Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Cosby Show Raps Julius Caesar

“Shakespeare.” By Matt Robinson. Perf. Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Roscoe Lee Brown, Christopher Plummer, and Carl Anthony Payne, II. Dir. Jay Sandrich. The Cosby Show. Season 4, episode 5. NBC. 22 October 1987. DVD. Urban Works, 2007.

The Cosby Show moved from Macbeth in its second season to Julius Caesar in its fourth. After spending some time complaining about how boring Shakespeare is, the two young scholars (Theo and Cockroach) begin to realize that it makes sense after all. As a culmination of this epiphany, they perform a rap version of Mark Anthony's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech.

It's not difficult to find rap versions of Shakespeare plays—and not many of those rise to the top. This one seems fairly straightforward—pretty route—at first.  But listen to the lyrics (and read them—they're printed below). There are some genuinely interesting and inventive devices here.

For example, Anthony's "And Brutus is an honourable man" is transmuted into "Brutus is cool." In itself, that's nothing. But it's placed in a half line with no rhyming line to accompany it, and the effect is (as it is in Shakespeare) to call our attention to the line and to invite us to question its truthfulness.

Additionaly, there's a majesty and magic in the rhythm, cadence, and alliteration of "Caesar was about to run Rome to ruin" and "Caesar said, 'No, baby,' and turned the crown down." Marvelous, that. Really.

video

Lyrics to the The Cosby Show's "Julius Caesar Rap" (a.k.a. "Mark Anthony's Rap"):
Theo:
I say, friends!

Cockroach:
Uh, let me hold your ear.

Theo:
And Romans!

Cockroach:
Uh, let me hold your ears.

Theo:
I say, countrymen!

Cockroach:
Uh, let me hold your ears.

Theo:
Now, I’m Marcus Antonius, but they call me Mark
I didn’t come to bite, you see, I came to bark.
About the holes that the brothers put in Julius C—
As far as I’m concerned, it was cool with me.
You see, Brutus and the boys must have know what they were doin’;
Caesar was about to run Rome to ruin.
’Cause Brutus is cool . . . [Breakdown.]

Cockroach:
All Caesar did was to Romanize the world
And put some bronze in the palm of every boy and girl
But the man’s so chill that when they handed him the crown,
Caesar said . . .

Theo:
“No, Baby.”

Cockroach:
. . . and turned the crown down.
But Brutus, he said, he said he’s into greed,
Which is how he justified the Ides of March deed.
But Brutus is cool . . . [Breakdown.]

Theo:
I say, Chill, homeboy, my heart’s with Dr. J.

Cockroach:
So let’s get busy ’til he comes this way.

Theo:
Doctor was taken to the bridge!

[Said bridge occurs.]

Theo:
Now the last little Caesar scene before homeboy blew

Cockroach:
Was to drop some old gold on each one of you

Theo:
J.C. was your father.

Cockroach:
J.C. was your brother.

Theo:
And what I want to know . . .

Cockroach:
When comes such another?

Both:
Great Caesar’s ghost! Great Caesar’s ghost!

Cockroach:
He’s chilling most . . .

Theo:
From coast to coast!

Both:
Great Caesar’s ghost! Great Caesar’s ghost!
He’s chilling most from coast to coast!


Links: The Show at IMDB. Brief Previous Post on the Subject.

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1 comment:

Anna Lert Reeder said...

This gives me an idea for a whole new blog: Bardrap. The clip, following the Macbeth episode, is priceless. Thanks!

Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2012 by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest