Dr Who, Shakespeare, Drood and Friends. This is not the end.

Earlier this week I came across an outtake from Friends. Probably a scene that many have already seen but it was my first viewing and having seen the seasons over and over I was excited to discover new, or new to me material. The scene was deleted due to the events of 9/11 mere weeks before the episode was due to air. If you’re intrigued here is the scene in question:

It was replaced with alternative footage of course, but the clip got me thinking about our craving for more – and no I don’t just mean Joey-style more pizza or your bog standard greed. I’m talking about a real hunger to know more to delve beyond the final curtain call, scene, or page of our favourite show or book. It’s in-built and it’s everywhere. What is the question asked to all the Friends’ actors most often in interview it surely has to be “are you making a movie/another season/anything at all?”.  As we cling onto the hope. Jennifer Anniston was certainly asked this in the Graham Norton Show this week.

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Friends Meets Graham Norton

Her comic response suggesting that we ought to wait until the characters are so old that it ensures no comparison with the success of the original show highlights an important point:

At this point I honestly think we should just wait until we are really much older and have Golden Friends. Then you wouldn’t have the comparison.

As much as we might wish for a reboot, would be really like it when it happened or is it more the potential, the hope in that possibility for our favourite thing that has sadly ended to continue?

This obsession, as we clamber for more, can be clearly seen in movies and their marketing. Now we don’t simply have the movie release, followed by a DVD a few months later and then case closed. The DVD follows with the release of a director’s cut, an extended edition and all the add-ons you can imagine. Then there’s all the paraphernalia surrounding the movie release, the chats with the movie stars as journalists probe for loose plot strands and we all hope for a sequel that’s just as good. Of course it never is (ok, fine, almost never), and prequels are almost inevitably even more of a disaster, though I realise that’s a bit of a generalisation. But the point is, we yearn for more of whatever we love, whether it’s for the season of the TV show to start that little bit sooner, the book to tell us just a few pages more about what happened to the characters.. Well, you get the picture.

It’s not just literature, movies and TV shows of course. Even Taylor Swift has tapped into this a little bit in her latest release “Blank Space” – ok not quite, I realise I’m maybe pushing it a bit. But, she is talking about filling in gaps, and messy relationships with the past, present and future. This obsession is all over the show. Mystery, and wanting to know more – her music video for instance is accompanied by a “making of” video. Because everyone clearly wants to know just how she manages to stand on that horse.

This reminds of a book I read earlier this year, a book without an ending, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I know, I know, I should’ve been more prepared given that I began the story knowing it was going to peter out with the final closing line. There’s something bittersweet about it, I was just getting into the story, getting to know the characters and then bam, Dickens goes and falls off his perch – how inconsiderate!

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“The End” of Drood, or is it?

Imagine a Dr Who episode ending in the middle and the season cancelled never to return and you’ll have an accurate impression of how I felt. Imagine the spinoffs that would hit the internet with possible endings, continuations of plots – the episode would grow legs and a life of its own far beyond the original franchise (although with the streams of fan fiction sites out there I suppose you could say this has already happened to some extent, either way the conversation continues). Well, the same can be said for Drood, only with a 93 year lead on Dr Who it’s gained quite the collection of potential endings, solving of the mystery, character and plot inspired texts and the like. Worse still are those who read us books, or literary adaptations that cut all the good parts out in favour of a particular reading. Such things of course have a huge impact and Rosa (the love interest for not one but several men in Drood) has some shrewd thoughts to share on this.

Rosa soon made the discovery that Miss Twinkleton didn’t read fairly. She cut the love-scenes, interpolated passages in praise of female celibacy, and was guilty of other glaring pious frauds.

Intrigued and frustrated at the sudden end of the book, I picked up a copy of The Drood Case soon after putting down Drood and its author Aylmer captures the excitement and thrill surrounding the “mystery” of Drood as he surveys the conversation he sought to join with this volume:

As the last work of our best loved novelist and one of the most famous puzzles in literature, it is better known, and has won more critical attention, than any comparable book that can be cited. So much ink and paper has […] been expended on attempts to wrest from the portion Dickens completed the secret that he took with him to the grave

My knowledge of Drood is limited to little more than an interested fan, but if you want to know more about it you should definitely check out The Drood Inquiry here, where you can even vote on whodunit and the fates of many of the other characters as you add your voice to the cacophony of mystery-solvers sparked by this Cloisterham tale.

But of course it wasn’t just Dickens that disappeared leaving unanswered questions, my roommate (a Fitzgerald fan) told me just last week that she had toyed with the idea of looking into endings of an unfinished title by the man behind Benjamin Button and Gatsby. It’s The Love of the Last Tycoon in case you’re interested and I’m told it’s well worth a read (I’ll add it to the list).

But I was thinking a little further back than Fitzgerald, back even to the Renaissance and a certain Mr Shakespeare who often crops up in discussions of whodunit, or for the more academically minded Apocrypha – that’s the plays Shakespeare may or may not have had a hand in. But he also has a few mysteries to his canon. Where, for instance, is Love’s Labour’s Won? I know I know, the RSC would have us believe that’s the secret pseudonym for Much Ado but I’m not so sure. It’s a mystery alright and one on which “the mind shall banquet”. We know that it’s possible there was once a play with that title, and no I don’t just mean the play in an episode of Dr Who (which I talk about in an early post). As early as 1598 a bloke called Francis Meres praised Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost & Won:

As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and Tragedy among the Latines: so Shakespeare among English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for Comedy, witnes his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Loue labors lost, his Loue labours wonne, his Midsummers night dreame, & his Merchant of Venice: for Tragedy his Richard the 2. Richard the 3. Henry the 4. King John, Titus Andronicus and his Romeo and Juliet

Suggesting that it was once a play, perhaps hiding somewhere in the ether (with Edwin?) there’s been plenty of discussion of the play masquerading under another title in the Folio, with All’s Well That Ends Well and The Taming of the Shrew as prime suspects. And like all good mysteries there’s the added excitement of a manuscript apparently suggesting the existence of Love’s Labour’s Won. At least once upon a time.

