door.  Pistols won’t cut it due to the multiple touches, but I could definitely see claymores or battleaxes coming in handy and thereby the Princes being versed in their usage… or maybe bludgeoning weapons are the way to go since cricket bats are definitely a staple of the zombie genre.  That, however, would complicate the poison premise, but we could maybe make it work somehow…

Graver Words were Never Written

Whether it’s the ghost that haunts your high school auditorium, or the guy who steals kidneys from unsuspecting grifters them leaves them to wake up in bathtubs full of ice in the morning, ours is a culture saturated with these entertaining little bits of Gothicism. Human beings have been inventing stories for as far back as we can trace via writing. The urban legend, in my opinion, is a sub-genre of myth or fable which uses fear as a primary function to deter people from situations which are already uncannily creepy. Being alone in an unfamiliar house at night is creepy; hence the serial killer who preys upon babysitters after the kids have gone to sleep. Going home with a strange person has a fear factor to it; hence the Charlie-the-unicorn kidney myth. Dark hallways with mirrored reflections have their own eeriness; hence Bloody Mary the killer who appears after you look in a mirror and say her name three times.

If I can make a broad sweeping generalization (and I will because it’s my blog and I’ll generalize if I want to), the Brits tend to be extremely superstitious.

If you have the good fortune to make the pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon and worship at the altar of the Bard (and I hope you do someday), you will likely take a meander down the river and into Holy Trinity Church. Shakespeare’s final resting place is a simple affair. He lies front and center, nestled between his wife Anne Hathaway-then-Shakespeare and his grandson-in-law Thomas Nash.

The one extraordinary thing about Shakespeare’s grave is its epitaph.

Shot of the Epitaph on the grave as seen from the High Altar (right-side up)

Carved within the stone on an orientation that is upside down to tourists (it would be right-side-up if read from the high altar) are several lines which Shakespeare himself wrote: “Good friend, for Jesus sake forebear to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones.”

The so-called “Shakespeare Curse” (no, we’re not talking about what happens to you if you say “Macbeth” in a theatre… that’s another post waiting to happen) has certainly kept historians and scholars at bay. First and foremost, it leaves the question of motive. Why would Shakespeare “curse” his own grave? There are several potential (and valid) explanations to this. Early modern burial practices were such that the most prime real estate in the church (that closest to the altar and thereby closest to God) were the most expensive graves. Shakespeare, front and center, pretty much underneath the altar, paid a pretty penny for his plot. The chaplains (and grave diggers) were individuals who knew how to make a dime and so would bury a buyer and leave him for fifty to a hundred years. When no more relatives were around to protest, they would exhume the grave, move the body, and re-sell the plot. Shakespeare could very well have known about this practice and implemented the curse to keep away superstitious graveyard money-grubbers.

Alternatively, there is what I like to call the “second-best-bed explanation”. In his will, Will famously left his wife Anne only one thing: the “second best bed”. As you can imagine, scholars have been chewing on this one for several hundred years. Because of this line in the will (and the fact that Shakespeare spent most of his married years in London while his wife was in Stratford, and the fact that Anne was very likely with child when the two were married, and the fact that she was much older than young William and her family was much more well off than his probable marrying prospects), scholars have painted a rocky


picture of William Shakespeare’s marriage to Anne Hathaway. Early Modern burial practices dictated that when a widow herself passed on, her husband’s grave would be exhumed and she would be ceremoniously dumped on top of him in as dignified a fashion as possible. The second-best-bedders claim that Shakespeare was so unhappy at home that he simply did not want Anne cramping his style in the afterlife. He thereby cursed his grave to keep well-meaning nuptially-inclined grave diggers from re-uniting him with his not-so-dearly beloved.

In yet a third camp, we find the skeptics who say that there was no Shakespeare; he was a cleverly-crafted construction of culture and, thereby, the curse is a sham created to keep anyone from exhuming the grave to find the nothing beneath. No body, no Shakespeare. Of course, the believers of this theory have completely ignored the fact that Shakespeare is buried ON the river Avon and thereby any un-decayed remains may well have been washed away by underground springs over the past four hundred years.

Once you get past the why, the how seems almost inconsequential. The idea that Shakespeare actually had supernatural forces at his disposal is egregious and worthy of fiction, but (like the rest of the things that we have imagined about Shakespeare’s life) fitting of the Man the Myth the Legend.

