Shakespeare’s Oz

Amazon.com: Shakespeare's Oz (9781698839417): Jordan Monsell: Books
Jordan Monsell,
Shakespeare’s Oz
Middletown: Shadowcut Press, 2019, 123 p. £12.28, $13.94

You might remember a couple of years ago I wrote about Ministers of Grace the debut play by Shakespeare parody playwright Jordan Monsell, which gives a Shakespearean twist to Ghostbusters (more about that here), but now, he’s back with Shakespeare’s Oz a Shakespearean take on, you’ve guessed it, The Wizard of Oz. More accurately, really, it’s a melange of The Tempest and the Wizard of Oz with both plot lines vying for attention and converging in Oz. As the prologue, a rewriting of Henry V wonders, can the stage hold ‘the vasty fields of Oz’ as our thoughts are called to ‘deck our lass’ Dorothy ‘jumping o’er times’.

But it is clear Monsell knows his Shakespeare as evident in his fluid integration of lines and ideas which are appropriated and adapted for his own Baumspearian purposes. Shakespeare’s Oz is not just an early modern English language take on Oz but nods to Shakespeare plays are littered throughout the text, thus when the Professor is trying to deduce where Dorothy has come from, he neatly summarises the opening scene setting scenes of Hamlet: ‘your… uncle did murder thy father and has taken your mother as wife?’ almost as though the professor himself is so imbued in Shakespeare he can think of no other logical reason as to why Dorothy might have fled from home, before his accurate prophetic reading kicks in. And on the fortune telling crystal we are greeted with snippets of Hamlet, Anthony and Cleopatra and echoes of The Tempest, and the first occasion I can recall ‘undiscovered country’ used to mean an accessible before death location. Inexplicably Dorothy announces that they are ‘not in Sussex’ anymore, though the reason for Sussex being selected as the origin is never fully made clear. The play text is interspersed with witchy woodcuts from early modern sources furthering an early modern aesthetic in a sort of tea-bag painting to make a text look older than it is fashion, as well as illustrations by the playwright himself, suggesting this is a text to be enjoyed for its textuality as well as its dramatic potential, it also recreates the sense of whimsy and the pictorial importance to story  in the illustrations of children’s books.

Beyond wondering how this play would work on stage, what I found most interesting were the way that in true appropriation fashion, Shakespeare’s Oz showed that giving Ozian characters Shakespearean lines provided fascinating insights into characters from both realms by virtue of the implicit parallels they draw. This is downplayed by Monsell who focuses rather on their humour he hopes they will elicit:

‘it is my hope that if you are holding this book that the words within have renewed your interest in these authors, and that a Caliban quoting Cowardly Lion made you smile and forget about your troubles if only for a brief moment’

(With the final few words loaded with meaning during the present Covid-19 pandemic). And yes, this play does provide the escapism Monsell hopes for, but it does more than this too. The characters who, subplot like, comment upon and converge with the struggles of the heroine, demonstrate something of this. Thus, the scarecrow when he is lacking in brain quotes Richard II when he speaks of telling sad stories, highlighting the woeful ignorance of one and, through a slightly more sympathetic reading, the poignancy of Richard in Richard II abandoned unable even to protect his own field even as he journeys abroad to other lands. The tin man reconfigures Jacques’ ‘sans heart, sans everything’ speech when he tells of his dismemberment at the hands of a Sycorax-meets-Macbeth’s-witches wicked witch, adding a further layer of poignancy to the final age of man in the lack of care it is associated with in his tale. But perhaps the most sustained reveal more about the Ozian characters and particularly The Tempest’s Prospero. The alignment of Nikko with Ariel, and by implication Prospero with the Witch, provides an interesting reading of the moral nature of Prospero in his use of magic and in his manipulation, control, and desire to seek revenge. The tyranny of the Witch and her mistreatment of others is especially revealed when she quotes Prospero, recalling his treatment of Caliban in The Tempest through magical threat and punishment as well as Ariel’s entrapment by Sycorax, and this tyranny or at the very least inadequacy is revealed too in the Wizard as the lion with painful recollection recalls, of the wizard, ‘I loved thee’ before he was damaged by the Wizard’s hunger for power. Certainly, these parallels challenge us to consider the driving forces of characters both in The Tempest and Oz and their moral conduct. The parallels follow through to Nikko too who takes from Ariel’s lines as he too yearns for freedom from magic wielded by witch or wizard’s arms as he declares ‘merrily shall I live now’. Freedom in both The Tempest and Oz though is of course conditional. While Prospero does not melt into thin air at least not before the play’s end, the Witch does, as tyranny is punished, and forgiveness is not posited. Throughout Shakespeare’s Oz through parallel, reference and direct quotation Monsell engages playfully with his two sources. And ultimately, Monsell shows very directly how appropriations and adaptations of texts can re-enliven meanings or foster new meanings in the source text as new texts like Shakespeare’s Oz make-new with Shakespeare.