Can you spot Love’s Labour’s Won?

The truth is despite the many theories we don’t really know where Love’s Labour’s Won is, as the Doctor cried out back in that Dr Who episode, “Love’s Labour’s Won is lost” (at least for the time being). The case is, of course, not closed and detectives are welcomed to probe deeper into the mystery. Is the RSC right, for instance, to claim Much Ado as Love’s Labour’s Won?

RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost & Won

I can understand why they have chosen to do so, but I think, more than anything, it only complicates the original issue. That said, but it fits the RSC’s WWI bridging of the two plays theme, and maybe more importantly flags up a frequently side-lined play (Love’s Labour’s Lost) to the public’s attention, so why not! It does make me wonder though if we’ve not become sequel or sequence obsessed, the history plays making their very presence known to the wider public with their Hollow Crown rendition, crucially the plays together not as separate entities. And the same has happened for Love’s Labour’s Lost. It is almost as if it’s not quite good enough to be performed alone and needs a more prominent play to give it a boost. Is this the fate of those less known plays? Will there seen be a Hamlet 2, perhaps Hamlet Avenged or the Return of Hamlet? A similar technique is used to raise the profile of other early modern playwrights who are branded as Shakespeare’s contemporaries (the implication being Shakespeare was the best but it’s ok these blokes were about the same time as him so they might be worth checking out. Don’t get me wrong Shakespeare was great, and this approach definitely draws in new audiences and readers which I’m all for, but these are playwrights in their own right and by lumping them together it hampers not boosts their reputation).  Spanish Tragedy is known because it’s a source to Hamlet first and foremost. So is Love’s labour’s Lost set to be known because it’s the prequel to Much Ado (sorry Love’s Labour’s Won) just like Richard II is known because it kick starts the Falstaff set ending in the patriotic or war hungry Henry (depending on the political weather forecast). Nothing wrong with pitching Love’s Labour’s Lost with another play, it’s just the title’s fractured and mysterious history is also worth bearing in mind. That said, Shakespeare survives by continually being remixed like a bad (sorry I mean good) pop song.

Back to Dr Who for a second, I picked up a copy of Dr Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks a couple of weeks ago (more on that next time) but the basic premise is what-if Dr Who and Shakespeare had hung out – what would they have got up to and what impact would that have had on the plays?

Dr Who

“I wonder, Doctor”

Pleasingly Shakespeare is modelled, complete with scarf, on Tom Baker. Perhaps he’s the favourite Dr Who of Shakespeare fans? He’s certainly mine.

Shakespeare Sporting the Full Regalia.

But Baker aside, back to the book itself. Imagine Dr Who in Macbeth, As You Like It and even that enigma Double Falsehood. You see! It’s all feeding again not only the appetite for those of us who are fans of both Shakespeare and Dr Who, but as the comically written notes at the back of the book highlight, it’s feeding our love for knowing more about “the mystery of things”. Why else I wonder would such detective, mystery dominated discussions, books and shows still excite us today? Just check out the continued popularity of Sherlock, Elementary, Doyle, and the books themselves for a quick reality check if you don’t believe me.

On the subject of unseen material, here’s some new Shakespeare footage, ok not quite, but it’s certainly new footage of Jennifer Lawrence and fear not – no naked photos here! Just a spot of Othello.

But why this hunger for mystery, wanting to know beyond the text. It may be that humans are by nature inquisitive beings and excited by the possibility of the unknown. I wonder also in more modern times in the uncertainty of what follows death that many in the past were so sure about also feeds into this. We’re curious both of the legacy left behind in the wake of art, be that a movie, book, TV show, play or any other form, but also of the person who left it behind. Like in Friends when the show ended the characters didn’t of course die they just ceased to appear animated on our screens the only way to access them again was to return to their past, The Mystery of Edwin Drood in a very real way exemplifies this, the central character disappears (presumed by many to be dead), the author dies mid-novel and these “mysterious” events are thus intertwined as we delve into the text and tales of the dead to try and discover something new. In this sense readers are like archaeologists digging for characters, plots and even authors – apt then that a graveyard and tombs feature so prominently in Drood, and as for Shakespeare well ever since his death and even before we’ve been intrigued by potential attributions, new material, news on him his life, the plays, the poems, really anything at all – aided of course by the love poured out thanks to the steady increase in fans for the plays. Why else in 2014 would the BBC choose to release material that pairs Shakespeare with Dr Who? When they can go back to the future why hit the past, sure Shakespeare is cultural capita but more than that – like the Doctor there’s plenty of mystery to draw in fans young and old.

If this seemingly odd mix are anything to go by, one thing is for certain – we love a good mystery and anything that fuels that texts, missing links, ends or apparent ends  and the release of  “new” material is set to excite us for years to come. And they all lived happily ever questioning the end.

This is not the end.

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About Sarah Waters

I'm a PhD student at Oxford Brookes University researching female melancholia in Early Modern medicine, drama, and its resonances with our understanding of female depression today. I also have research interests in Shakespeare, Renaissance literature, Children's Literature, CS Lewis, and The Inklings.
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One Response to Dr Who, Shakespeare, Drood and Friends. This is not the end.

  1. Pingback: Dr Who, Shakespeare, Drood and Friends. This is not the end. | The Shakespeare Standard

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