In any case, this curse has done what dear Will intended. The grave has remained untouched since it was dug upon his death in 1616. Recently, South African anthropologist Francis Thackeray, director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, has been stirring the pot to dig the old man up. Such a dig could reveal how the bard died, if he was (in fact) related to his daughter, and a number of other things about his life. These facts, however, are not Thackeray’s primary concern.

Apparently Thackeray headed a 2001 studywhich found residue of marijuana on certain pipe fragments unearthed from Shakespeare’s garden.

Bust of Shakespeare which hangs over the grave (incidentally this was carved by someone who knew Shakespeare in life and thereby is one of the best likenesses we have today)

To determine whether Cheech and Chong could really play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Thackeray wishes to check the Bard’s teeth, hair, and nails (if any are left).

While the entire project sounds completely ridiculous (come on, centuries of history have kept the guy underground, you really think your 4:20 theory is going to make the church break it?), I can’t help but be the most amused at Thackeray’s efforts to avoid the Shakespeare curse. Thackeray claims that Shakespeare only curses those who MOVE his bones and, due to SCIENCE, we no longer need to. In addition, Shakespeare never mentioned teeth in his epigraph, so the removal of a molar shouldn’t trigger any supernatural visitations.

Essentially, what this all boils down to is justifying one’s research to a dead guy. I suppose, in that extreme, this is yet another example of bardolotry. Oh no, don’t dig up the grave, Shakespeare might be looking down from on high waiting to smite you with a bolt of well-written prose! I’m not horribly opposed to digging up Will and I do think that there are things we could learn from a well-run grave robbing, but part of me still holds onto the magical Shakespeare tradition. There is something to be said for an ancient plot of land left undisturbed for so long. In addition, there is something to be said for the continued respect of a four-hundred-years-dead-man’s wishes. He obviously, for whatever reason, did not want to be exhumed. He’s given us so much… we could at least respect his dieing appeal.

My only request is that if you DO dig up the grave, and he DOES appear to you in a dream or in a dark hallway, could you ask him to put a rest to this whole Edward De Vere authorship question? It’s really getting old.

P.S.: Once again, all photos are shots that I took at one point or another. They are mine, copyright me, don’t steal ’em.

>Rumors of my Death have been Greatly Exaggerated


During the last stretch of her MA in English, Danielle Rosvally was tragically crushed to death beneath a pile of papers that she had yet to write.  The English Department at Rutgers University issued the following public statement: “We mourn for the loss of such a bright young mind, but wonder how it is possible for someone so vibrant and vivacious to be squelched by something that doesn’t technically exist.”  Services to be held next Tuesday.
While attempting to balance a stack of library books she was returning with one hand as the other hand held her precious mug of coffee, Danielle Rosvally was suddenly and violently run down by a car speeding through Newark’s University Heights.  The driver of the car, one Judith Butler, denied giving an official commentary though reports indicate that she is sufficiently beleaguered by the death of so performative an individual.
Danielle Rosvally perished in a freak elevator accident.  The elevator was purportedly stalled between the floors of “Masters” and “PhD” long enough that the unpublished scholar perished… but not before performing an act of unconquerable bravery in inscribing the theses to her final papers upon the walls of the elevator in her own blood.  She purportedly hopes that her professors will forgive her untimely demise and issue her “A”s in her classes despite her absence from them for the rest of the semester.  She is also fairly certain that all of her students loans will now be forgiven, freeing her soul from its contractual obligation to Sallie Mae so that it may re-incarnate into a body that will be born fabulously wealthy and have no need for further student loans.
Ambitious and up-and-coming Shakespeare Scholar Danielle Rosvally was found in her Newark Apartment last night having hung herself by her bed sheets with a hand-revised copy of the Riverside Shakespeare clutched to her breast.  Rumor has it that Norton and Oxford are currently fighting over the rights to Rosvally’s last project, which is anticipated to have record-breaking sales due to the publicity surrounding her death.  The last words, inscribed on the final page of the volume, read: “I follow thee.  The rest is silence only interrupted by my post-mortem book tour at which I will be available to answer questions via ouija board.”
This morning, the world (or at least the area immediately surrounding Rutgers University) mourns the death of Danielle Rosvally.  Scholar, actress, chocolate aficionado; she rests in peace after an undergraduate paper delivered her a lethal dosage of run-on-sentences last night at the local Starbucks.  The family requests that individuals send their memories of Danielle along with poems written in sonnet form to be hung on a memorial tree outside of their New York residence.  They’re pretty sure that even bad sonnets count as good fun. 

