Shakespeare, Mark Twain, And Culture Essay

1617 words - 7 pages

Culture is consistently in flux, yet there seems to have been a handful of literary figures that have remained to become a constant presence in American culture. Shakespeare is one of these figures. Even though, Shakespeare was a product of England, American embraced him for his style, moral commentary, the importance of the individual, and the ability to control one’s destiny. In the nineteenth century Shakespeare reached new levels of popularity in every social economical group and became engrained in the American culture. Audiences became intimate with Shakespeare’s work, which allowed performers to take liberties and weave in other popular entertainment of the day as well as humor into ...view middle of the document...

So despite the fluctuation of income or more rigid social status all Americans were able to familiar with Shakespeare’s works through play productions.
The presentation of the bard’s famous plays differed widely in style from modern audiences. In the nineteenth century, Shakespeare’s play were often mixed with other popular forms of entertainment of the era. For example, Richard III “whole play is paraphrased in pose and song to such popular tunes as ‘Yankee Doodle” (Browne 380), Othello’s “dialogue is intermixed with song and dance” and at one point “Othello and Desdemona are singing and dancing to the tune of Dixie” (Browne 387). Hamlet’s famous speech “to be or not to be” was often sung to the tune of “Three Blind Mice” (Levine 35). Other lampoons took the form of short skits, brief references, and satirical songs. Nineteenth century audiences enjoyed and expected this blending of Shakespeare’s work with other popular entertainment.
This mixing of forms and the comic twisting put upon plays is depicted in Mark Twain’s novel through the characters of the Duke and the King. The bumbling con men perform pieces from three of Shakespeare’s works include Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, and Hamlet. The scenes of the Duke and the King consist of the King reciting Juliet’s lines to which the Duke informs the King to play her more ladylike and less like a “jackass.” While practicing the sword fight from Richard III, the King falls off the raft and into the Mississippi river. The Duke tries in all humility to recruit Hamlet’s famous soliloquy but mixes in lines from Macbeth. The attempts to recite the plays seriously only leads to a jumble of comic farces that the nineteenth century audience would have been more used to seeing on the stage. Edward L. Davenport, “a famous actor in the nineteenth century, referred to this very ability and willingness to mix genres when he lamented the decline of his profession: “Why, I’ve played an act from Hamlet, one from Black-eyed Susan, and sung Yankee Ship and a Yankee Crew, and danced a hornpipe, and wounded up with a ‘nigger’ part, all in one night”” (Levine 41). The depiction of Mark Twain’s Duke and the King’s comic practicing of Shakespeare’s plays would have been the equivalent to a stage performance held in the nineteenth century. Through Mark Twain’s presentation of Shakespeare through his writing, Mark Twain was demonstrating that Shakespeare had become part of the American culture.
This constant lampooning of Shakespeare’s works did not mean that audiences did not revere his works, on the contrary Shakespeare was a highly respected literary figure. Within Mark Twain’s own writing, we can see signs of admiration for Shakespeare. Huckleberry Finn works as a perfect mouth piece for the admiration that Mark Twain as well as nineteenth century audiences surely felt for the famous bard. Even though the Duke mistakenly quotes Hamlet’s soliloquy by switching some of Hamlet’s line for that of Macbeth,...

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