Chasing the black dog back into the shadows

Atrabilarian/ous
Browsick
Discomfort
Dolefulness
Dolesome
Dumps
Gloomy
Hyperchondria
Pitiful
Sadness
Tristful

What do these words have in common?

Yep, you guessed it. Part of their definition is ‘melancholy’ and, in whose dictionary?

That’s right. Sam Johnson himself. Because, of course, he’s a self-confessed fanboy of Anatomy.

Johnson kept a pet. Not the sort of pet you’d enviously wonder if you could smuggle home, but the sort of pet you’d begin to wish you were allergic to, just to avoid having to spend time in its presence. His pet: a black dog.

When I rise my breakfast is solitary, the black dog waits to share it, from breakfast to dinner he continues barking […] After dinner what remains but to count the clock, and hope for that sleep which I can scarce expect.

1738

The solution to insomnia? A spot of reading, of course. And what better to read than a book which promises and acts as a cure. You’ve guessed it, Anatomy prescriptions all round.

Perhaps he is one of the better known admirers of Burton’s tome. He both prescribed it and sang its praises to James Boswell (best known as his tireless biographer). Allegedly giving it the privileged position as the book to get him out bed. But, this position, can easily be misinterpreted. On a surface level that throwaway remark appears to suggest his desire to read it and immerse himself in Burton’s prose. That may be the case.

But, crucially, it was not just enthusiasm which fuelled Johnson’s early morning sojourns into melancholy. It was deep need and urgency to chase away his own ‘black dog’ which also beckoned him from the bed sheets to those pregnant pages which embalmed him as moth-like his melancholy pulled him to the light, he chose to share this light with Burton and be enlightened by his advocated cures and, with a specific biblio-therapeutic practice attend to his melancholy. We know this based on Boswell’s reports concerning Johnson’s relationship with Anatomy. Most famously, Boswell noted that:

Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy [Johnson] said, was the only book that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.

But he also prescribed it (as well as constant light), and its constituent advice, to Boswell, which reveals a good deal more about why he may have also been reading Burton’s Anatomy:

The great direction which Burton has left to men disordered like you is this, be not solitary; be not idle: which I would thus modify;—If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.

Interestingly, he separates himself, and his own melancholic tendencies, from his advice here, through the distancing ‘men like you‘ (implicitly, not me). One way to avoid idleness, therefore, is to occupy one’s time and a weighty tome such as Anatomy may well fit the bill. Surely study of a volume such as Anatomy is not a communal activity, but it certainly takes no prisoners of idleness. One out of two isn’t too bad, and certainly if we take Burton’s justification of writing the volume as an avoidance of idleness and melancholy, then Anatomy can certainly act curatively in Johnson’s eyes, as well as a really successful wake-up call. Actually by modulating Burton’s statement Johnson slips out of the judgement of solitariness, since by reading Anatomy he is not idle, and nor now will Boswell be if he heeds Johnson’s advice.

But (thankfully) not all of Johnson’s readings of Anatomy were through such rose-tinted spectacles. He too found the volume of quotations to be, at best, a little excessive, even if the book itself had merits. Thus, Boswell records Johnson conversing on its merits and pitfalls as he gives advise on cultivating control of one’s mind:

To have the management of the mind is a great art; and it may be attained in a considerable degree by experience and habitual exercise […] Let him contrive to have as many retreats for his mind as he can, as many things to which it can fly from itself. Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy is a valuale work. It is, perhaps, overloaded with quotation. But there is a great spirit and great power in what Burton says, when he writes from his own mind.

The silly responder in me, wants to know how someone can writing not from their own mind.. But of course that is not the point here. Johnson is trying to emphasise, I suspect, the powerful pen of Burton when he writes from his own mindful experience of melancholy and its constituent practices and cures. So perhaps another useful takeaway, for Johnson, from Anatomy is a literary lesson in how to cultivate and talk of one’s mind, melancholic or otherwise.

