Well, you can't get more un-orthodox than Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson.
If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch (and laugh) at this skit between them.
I love how they can take something so meaningful as Shakespeare and Hamlet, and bring it down to earth and make it funny.
They have precisely the kind of irreverence that Shakespeare and his actors had. As I wrote my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that the plays are much funnier than we think.
Far from being "Important Literature" (capital I and L) the plays were sequences of drama and comedy that were ruthlessly entertaining. They were written, and no doubt acted, to catch and keep the attention of the audience, and what better to do so than some jokes and gags.
Laurie and Atkinson are doing the same thing. They are taking all these familiar Shakespeare notions and slowly roasting them, slowly upping the ante, to the delight of the audience who appreciates a good joke.
I am convinced that had Laurie and Atkinson been alive in Elizabethan London, without a doubt they would have been acting with Shakespeare himself.
Having seen Laurie do broad comedy like Blackadder and serious drama like House, I would think that he would have given Richard Burbage (the actor who created the roles of Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Shylock, etc.) a run for his money.
I don't think I have ever seen Atkinson do drama. But with his comedy, from highly verbal in Blackadder to non-verbal in Mr. Bean, I think he would have given Will Kemp (the actor who created the roles of Falstaff, the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Feste, etc.) a run for his money.
To the best of my knowledge, neither Laurie or Atkinson has ever performed Shakespeare on stage professionally. I found a quote that Laurie has only ever done one Shakespeare play, while in university. That would have probably been while he was in the Footlights club, whose members have included Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Eric Idle and some of the greatest comedic talents in the world.
I would venture to guess that they did not perform the Bard because it had become too precious over time, and too revered for them to bring anything new to it, and both men were drawn to more humor than stuffy costume dramas.
It is a shame that they did not perform Shakespeare. I think they would have discovered the truth of the plays, and they might have changed the way we watch and appreciate the plays.
David B. Schajer
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