>famous last words

>Yesterday, a member of my family passed away. It wasn’t unexpected, it wasn’t tragic (as far as death goes), it just was. People die. It is the ultimate punctuation to life. The period, question mark, or exclamation point to our time here upon this mortal coil.

I got the inevitable phone call (of course while I was driving, ain’t that the way things go?), I cried a little, and then I got to thinking. Here was a man who knew he was going to die. He was in the hospital and all signs were pointing at the hereafter. What does one say in those situations? There’s not much to be done, clearly, when you know you are running out of breathe and that your thought cannot sustain itself to another line. But there is still time for a few more words, a poignant tid-bit, a grand exit perhaps. At the very least one final jab at the world…

In Shakespeare, people die a lot. It’s the nature of the beast when you write Renaissance tragedy. Sometimes these deaths are expected, sometimes they are not. This passing within my life got me to thinking, what do the characters of the most eloquent man in the history of the English language say when their time is up?

Perhaps the most famous last words are spoken by Hamlet;

If thou did’st euer hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicitie awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in paine,
To tell my Storie….
O I dye Horatio:
The potent poyson quite ore-crowes my spirit,
I cannot liue to heare the Newes from England,
But I do prophesie th’election lights
On Fortinbras, he ha’s my dying voyce,
So tell him with the occurrents more and lesse,
Which haue solicited. The rest is silence. O, o, o, o.

(Hamlet, V ii, 3832-4847)

Of course, people usually only remember the first bit of this speech. The beautiful part. I can only hope to be half as eloquent on my death bed (or, as in Hamlet’s case, stretched across the ground after having lost a duel and watched my mother be poisoned by my step-father while he lies dying from my own blade). Hamlet recognizes he is dying, he concedes the Country to the invading forces, and then passes in moans of pain. In doing so, Hamlet denies his own decree. “The rest is silence” he says, before letting out increasingly weaker moans of distress. Even in death, Hamlet remains contrary- unable to follow his own orders. Unable to act upon what he has set out to do. He is consistent then, his true self upon the last moment of his life.

Another famous set of last words (though perhaps people don’t realize they are quoting a death rattle when they use them) are given by Richard Plantagenet:

A Horse, a Horse, my Kingdome for a Horse.

(Richard III, V iv, 3840)

This comes from a character who has consistently been able to connive and cannodle anything he wants out of any other character. Here, in death, he is stripped of that ability. He begs for the necessities of battle. Unable to acquire them, he is slaughtered by his own inadequacy (finally). These last words reflect the universe stripping Richard of his unrighteous gains in order to give him his just deserts. It is also a reminder that not everyone can predict their death and give an eloquent speech, sometimes we die pleading for what would save us.

Of course, how could I discuss death without discussing the most famous lovers of all time? Both Romeo and Juliet have memorable closing remarks, though in very different ways. Here is Romeo:

…Eyes looke your last:
Armes take your last embrace: And lips, O you
The doores of breath, seale with a righteous kisse
A datelesse bargaine to ingrossing death:
Come bitter conduct, come vnsauory guide,
Thou desperate Pilot, now at once run on
The dashing Rocks, thy Sea-sicke wearie Barke:
Heere’s to my Loue. O true Appothecary:
Thy drugs are quicke. Thus with a kisse I die.

(Romeo and Juliet, V iii, 2969-2977)

Romeo is a fine balance between the lovely and the practical. He gives his rehearsed speech, he says his goodbye to the world, he even has one of the most dramatic toasts of all time. Then, finished, reality sets in. Much like Hamlet’s “O, o o o”, Romeo is unable to stop at merely the lovely. We find Romeo the human being in his last line- perhaps more revealing and more truthful than anything he had previously spoken. Far from the flowering poetry he spoke but a moment before, Romeo’s final utterance is shiveringly real. Succinct. To the point. It is his life, encompassed.

Juliet is similar:

Yea noise?
Then ile be briefe. O happy Dagger.
‘Tis in thy sheath, there rust and let me die.