This book, weighty enough to press on your chest and awaken you two hours before you really want to get up because you want to explore its contents and because you believe it may do you some good, is hefty enough to throw down upon those dark four-legged thoughts which dogged Johnson, and one he was to recommend prescriptively for the numbing of, or enlivening away from, melancholy and its accompanying comrades of idle solitariness, and as a model for writing insightfully and mindfully in the truest sense of that word.

For Johnson Burton’s mindful take on melancholy mattered, and thus he was to sing its praises to adjust and apply its advice, and indeed to use material from within its covers, in letters, discussions, and popping up across his canon. For him, if you were browsick, a ready compress of Anatomy would serve to alleviate the melancholy and to give you a fascinating insight into the process of mind reading and mind writing.

Energising, Revitalising or, Philip Pullman on Why Burton’s Anatomy Matters.

I promised I would be deviating considerably from chronological order, and, true to my word I begin with a recently republished discussion of The Anatomy of Melancholy by Philip Pullman (yes, really).

Written first as an introduction to the Folio edition of Burton’s tome (2005), this essay was recently republished in his Daemon Voices (2017) collection which compiles 32 of his essays all of which are worth reading and all of which discuss, to some extent, reading or writing, or most often both. I’ll admit when I took the volume out of the library recently for reading for fun I discovered there was to be no final escape from research, and, hounded by melancholy, I discovered between its boards his prefatory writing on Anatomy. But I’m glad I did.

Of course as it is an introduction to a rather shiny well polished Folio edition, he had a vested interest in presenting the book in a good light. And because it is an introduction particularly targeted towards a non-specialist audience it is by necessity brief, broad, and designed to entice. My researcher hat started to itch when he referred to melancholia and depression as one and the same (really? I’ll leave you to think about that one. It’s been causing fractious debates for decades):

Those readers who have some experience of the disorder of the mind we now call depression..

But he is by no means the only writer to conflate these two kinds of suffering, and while we might grumble at the historical contraction, and problematise all those things it does not give adequate attention to, nonetheless for a non-specialist it may well be a helpful way in to get an idea of what Anatomy might be about.

But minor or major conflations aside, Pullman’s piece offers us an insight into the keen eye with which he has read and digested Anatomy. He admits from the off sets all the reasons not to, and then proceeds to counter with reasons why these deterrents ought really to be overcome. Thus he begins:

This book is very long [he’s not wrong. One of my favourite glosses included in Daemon Voices gives testament to this as Pullman praises post-its:‘the pages of my paperback copy bristle with so many little yellow stickers that its thickness is almost doubled, and it wasn’t a slender book to begin with’]. What’s more, like the book Alice’s sister was reading on that famous afternoon, it has no pictures or conversation in it [unless you count Burton’s conversation with himself, and conversation with many of his sources.. Ok maybe not conversation in the conventional sense]. To add to the drawbacks, parts of it are in Latin. And finally, as if that wasn’t bad enough, it is founded on totally outdated notions of anatomy, physiology, psychology, cosmology, and just about every other -logy there ever was [this reminds me distinctly of my grandparents declaring a relation was off to university to study all the ologies. If Pullman is to be trusted, that’s a lot to cover in one degree].

I’ve interfered with Pullman in Burtonic fashion here to give you a flavour of what it is like. (If dog owners grow to appear like their pets, I hope the same osmosis cannot be drawn between me and Burton; he would certainly win in a battle of the detours). Burton is, ever the ‘critic at the elbow’ sending our minds hither and thither as he loads example upon example of cases he has known and as he supports each statement he makes with side notes to rival even the most fulsome of footnotes of the most diligent of PhD students.

But he then goes on to pose the very question this series is considering: ‘what on earth makes it worth reading today?’. But he goes further, arguing it is not only worth reading but also is ‘a glorious and intoxicating and endlessly refreshing reward for reading’. High praise indeed. His reason? Simply put, Burton’s personality. Burton is, he notes, oxymoronically alluring: ‘tolerant and cranky and wise’ and he goes still further advocating that ‘an hour in [Burton’s] company is a stimulant to the soul’, and the ghost of Burton rejoices. For this is, after all, one reason he hoped others may read his Anatomy: dually curative and cathartic, for writer and reader alike. And it seems Pullman has fallen under Burton’s anatomical spell.

I particularly like his reading of the converse of depression to be energy, and the way Burton curatively energies his reader with restorative force:

Those readers who have some experience of […] depression will know that the opposite of that dire state is not happiness but energy; and energy is contagious. We can catch it from others. They cheer us up.

