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The Simpsons and Shakespeare Love Affair

OJ Villacorta II AB Interdisciplinary Studies 093948

Let’s face it: William Shakespeare lives on in the realm of popular culture. You see him and his works pop up in movies , music , and in television. Whether it be a passing reference or a full-blown homage (or parody) to the Bard, there’s no denying it. He’s everywhere. So, unsurprisingly, you would obviously find him in the longest running American sitcom/animated series The Simpsons. Although Star Trek has a lot more references to Shakespeare, I think this generation is more attuned to the day-to-day life of everyone’s favorite animated family.Then again, I could be wrong but I’m to talk about the Simpsons and Shakespeare. But for those of you who are curious how Star Trek references Shakespeare here is a link (http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare) that details most, if not all, references alluding to the Bard. Mind you it’s really a lot.

If Star Trek was loaded with Shakespeare references, I think it’s safe to say that The Simpsons come close. Probably the best known example of Shakespeare in the Simpsons universe is the “Do the Bard, Man” segment from the episode Tales from the Public Domain. The title itself is a reference to none other than Shakespeare himself. It’s basically Hamlet, with Bart as the titular lead character. A playful parody that retains the basic premise of the play with Claudius(Moe) marrying Gertrude(Marge) and Hamlet wanting revenge. Then it gets crazy. The scene where Hamlet stages a play to reveal Claudius’ acts some backfires on Bart, causing everyone to believe he is mental. Ophelia, played by Lisa, is not to be outdone and does what does in the real play: acting crazy and then eventually drowning in a river. The climax is probably the best scene. Here it is, in glorious grainy Youtube resolution.

Rosencarl and Guildenlenny are hilarious. Here we see  an example of how Shakespeare is able to thrive in today’s generation. You get a Shakespeare play, trim it down, and then you get Shakespeare for today’s youth. It’s interesting to see that although the episode doesn’t take itself rather seriously, you still basically get Prince Hamlet with Simpsons characters, and quite frankly it isn’t too bad. The segment still manages to incorporate real Shakespearean lines into to show. Lisa says some of Ophelia’s actual lines during her crazy scene.It’s like the writers put these little inside jokes for those who actually know the text.It’s funny on it’s own but it’s even funnier if you compare with the original version.They were able to establish the whole gist of Hamlet and they spice it up with Simpsons humor. I mean everyone still dies in the end, although different from how they died in the actual text for the sake of comedy.

Next is Macbeth. Like “Do the Bard, Man”, there isn’t really a single episode dedicated to it, but rather it’s part of a bigger episode. “Lady Macbeth” is part of the episode “Four Great Women and a Manicure”. It’s a more recent episode compared to Tales from the Public Domain. It’s interesting how the writers did it this time.  It takes place in “real life”, with Marge and Homer working on the Springfield production of Macbeth. Since Homer doesn’t get the lead role of Macbeth, Marge convinces him to kill the current lead actor to get the role. Homer gets the role but fails to deliver a good performance, and Marge again tells him to kill all the other actors who got better reviews. This mirrors how Lady Macbeth influences her husband to kill all those who stand in his way on his path to the throne. Anyway, it comes to the point where Marge and Homer are the only ones left, and the ghosts of all the dead actors take their revenge on Marge, who they know was the real culprit behind their deaths. Homer, now alone delivers a worthy Macbeth (the tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow soliloquy) performance much to his dead wife’s delight.

And true to the original story, even Macbeth dies. This is somewhat different from Do the Bard, Man, in the sense that the characters aren’t playing Shakespearean characters, but themselves. They are only caught in a Shakespearean situation. It’s kinda confusing, but I hope you get the idea. Again, the writers pay homage to Shakespeare by including a part of the actual text in the show. There is some respect in the idea that the writers don’t want to entirely defile Shakespeare work. They want to preserve some part of it in their adaptations. Although the Weird Sisters and other Macbeth character’s don’t make an appearance, the episode still manages again to retain the whole theme of revenge which is central to Macbeth.