(Romeo and Juliet, V iii, 3032-3035)

No long speech. No dramatic toast. Merely the truth. Instructions. Practicality. She has no time for anything else. She is blatant, straightforward and simple, yet poetic. There is nothing brutal about Juliet’s last words. They are kind, gentle, personifying the dagger as something to be rejoiced in rather than feared. It will free her, let her die rather than cause her to die. Juliet releases life as simply as an exhale and nearly as silently.

A less famous parting speech is spoken by Antony:

The miserable change now at my end,
Lament nor sorrow at: but please your thoughts
In feeding them with those my former Fortunes
Wherein I liued. The greatest Prince o’th’world,
The Noblest: and do now not basely dye,
Not Cowardly put off my Helmet to
My Countreyman. A Roman, by a Roman
Valiantly vanquish’d. Now my Spirit is going,
I can no more.

(Antony and Cleopatra, IV xv, 3062-3070)

Antony’s last words also mirror his life. They are strong, practical, and giving. He counsels his friends to remember him in a happier time, a mightier time. He turns the thoughts of Cleopatra to himself at his prime. He eulogizes himself, summing his life up in a necessarily succinct piece. Antony is not terse, but he certainly isn’t a Romeo. No flowers for him, but rather marble monuments. He dies a warrior and a prince. Though in the arms of his lover, he does not die swooning. He simply stops. He can no more.

Another warrior who exits the stage in a flight of glory is the notorious and infamous Macbeth:

I will not yeeld
To kisse the ground before young Malcolmes feet,
And to be baited with the Rabbles curse.
Though Byrnane wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou oppos’d, being of no woman borne,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body,
I throw my warlike Shield: Lay on Macduffe,
And damn’d be him, that first cries hold, enough.

(Macbeth, V viii, 2468-2475)

MacB actually runs off the stage fighting. He curses, spits, fights, and the next we see of him Macduff is carrying his head to the assembled Scottish Lords. This is again a character in the pinnacle of his life at the moment before his death; he is bright, bold, arrogant. He knows he will lose this battle, but he does not run. He throws up his shield and taunts his impending doom.

But what are Macbeth’s other choices? He certainly cannot grow anymore (as he is already King), he may fade back into obscurity rotting in some dungeon somewhere, but his story is over. Byrnane Wood has come to Dunsinane, the witches’ prophecies have all been fulfilled. There is no more destiny for Macbeth, no other part of the story for him. He must die, he has no choice in that. His only choice is how he does die.

So what will I say when facing down my death? Will I have flowery poetry, be begging for the necessities of life, be ready to face the reaper head on, eulogize myself? Will I find some truth about the deepest core of my humanity in that moment, or will I just fade into obscurity? Will it be offstage or onstage? Or will someone simply announce in the fifth act that “his commandment is fulfilled that Rosincrance and Guildensterne are dead” (Hamlet, V ii, 3864-3865). I don’t think there are any answers to these questions until the moment of their certainty, and I hope to be asking them for many years to come before that certainty arrives.

I will conclude this little jaunt into the macabre with a thought from Cymbeline. When Guiderius and Arviragus set Imogen (as Fidele) in her tomb in IV ii (lns 2576-2600), they speak the following poem because they have no voices to sing. My own voice does not feel the jubilation to be lifted into song at present. I am tired. I am sad. So, once again, I will rely upon Shakespeare to sing for me.

Feare no more the heate o’th’Sun,
Nor the furious Winters rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast don,
Home art gon, and tane thy wages.
Golden Lads, and Girles all must,
As Chimney-Sweepers come to dust.

Feare no more the frowne o’th’Great,
Thou art past the Tirants stroake,
Care no more to cloath and eate,
To thee the Reede is as the Oake:
The Scepter, Learning, Physicke must,
All follow this and come to dust.

Feare no more the Lightning flash.
Nor th’_all-dreaded Thunderstone.
Feare not Slander, Censure rash.
Thou hast finish’d Ioy and mone.
All Louers young, all Louers must,
Consigne to thee and come to dust.

No Exorcisor harme thee,
Nor no witch-craft charme thee.
Ghost vnlaid forbeare thee.
Nothing ill come neere thee.
Quiet consumation haue,
And renowned be thy graue.