This reading of contagious curing is fascinating, and indicates that for all this discussion of humoral physiology and its outdatedness, there is an enduring acknowledgement of the revitalising power of communion and affective interaction with others. This is not the only time Pullman makes transhistorical connections, some more helpful I think than others, but each time drawing together the past and the present to assert both Burton’s importance in drawing them together and his usefulness as a lens with which to view seemingly modern notions of the self, psychiatry, and curative practice for ‘disorder[s] of the mind’ as he would frame it.

Thus, Pullman can read the digressions as stimulants and mechanisms to prevent dangerous stopping and dwelling upon one’s melancholia (even the 35 page one he notes – Burton at his most extreme). He proposes that the very structure of the Anatomy rushes full steam ahead to stop writer or reader dwelling idly on one notion and thus succumbing to or worsening their state of melancholic humour. Figuring Burton as like one of the conceited compassed lovers in John Donne’s ‘A Valediction Forbidding Morning’ – such that it matters not how ‘far [he] doth roame’ but that indeed he does come home – he argues that ‘the point about Burton’s digressions is not how far he roams but how firmly and certainly he comes back’ to his argument it is his memory and nifty ability to compare – both seemingly effortlessly – which is worthy of attention and praise, Pullman proposes. Noting that if he was a computer we might say he had ‘a great deal of RAM’, alluding to the power of the prose to compel and to address even unuttered concerns. So, if we follow Pullman’s line then the reason Anatomy remains popular today is because in its purchase and reading we imbibe in a healing tonic – a torrent of wordy wisdom to stem melancholy’s deep and weighty humour. And because in its powerful energy, and in the delight Burton takes in his prose, it revitalises us and shakes us out, refusing to let us down until we have reached its final flyleaves. He argues too, it shows us much more than the suppressing term depression indicates:

Our word “depression” has always seemed to me far too genteel, too decorous for this savage and merciless torment. Anything that can palliate it is worth knowing; and certainly no disorder has ever had so rich, so funny, so subtle and so eccentric an anatomy.

About psychology, and concludes if Samuel Johnson were to credit Burton with great praise, then who is he to question it: ‘Nor would we wish the book a sentence shorter, or be without one of the thousands of anecdotes and quotations. This is one of the indispensable books: for my money, it is the best of all’. And if that isn’t indicative of its enduring popularity then I don’t know what is.

Philip Pullman, ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy: An Introduction to an Indispensable Book’, Folio Society edition (2005); repr. In Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling ed. by Simon Mason (Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2017), pp. 329-39.

The Bizarrely Enduring Popularity of The Anatomy of Melancholy

If I pitched to you a reading recommendation of a book that clocks in at 1392 pages (NYRB edition, 2001), with passages of Latin and Greek, oh and I told you it was a cathartic volume on melancholy I suspect most, before I’d got much further, would conveniently find any number of other books they just have to read before this one. And with good cause. Appearances can be deceptive, and The Anatomy of Melancholy certainly has an intimidating initial impression but, perhaps like Infinite Jest, this is part of its allure.

The length of a book is not perhaps the deterrent from Middlemarch and Ulysses to Wolf Hall, The Goldfinch, The Luminaries and even Game of Thrones, there’s clearly a market and appetite for length. There’s a strange kind of pride in this connected in part I suspect to the commitment of time, energy and sustained engagement these books demand. After all, if you can binge watch why not binge read. Although, to be clear, I am not proposing a binge read of Anatomy that would be a challenge. (I am partly intrigued though, so if you do decide to, please let me know how you get on).

But something has kept this volume not only in print but popular to boot (the Penguin edition hits the shelves November this year, for instance), and this something must be more than sheer historical interest – there are far worthier volumes to occupy its place as a major contribution were this the only ground on which it is regarded.

