Words, Words, Words to the Wise

16. February, 2011 Theater No comments

Inspired by the fact that Lamplighters Music Theatre will soon be performing W.S. Gilbert’s excellent but neglected comedy Engaged, which I saw some years back when Shakespeare Santa Cruz did it, I took the opportunity to re-read the collection Plays by W.S. Gilbert. In Gilbert’s straight plays we see the same impish humor that characterizes his much more popular operettas with Sir Arthur Sullivan, only without all that delightful music to distract from it.

Rose Frazier, Lauren Kivowitz, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong and Chris Uzelac in Lamplighters’ Engaged. Photo by David Allen.

One of the shorter plays in the collection is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, a satire of Hamlet that Gilbert wrote many years before Stoppard’s much better known (and more notable) play on the same subject, and there’s a bit in it that I think is priceless:


We are ready, sir. But, before we begin, I would speak a word to you who are to play this piece. I have chosen this play in the face of sturdy opposition from my well-esteemed friends, who were for playing a piece with less bombastic fury and more frolic.  (Addresses KING) But I have thought this a fit play to be presented by reason of that very pedantical bombast and windy obtrusive rhetorick that they do rightly despise. For I hold that there is no such antick fellow as your bombastical hero who doth so earnestly spout forth his folly as to make his hearers believe that he in unconscious of all incongruity; whereas, he who doth so mark, label, and underscore his antick speeches as to show that he is alive to their absurdity seemeth to utter them under protest, and to take part with his audience against himself. (Turning to PLAYERS) For which reason, I pray you, let there be no huge red noses, nor extravagant monstrous wigs, nor coarse men garbed as women, in this comi-tragedy; for such things are as much as to say, “I am a comick fellow — I pray you laugh at me, and hold what I say to be cleverly ridiculous.” Such labelling of humour is an impertinence to your audience, for it seemeth to imply that they are unable to recognize a joke unless it be pointed out to them. I pray you avoid it.

Slight applause which HAMLET acknowledges


Sir, we are beholden to you for your good counsels. But we would urge upon your consideration that we are accomplished players, who have spent many years in learning our profession; and we would venture to suggest that it would better befit your lordship to confine yourself to such matters as your lordship may be likely to understand. We, on our part, may have our own ideas as to the duties of heirs-apparent; but it would ill become us to air them before your lordship, who may be reasonably supposed to understand such matters more perfectly than your very humble servants.

ALL applaud vigorously.

I was originally just going to post Hamlet’s comment about comedy, because lord knows it’s advice that bears repeating, but the player’s takedown was just too sharp not to include.

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