Another example of the whole Shakepeare and Simpsons relationship is Rick Miller’s MacHomer. It this one-man play that marries the story of Macbeth with the Simpsons characters. Whats interesting to note is that, this is not in anyway produced or even endorsed by Fox Network or the creators of the Simpsons. I’m not familiar with Rick Miller but I believe he’s a big time comedian. Apparently, MacHomer is kind of a big thing with really good reviews. Miller does around 50 voices by himself and claims that the story “remains 85% Shakespeare”.  There’s this certain chemistry between the Simpsons characters and Shakespeare’s works which make it such a good combination.

Beyond the actual episodes of the Simpsons themselves, there are still lots of references to be found. Some episodes are named after some plays like “Much Apu About Nothing” and “A Midsummer Nice Dream”. Though these episodes have nothing to do with Shakespeare.  The character Sideshow Bob is known to be a Shakespeare lover in the show. Although I don’t have a video for it, here’s this funny exchange between Sideshow Bob and Lisa about Shakespeare:

Sideshow Bob: Let’s not tarry. As Shakespeare said, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere best it were done quickly.” Power on! [Laughs maniacally.] This time I’ve made no mistakes.

Lisa: Actually, you made one. What Shakespeare really said was “’twere well it were done quickly.”

Sideshow Bob: Yes, I’m sure you’ve studied the Immortal Bard extensively under your “Miss Hoover.”

Lisa: Macbeth: Act one, scene seven. Look it up.

Sideshow Bob [re-entering]: I shall! [Pause.] Come on, Wikipedia! Load, you unwieldy behemoth! [the laptop explodes] Oh, dear. Sideshow Bob: Hoist on his own petard.

Lisa: It’s “hoist with his own petard.”

Sideshow Bob: Oh, get a life.

I really do feel that Shakespeare and the Simpsons work well with each other. Shakespeare’s masterful words and prose blend seamlessly with the Simpson’s humor, and I have to say, it’s kind of irresistible. Like I said earlier, there’s this certain chemistry between the two that makes it so appealing to audiences today. Shakespeare wont die out, well at least not in the foreseeable future. There will always be collaborations/crossovers like this that will keep newer generation interested in the Bard’s works. I leave you with William Shakespeare’s only real appearance on the Simpsons to date. Hope you enjoyed!

Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. March 18, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    None of the videos or pictures used in this post are mine, but are the property of their rightful owners.

  2. annnacarmina
    March 20, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    It amazes me how Shakespeare can incorporate itself to pop culture like The Simpsons, The Family Guy, and The Cleaveland Show. The humor and modernity of these shows are a perfect mix to Shakespeare’s old english and people’s perception of Shakespeare.

  3. irviglesias
    March 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    People have complained that the quality of “The Simpsons” has declined over the years and is now just a shadow of the edgy, countercultural icon that it once was, the show that inspired a generation of in-your-face, middle-finger-in-your-pro-establishment-parents’-faces shows like “South Park”, “Beavis and Butthead”, “Daria”, “Celebrity Deathmatch” and “Family Guy”. But while it’s watered itself down image-wise, it doesn’t seem to have dumbed itself down as well.

    Unless I’m mistaken, a great deal of the people behind the show have completed AT LEAST graduate school and this higher education must have given them the tools to poke fun at cultural crown jewels such as Shakespeare’s plays in a way that is both hilarious and insightful. Their “Machomer” episode, for instance, may on the superficial level be the story of a bumbling idiot killing everyone from total strangers to his family in order to become the star of “Macbeth”, but may also be simultaneously taken as a parallel of the original play AND as an allegory for the abrasive, cutthroat world of contemporary show business. While some may frown upon it and say it desecrates the original play, I don’t think anyone can deny that it’s a parody of the highest order, since it is (a) both intelligent and reverent, and (b) relevant to the society to which it caters.

    • March 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      Thanks for the insights! I agree with you saying that these shows haven’t dumbed down Shakespeare for a new generation. They are after all parodies and playful homages to the man and his works. Although I haven’t really researched on the other shows like Family Guy and what not, The Simpsons’ take on Shakespeare is really well done.

  1. January 20, 2012 at 10:31 pm

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