People rave about it, and we are justified, I think, to ask why? The same enthusiasm is not for instance granted to James Ferrand’s equally mad and similarly peppered with references Erotomania, or if we want to search for the closest all-encompassing contemporaneous example perhaps Timothy Bright’s A Treatise on Melancholy or even Andreas De Laurentius’ treatise, A Discourse of the Preservation of the Sight: Of Melancholike Diseases; of Rheumes, and of Old Age might be fairer comparisons. I’ve used my copy of Anatomy as a useful doorstop (it really is big, the NYRB edition for instance is marketed and merited for being ‘surprising compact’.. it’s still 6.1 cm deep), oh and as the basis of much of my research, but it seems to me still quite niche. Why then does it still attract readers across the board? Of course, this is a question we could ask of many books but I can’t imagine, for instance, in several hundred years’ time a reader turning to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (in whichever iteration) for some light relief. That’s an unfair comparison perhaps, Burton’s is far more than a diagnostic manual and offers a curious cocktail of classical, proto-medical, theological, historical and political ideas as across his editions the ever-growing anatomy stretched and flexed his literary muscles. And perhaps that’s part of the point it is more than just the anatomy of melancholy, its enduring popularity is perhaps because it offers more than its title or intimidating spine lets on, it offers a tale of melancholy lived and managed, a portrait of early modern melancholia epidemic and of the ebb and flow of the ever fluctuating passions of the mind.

Now many scholars have written in much greater detail about the multifaceted purposes of Burton with AnatomyMary Ann Lund and Angus Gowland offer particular insights in this area – and by no means do I want to step on their toes. But what I want to do across this short series of posts is to think about responses to Anatomy past and present, and why it still attracts readers almost 400 years following its first publication in its much reduced state in 1621. Not to incite you to read it, or to detail its contents, nor even to advocate purely its merits and ignore its many shortcomings (subjectivity, gendered assumptions and anecdotes which pull us back and forth from yarn to yarn further and then back closer to the argument, I’m looking at all of you), but to simply consider why it is that this early modern volume on melancholy still endures today.

I’ll not be following any particular chronological order I’m afraid and much like the capaciousness of Burton’s writing I’ll be drawing examples from as far and wide as possible and with that in mind, if you have fallen under the spell of Anatomy (for whatever reason) and loved or hated or felt indifferently about it, then I’d love for you to share it and join in the conversation. You see, despite the name of this blog, Burton is not restricted to the early modern period or to any helpful or more spurious connection with Shakespeare we might draw. Indeed to misappropriate Ben Jonson (speaking of Shakespeare), let’s begin to consider why we might say both of Burton ‘would he had blotted a thousand’ lines and yet at the same time wonder why he in his continued popularity perhaps has proved himself to be ‘not of an age’.

The anatomical theatre curtain lifts.. Let the dissections begin!

Ministers of Grace

Image result for minsiters of grace ghsotbusters
Jordan Monsell, Ministers of Grace (Los Angeles: Shadowcut Press, 2016)

If there’s something strange… In your neighbourhood..

Who you gonna call? Ghost-bus-ters!

Picture the scene, it’s the 1590s and you’ve noticed weird apparitions (that don’t look good) when you last went to see a showing of Richard II (and they definitely weren’t part of the play), who you gonna mail? Ministers of Grace!

That’s right; in Ministers of Grace Jordan Monsell has brought us the mash-up we didn’t even know we needed: Shakespeare and Ghostbusters all under one roof, and it’s brilliant. In a week of Shakespeare controversy surrounding a particular production of Julius Caesar I can’t promise this might not be construed as controversial. Let’s face it, academics running round catching ghosts, arrested thanks to a government faction deeming it dangerous madness (or rather keen to get their enemies arrested), opening up the containers to release the spirits, blaming the ministers and then seeing all havoc break loose in a custard form roaming the streets… I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on how controversial this could be. The author was inspired in particular by the Shakespearean rendering of Pulp Fiction, Pulp Shakespeare which he expanded the script draft and then first premiered at the Hollywood Fringe in 2011 (you can check out a trailer of it here).

Ghostbusters came crashing in to our cinema screens with its comedic genius and horror movie mockery in the 1980s and of course has been rebooted recently (2016) and this parody has even got Dan Akroyd’s seal of approval. Surely the highest accolade when it comes to all things Ghostbusters!

But even if we know nothing about the films (though I’m hopeful you do) then we will have at least heard the theme song. You know this one. And so I’ve got to quote the re-rendering of the theme song for you in Ministers of Grace in full because it’s just brilliant. It comes in Act II Scene iii and is delivered by parchment, obviously:

Art thou troubled by noises most strange ’pon the witching hour of night?

Feel thee the pangs of dread in thy cellarage or attic?

Hast thou or thy kin born witness to demon, apparition, or ghost?

If Yay your answer be, make haste and call upon us.

Ministers of Grace!

