Although he comes highly recommended, Shakespeare never did it for me. This is mostly because I only comprehend about half of the words spoken on stage. It’s work just to figure out even the basic bare bones of the plot, much less the elegant and clever nuance of which the Bard’s work is alleged.
Reading the plays is not much better. I have to keep re-reading the same lines and it takes forever and Shakespeare’s language just isn’t cool. It’s so white. And awkward, like tip- toeing in tights and tutus. Get thee to an eboics workshop.
We Americans defined ourselves by telling England to make like hockey players and get the puck out of here. And as far as I’m concerned, they can keep their silly language too. September 11 and the Olympics not withstanding, I never feel more proud to be American than when I’m watching Shakespeare.
The thing is, I know that Shakespeare is great. His plots are brilliant, and his insight into the human condition are timeless. Since I don’t want to completely deny myself the presence of greatness, I get my friend Lily to explain Shakespeare’s plays to me over tea.
But now, dear reader, it appears that my complaints have finally been answered—by a Canadian, no less, named Rick Miller. It seems that the talented man from our NAFTA ally to the north has built a solid chunk of middle ground between the Queen and her rebellious spawn. He did this by marrying Shakespearean tragedy with Homeric comedy. Not to be confused with Homeric epic à la The Odyssey, Homeric comedy is the brainchild of Matt Groening’s great American cartoon sitcom series, “The Simpsons.”
Miller’s one man show, MacHomer, uses the characters from “The Simpsons” to deliver the plot of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The result is a veritable Happy Meal of dramatic delight, reported to be immensely pleasing to Shakespeare and Simpsons fans alike.
Quite possibly the funniest and most satirical show in the history of television, the power of “The Simpsons” lies in the show’s blunt-yet-sharp use of American cultural references, both familiar and obscure. Because American culture has a way of spreading like the plague, “The Simpsons” is popular all over the English speaking world, especially in England—testimony to the fact that Britons like to laugh at us too, especially in the context of America’s most deliciously dysfunctional family.
According to James Christopher of The Times of London, the Simpsons became icons in Britain in 1992, when President George Bush urged Americans to be more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons. Of course, most people didn’t listen. Dysfunctional or not, the Simpsons have passion, and like scissors cutting paper, Homer’s hunger and lust burns a hole in the boring, sterile family values that Bush was peddling.
Originally conceived as a backstage joke during a Macbeth production, Rick Miller’s show grew to include his 300 hand-painted slides that are projected onto the backdrop, as well as his own original musical score. Miller impersonates the voices of more than 50 “Simpsons” characters, changing character on a dime—as well as headgear, such as the tall blue wig of Lady MacHomer. It seems like a lot to ask of one person, but MacHomer gets high technical marks wherever it goes. People love it.
Like Shakespeare, “The Simpsons” has a way of piercing to the heart of the human condition. Unlike Shakespeare, “The Simpsons” do it in a lowbrow context, confirming Shakespeare’s words from Much Ado About Nothing: “What your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light.” Another interesting parallel between Shakespeare and “The Simpsons” is that both make use of story within the story. In Hamlet and Midsummer Night’s Dream, especially, Shakespeare makes use of rhetorical verse to set independently operating mini-stories within the greater plot, in much the same way that the mindless violence of “Itchy and Scratchy” is woven into “The Simpsons.”
Most of the lines of MacHomer stay true to Shakespeare, with slight variations when appropriate. Consider the following side-by-side comparison and see if you can figure out which line comes from Macbeth and which one comes from MacHomer:
Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
Is this a dagger which I see before me, or a pizza? Mmmm, pizzaaa.
“Simpsons” lovers will be treated to an ecstatic release at the casting and fate of the infamous Mr. Burns, who on the show is Homer’s boss at the nuclear power plant. I won’t give away what happens, but the feeling aroused by one fateful scene in particular would not be unlike what a Bostonian would feel at watching the Red Sox spank the Yankees in the seventh game of the world series. The hero restores order to the universe.
MacHomer finally parts ways from Macbeth at the very end. Rather than leave the audience in that somber, tragic mood, MacHomer ends with a tour de farce rendition of the Queen anthem, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which incorporates the impersonated singing voices of 25 well-known singers, including Neil Diamond, Meat Loaf, and Bob Dylan. At this point, you are very impressed with talent of Rick Miller.