Friday, March 26, 2010

What do Billy Crystal and William Shakespeare have in Common?

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh and Billy Crystal. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.

Well, they have the first name in common—but I'm thinking about something else.

Billy Crystal is able to create an entire character with just a few words and some small gestures. Shakespeare, too, can create immensely complicated backstories with a few words.

In the Branagh Hamlet, the two of them come together in the most amazing way. Before Hamlet enters for his part of the Graveyard Scene, the Grave-digger sends "the other clown" off with these eleven words:
Go, get thee to Yaughan; fetch me a stoup of liquor. (V.i.60)
The line could be thrown away easily—by either Shakespeare or Crystal. But Shakespeare doesn't have the Grave-digger utter a mere "Fetch me drink" (which would have served the purpose adequately). Instead, he takes the time to create a character who will never set foot on the stage—a character who only exists beyond the frame of the play. Crystal also creates a greater sense of the character beyond the mere line by delievering it with a slight accent that might be how Yaughan himself says his name and by making two small gestures that create—out of thin air!—a host of ideas about the landlord of this off-stage inn. He seems slightly pudgy, quite hospitable, and willing to take a joke good-humoredly, though not ready to put up with any nonsense—espeically in money matters. Am I reading too much into this? See for yourself:

Many aspects of the character are, I believe, revealed in that one second. But if I'm reading too much into it, at least you now know another good Y name (if someone else chooses Yorick) for the next time you're playing a Shakespearean alphabet game.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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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.
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