What is particularly clever about this play is that it is not simply a case of refashioning Ghostbusters into early modern English but Ministers of Grace, fuses Ghostbusters and Shakespearean drama and interweaves lines and moments from across the Shakespeare canon with those from Ghostbusters (1984) to comic effect. This roaring success of Shakespeare appropriation makes you wonder why this hasn’t been done before and also certainly made me reconsider the supernatural elements of Shakespeare particularly for their comedy value. We need these mash-ups not just for light relief but to shake up our thinking about Shakespeare. Like a milkshake made from your favourite chocolate bar makes you digest it, and think about its flavours in a new way, so too does this mixing up of Ghostbusters and Shakespeare allow us to think again about both works of genius in new exciting ways. Since it made me think too of just how potentially Shakespearean Ghostbusters is, yes really.

The bit about there being no place for that kind of academic in the university (despite presumably their brilliant impact and public engagement profiles..) particularly struck me as someone working in the humanities, perhaps all the more so for its Shakespearean language given my research area! But I particularly liked it when there was subtle fusing of Shakespearean lines at appropriate points in the plot. Inside jokes for Shakespeare geeks I guess, but they will make you grin. With ghosts being blasted with ‘a palpable hit’ and exits pursued by dogs there’s Shakespeare everywhere. But some of it is more direct appropriation, so we get Peck, Peter’s rival, the environmental lawyer determined to shut down the business for producing waste without a licence, ventriloquizing Richard III in Act IV Scene ii of this play, and echoing King Lear’s Edmund too, when he says: ‘I am determined to prove a villain’ and ‘soon shall each a halter ’bout the neck/And all will know my name is Walter Peck’. The infamy sought by the villainous translates perfectly into the (albeit less successful) scheme of Peck in Ghostbusters.

Similarly the rallying of the public in Act V Scene vi as the ministers of grace set to launch their final attempt against Gozer is imbued with language from Julius Caesar and Henry V which feels entirely modern (yes I know it’s in early modern language) and by no means out of place in this Shakespearean parody. So it is that Peter says:

Friends, Londoners, Countrymen!

He raises RAY’s hand high. Cheers from the CROWD.

Doctor Stanz! Would’st thou please?

A universal shout for he the heart of our band of brothers here.

Thank ye. They adore thee. They most adore thee here!

Whatsoever may befall us gentles,

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage.[…]

And gentlemen cross England now abed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhood cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon this Judgement day.

The original Ghostbusters moment isn’t that different right?! Just with more music and a reminder to be professional.. Of course.

The awkward flirting between Dana and Peter also is just as awkward when rendered into early modern English the character dynamics alter only for the better thanks to the altered idiom. But perhaps my favourite use of a section from a Shakespeare play comes from Slimmer who ventriloquizes As You Like It and even echoes a bit of Marley in A Christmas Carol, when he describes himself as ‘doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,/Sans legs, sans feet, sans taste, sans everything.’ A perfect description of a ghost. Using, and manipulating, this more morbid, or certainly melancholic, moment from Jacques speech in As You Like It somehow makes slimmer seem even more ridiculous, if that’s possible, than the green slime producing spectre of the movie.

And of course the question you’re all wondering is how does a Shakespearean version of Ghostbusters deal with the sticky issue of a marshmallow man? Well by making him into a custard man, obviously. The Everlasting Puffed Man of Custard, no less. Complete with a recipe for proper English custard for those curious as to how he might, um, taste. In fact the whole play text is studded with appropriate early modern illustrations (wood cuts predominantly). The images depict scenes or ideas which are being discussed in the script and so give the setting of even the words a distinctly early modern, and not 1980s, location. A particularly humorous one occurs in the scene in which Dana has been taken over by Zuul and Dana rises as Peter attempts to communicate with her and not with Zuul and below this speech is an image of levitation. This parody then engages not just with the language and specific play contexts, but also with wider early modern ideas and marries them intuitively with 1980s supernatural comedy. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but no doubt the same complaint was levelled at Doescher’s Shakespeare’s Star Wars and this script is at least as good if not, I think better than those brilliant books.

I hope someone somewhere is preparing a production of this play as I write, I’d love to see a show of Ministers of Grace this side of the pond and failing that at least go and get a copy of the script and read it. It’s quick and funny reading that will make you afterwards seriously savour Shakespeare and Ghostbusters again and have you diving for the DVDs and a copy of Shakespeare’s works. You’ll think again about how supernatural can (and maybe should be) silly sometimes in Shakespeare and how the predominance of the supernatural in the early modern period makes it ripe for such a mash-up as this. Do make sure you call upon the Ministers of Grace. Available online now.

Review for Shakespeare Standard where I’m the Foolery and Books Review Editor.