Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Doctor Who (in 1965) Watches Shakespeare (in 1599)

“The Executioners.” “The Chase.” By Terry Nation. Perf. William Hartnell, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell, Maureen O'Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), Robert Marsden (as Abraham Lincoln), Roger Hammond (as Francis Bacon), Vivienne Bennett (as Queen Elizabeth I), Hugh Walters (as William Shakespeare), Richard Coe, Peter Hawkins, and David Graham. Doctor Who. Season 2 (Old Series), Episode 30. BBC. 22 May 1965. Videocassette. Fox Video, 1988.

Bardfilm is overjoyed to present an exceptional rarity: An intersection of Shakespeare and Doctor Who.

Yes, Bardfilm realizes that, especially in the new series, Shakespearean references, allusions, quotations—nay, even the Bard himself—are not rare. But this is a brief but telling moment of Shakespeare in the second season of the original series! For fans, that means William Hartnell (the first doctor) traveling with the first companions.

Intriguingly, the episode doesn't involve a journey through time to the age of William Shakespeare. Instead, the Doctor has rigged up a kind of "Time Television" that enables him to see various events throughout time (for example, Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address or the Beatles playing a pre-1965 concert). Because of this new technology, the TARDIS Travelers (and we along with them) can pinpoint a conversation involving Queen Elizabeth I, William Shakespeare, and Francis Bacon:


That may seems quite flippant and forgettable, but quite a number of interesting inferences are present in this segment:

  1. Shakespeare (a.k.a. "Shaksper, the Man from Stratford") is visualized as the author of the plays attributed to him—indeed, he is placed in juxtaposition to Francis Bacon (one of the contenders for the authorship)—who has an idea for a play based on the story of Hamlet that Shakespeare declines: "It would not be quite in my style," he declares. Since Bacon recognizes Shakespeare as the author of plays, we can fairly assume that he's not using Shakespeare as a front for his own plays. His insulting "Scribbler!" at the end may be class-based or it may be mere jealousy, but it's not consistent with the idea of Shakespeare claiming authorship of plays actually written by Bacon.
  2. The Queen's appreciation of Shakespeare's work is clear—even in the face of opposition from whiny peers of the realm (viz., Sir John Oldcastle). Indeed, her Majesty seems to be testing his Bardship. Once he admits to making fun of Oldcastle, she acknowledges its humor: "We found it very amusing," she says (cf., by way of contrast, Queen Victoria).
  3. The clip offers independent confirmation of the anecdote (first noted in print in 1702—100ish years after the conversation is supposed to have taken place) about Queen Elizabeth's desire for "More Falstaff!" We find out that she, after all, "commanded him to continue in [that admirable character of Falstaff] for one Play more, and to shew him in love" (Rowe, qtd. in Schoenbaum 51).
  4. The Court of Queen Elizabeth was not nearly as crowded as it is usually presented as being!
  5. Will Shakespeare is not above being frightened at the powerful—he does cower a bit, particularly at the beginning. There's a humanizing tendency (as opposed to a tendency toward bardolatry) here.
Overall, the clip takes a relatively conservative position toward Shakespeare, yet it plays with the anecdotal evidence and (possibly) with the authorship question by placing Bacon alongside Shakespeare. And, of course, his initial rejection of the idea of writing a play based on the history of Prince Hamlet—followed by a dawning recognition that he could write something not in his usual style—is intriguing. The move from a kind of posited Ur-Hamlet to Hamlet becomes a turning point in Shakespeare's career. In this imagined version, that turning point is not due to the death of Shakespeare's son Hamnet but to a casual remark from a self-flattering member of the court.

Works Cited

Schoenbaum, S. Shakespeare’s Lives. New Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Links: The Episode at IMDB. The Episode on Wikipedia.

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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 2008-2016 (and into perpetuity thereafter) 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.

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