What if… William Shakespeare wrote The Big Lebowski?
Why would anyone ask themselves this question? No one is sure, including writer Adam Bertocci who wrote The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski in an inspired frenzy in late 2009 and saw it play on stage in New York City the following spring.
In his afterword, Bertocci points out that Elizabethans were constantly reworking earlier stories and that most of Shakespeare’s plays can be linked to obvious sources. He says, “This is my contention: If The Big Lebowski had premiered in 1598, Shakespeare would have ripped it off by 1603.”
I just finished reading it, and wowzas, it’s a bit funny. It’s an adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. If you don’t remember the story line, take a gander at the Wikipedia article. It’s an odd movie… the unemployed, laid-back, pot-smoking Dude (Jeff Bridges) and his Vietnam vet bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman) are embroiled in goofy hijinks involving a rug, mistaken identity, a pseudo-kidnapping, missing ransom money, spiked White Russians, misplaced toes, ears, urine, and ashes, and well, throw in a bunch of F-bombs, and I think I’ve set the stage. Remember, it’s the Coen Brothers.
So, Bertocci took this and said “let’s make it Shakespearean.” He rewrote the entire story in Shakespeare-like heightened language, even throwing in Shakespearean references (he claims there are references to all the plays, sonnets, and other works and I believe him!). Bertocci follows the film’s plot closely and even works in the lyrics to some of the songs used in the film.
It somehow works. I can’t really convey how funny it is. It had me laughing out loud several times, and smiling with amusement most of the rest (it’s a really quick read if you are familiar with the movie… I just watched it on Netflix last week, so the story was fresh in my mind).
It is almost too difficult to pick out a few examples, as the whole thing is so hilarious and I feel like the examples will sound dumb out of context. Well, here is one. You may recall my love for Balthasar’s song in Much Ado About Nothing. I started many of my posts with it and used it as my theme.
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.
Okay, so Bertocci’s reference to it in Two Gentlemen of Lebowski is sung by Bonnie (Bunny in the film), the slutty porn star wife of the Big Lebowski as she asks the Knave (the Dude) to blow on her green toenail polish:
With toe-nails of verdant and forester’s green
With a hey-nonny-no and a hey-nonny-nonny
Blow thrice on my toe-nails and I’ll be thy queen
And ever preserve me as thine, blithe and Bonnie.
Bertocci also includes textual notes that are… ahem…worth reading. So on the same page as the reframed Balthasar’s song, I’ll take note of an example. Bonnie says to the Knave:
I ask this deed of you thrice now; and that which a damsel craves
constantly is the service of a tongue most moved in capability.
Look to my foot; I cannot reach that far. Blow, wind!
The accompanying note reads:
tongue most moved: i.e., capable of dexterous speech and cunning linguistics
Alrighty then. Another note later in the play:
lance: euphemism for penis; see also most nouns in Shakespeare
So it goes on in that vein, page after hilarious page. Okay, I can’t let go of the toe thing. You may recall in the movie that a severed toe is delivered to the Dude and it appears to be Bunny’s (with green polish). Walter denies that it’s Bunny’s toe. So, here is Walter’s reply in the TGOL version:
Thou wouldst have a toe? A toe can be obtain’d.
Ways are known, Knave. Thou wilt not like to hear.
I’ll have a toe for thee this afternoon
Ere singeth cockerel at three o’clock.
These amateurs would have us soil’d with fear.
I really wish I could see a video of it in performance, but alas, the Coen Brothers have apparently put the kibosh on future productions. There are two short videos that are worth watching on the DMTheatrics’ American Shakespeare Factory archives. I can imagine with music and dancing, it would be a really fun show to see.
The Knave abideth.
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