Saturday, February 07, 2009

That bloke Shakespeare

After I quoted a bit of P. G. Wodehouse deploying Shakespeare for comic effect in Thursday's post, I couldn't bear not to share this exchange from another of his Mulliner stories, "The Reverent Wooing of Archibald":
"All right," [Archibald] said, "I'll try to remember. Tell me about her. I mean, has she any fathers or mothers or any rot of that description?"

"Only an aunt. She lives with her in Park Street. She's potty."

Archibald stared, stung to the quick.

"Potty? That divine . . . I mean that rather attractive-looking girl?"

"Not Aurelia. The aunt. She thinks Bacon wrote Shakespeare."

"Thinks who wrote what?" asked Archibald, puzzled, for the names were strange to him.

"You must have heard of Shakespeare. He's well known. Fellow who used to write plays. Only Aurelia's aunt says he didn't. She maintains that a bloke called Bacon wrote them for him."

"Dashed decent of him," said Archibald, approvingly. "Of course, he may have owed Shakespeare money."

"There's that, of course."
There's a lesson for comic writers there that's old, but worth restating: the more ridiculous your premise, the more contained and straightforward your language should be. "For the names were strange to him"--can comic genius get more sublimely simple?


  1. Back before we were married, my wife and I were walking through Budapest when I sprung upon her the rancid well of scholarship that not only did Francis Bacon pen all the Bard's tales, but Don Quixote as well. I couldn't keep a straight face at all; I'm such a miserable liar.

  2. That's great, Jon.

    With that joke in your background, you really should check out the rest of this particular Wodehouse story: the Shakespeare/Bacon connection is explored by the aunt in hilarious, ridiculous detail.

  3. Yes! here —

  4. Well, if that isn't quite amusing, I'm not sure what is. Good point. Now I need to find a way to work that into my day-to-day conversations. That might be rather difficult...

  5. I just recently read Wodehouse's 'Laughing Gas', which isn't one of the series novels, and in which a Hollywood child star and a British earl accidentally swap bodies while under the ffects of dentist-applied nitrous oxide. It's frequently hilarious, and uses repeated variations of the phrase "a poke in the snoot" to great effect.

  6. Homina homina homina....HUH? Wodehouse wrote in the Freaky Friday genre?!? Thanks for the tip! [dashes off to Shake Rattle and Read].

  7. Okay I'm back. Forgot to weigh in with my opinion that this aunt is less potty than daft. The discerning mind is able to ascertain that the authorship of Shakespeare's work lies solely with Kit Marlowe.

  8. It ('Laughing Gas') also has one character complaining about the cliche of the master villain exulting at length about their master plans to the captured hero, then leaving him to be killed by some complicated trap (thus allowing his escape)--all this some 30 years before the first Bond movie.