[Shakespeare Play] on [Social Medium]
It’s a gimmick I’ve seen a few times: recreate a Shakespeare play with social media. There’s a version of Hamlet as a Facebook news feed and earlier this year the Royal Shakespeare Company (and sponsors) debuted “Such Tweet Sorrow”, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet for Twitter (with occasional use of YouTube). The Guardian wrote about it when it opened.
Semi-related hilarious things that I’ve seen (and done) include making Miis of famous thinkers and historical figures and putting profiles of them up on social media sites. A couple of friends and I had great fun creating a profile for B. F. Skinner on a local dating website (we used text from reviews and back-cover descriptions of his books as his “interests”) and I know people who play Wii sports against striking resemblances of Weird Al Yancovic and Jacques Derrida.
To write about exactly why this kind of thing is so funny would be to rehash countless cultural studies essays, so I won’t. Plus, I’m not sure I know. I just know that it really is.
Facebook Hamlet was a stand-alone effort; it takes only one visit to get the whole story. “Such Tweet Sorrow”, however, took five weeks to play out, and I for one am sorry I missed out on the game of following the tweets of all the characters.
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and the next Shakespeare-on-social-media gimmick is the sun”, so no worries; parting might be sweet sorrow, but there will indubitably be a new internet meme tomorrow.
These Are Travesties
These are memes, yes, but they are also travesties. For realsies!
“Why are you calling these things ‘travesties’ if you think they’re clever and fun? Isn’t a ‘travesty’ basically the same thing as a tragedy? And isn’t a tragedy just a sad story?”
No. You are a philistine.
Don’t worry; most people are philistines when it comes to remembering the strict definitions of literary terms (including me; I looked them up to make sure I was right—and I was. Memory WIN!).
A tragedy is “a serious play in which the chief character, by some peculiarity of psychology, passes through a series of misfortunes leading to a final, devastating catastrophe” (thanks, Dr. Wheeler’s compilation of literary terms from reliable books, including Abrams’ Glossary of Literary Terms). Hamlet is a classic example of tragedy.
A travesty, on the other hand, is this:
TRAVESTY (Latin trans + vestis, “switched clothing”): Debasement of a serious subject or serious literary work either accidentally or through intentional satire—especially through treating a dignified topic in a silly or inappropriate manner. For instance, Boileau describes one travesty of Virgil’s Aeneid by stating, “Dido and Aeneas are made to speak like fishwives and ruffians.”
People often confuse travesty with parody (and occasionally with satire, burlesque and caricature). When I facilitated seminars with undergrad students I explained it this way: In parody you draw attention to the form by changing the content, whereas in travesty you draw attention to the content by changing the form In other words: In parody, you fill the box with different stuff; in travesty you move the stuff to a different box.
All this to say: I like these Shakespeare-in-social-media things because people are writing travesties and don’t even know it!
Hopefully we’ve all learned a little something today—even if it’s just that sometimes I’m a pedant.