A condensed version of this essay was given as a paper at the Shakespeare Association of America Meetings in 2006.
(©Alan R. Young ~ Acadia University)
a) after clicking on an endnote number, click on the number in the endnote to return to the text.
b) Shakespearean burlesque in Punch during the nineteenth century is also discussed in this author's Punch and Shakespeare in the Victorian Era (2007).
Long before the first issue of the English humor magazine Punch, Or the London Charivari appeared in July 1841, Shakespeare was firmly established in England as the national poet. His works were widely read, studied, quoted, written about, and lectured upon, and his plays were regularly performed. During the ensuing first sixty years of Punch's existence, many of the most prominent actor-managers, among them William Charles Macready, Samuel Phelps, Charles Kean, Henry Irving, and Beerbohm Tree, staged revivals of Shakespeare's works that provided further heft to the national poet's cultural status. Shakespeare, whether encountered within the printed text or through attendance at the theater was accepted as the touchstone for all that was best in morality and art. As the nineteenth century unfolded, copies of Shakespeare's works were increasingly available to a wider readership because of various technologi
cal revolutions in printing and publishing that made books more affordable, and the family Shakespeare became second only to the Bible in many households as a revered and "sacred" text. As commentators have noted, however, the earnestness of Victorian bardolatry and the high cultural position accorded Shakespeare inevitably fed into the contemporaneous love of burlesque. As a form of entertainment, burlesque was both very popular and highly-developed, and burlesques of Shakespeare's plays provided an effective comic means of questioning both Shakespeare's iconic status,1 along with that of some of the foremost Shakespearean actors of the period. At their best, burlesques of Shakespeare's plays also offered audiences the entertainment derived from the witty manipulation of Shakespeare's language, plots, dramatic episodes, and character relationships. Typical of Victorian burlesques of Shakespeare are wordplay and puns, the misapplication of meaning, the changing of punctuation or spelling to create new but inappropriate meanings, the deliberate transformation of Shakespeare's poetry into low, colloquial speech, the replacement of highly dramatic moments with the merely mundane, the introduction of inappropriate but well-known popular music, and allusions to topical matters whether of great national import or trivial local interest.
In addition to burlesquing Shakespeare's texts, and like the stage burlesques that often ran at the same time as the serious Shakespeare productions they parodied, Punch also delighted in creating burlesques that targeted current Shakespeare actors and the productions in which they appeared. The comic effect was often genial and supportive in the case of such actors as Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, or Sarah Bernhardt and the productions in which they appeared, but other actors such as Charles Kean and Wilson Barrett were at times burlesqued unmercifully, their productions the object of scorn and derision.
The play most frequently a target for burlesque in Punch was Hamlet, a phenomenon that appears to match the popularity of this play, readers' familiarity with it, and the frequency with which it was performed. Second in popularity to Hamlet (within the pages of Punch, that is) was Macbeth,3 and it is upon this play that I wish to focus my attention here. Burlesques involving Macbeth in Punch include witty one-liners such as L. R. H's "OUT, DAMNED SPOT" (Fig. 1), the unsigned "IS THIS A DAGGER THAT I SEE BEFORE ME?" (Fig. 2), and Phil May's reworking of "WHERE GOT'ST THOU THAT GOOSE?--LOOK!" (Fig. 3).4 More complex are textual burlesques of some of the best-known speeches in Macbeth. Examples include Percival Leigh's thirty-one line burlesque of the "Is this a dagger" speech, here reworked to comment upon the scandalous topical issue of vote buying duri ng the 1852 election campaign. There is Gilbert Abbott À Beckett's playful article on advertising, in which he refers to a legal action having been brought against a theatrical manager who had failed to include an item in a stage production, the item having been paid for to serve as an advertisement. This early precursor of the product exposures now so common in movies then leads À Beckett to suggest how various speeches in Shakespeare could be reworked in the theater as advertisements for commercial products, thereby increasing theater company receipts. Macbeth's "Throw physic to the dogs, . . ." (5.3.47-49)5 could be transformed, for example, into:
Throw physic to the dogs! I'll none of it.
But let me have my ointment and my pill.
This cures me always of rheumatic pains;
The other frees me from attacks of vile:
Both are procured of PUFFAWAY AND CO.
Seyton send out, &c. &c.
(Punch, 19 May 1855)
Further examples of burlesque are Percival Leigh's "Next Session, and next Session, and next Session, / Creeps in this petty pace from month to month,. . ." etc., in which the author bewails the manner in which Parliamentary bills are often put off from one Parliamentary session to the next (Punch, 18 June 1879), and an unnamed author's thirty-seven line burlesque of Macbeth's "If it were done, . . . quot; etc. (1.7.1-28), in wh ich Macbeth is transformed into the British Home Secretary, Sir William Vernon Harcourt, musing on his proposed Government of London Bill.. (Punch, 17 March 1883).
More extended burlesque might involve a whole dramatic segment. E. J. Milliken's "MACBETH IN MIDLOTHIAN. A SHAKSPEARIAN SCENE, AS ENACTED AT DALMENY," for example, burlesques the opening of 5.3, with Prime Minister William Gladstone as Macbeth. Milliken's re-working plays upon the various difficulties that Gladstone faced in 1884.6 Whereas in the play, Macbeth is assailed by bad news from all sides in spite of his over-confidence in the Witches' assurances, here Gladstone is troubled by news about "Franks, Boers, Egyptians." Like Macbeth's speech to Seyton, Gladstone's speech to the Earl of Rosebery talks of his being old and having to endure "Wars, foreign complications, muddles, failures" instead of peace to enjoy "High honour, love, obedience, troops of friends" (Punch, 4 October 1884). Two years later, still with Gladstone as Macbeth, Milliken created another burlesque of the scene preceding Macbeth's final battle (Punch, 27 March 1886). Entitled "THE FIFTH ACT. (Freely adapted from Shakspeare.)," the burlesque alludes to the debate of the Bill for Irish Home Rule. Appropriately, Seyton is transformed into John Morley, Secretary for Ireland. As is the case with many of Milliken's Shakespeare burlesques for Punch, the text accompanies a full-page cartoon by John Tenniel, one that in this instance is on the facing page and is entitled "THE THANES FLY FROM ME!" It depicts an elderly but heroic Gladstone (Macbeth) being assisted with his armor by Morley (Seyton) in preparation for the forthcoming Parliamentary debate (battle) over the Irish Home Rule bill.7
As already mentioned, Punch also published two burlesques by St. John Hankin that make use of Macbeth in its entirety. The first, published in the issue for 17 September 1898, is entitled "THE BELGIAN SHAKSPEARE. THE WEIRD SISTERS. (Commonly called ‘Macbeth.')." This consists of a half-page burlesque of the plot of Macbeth (absurdly truncated) in which the three Weird Sisters discuss the key events of the play as they sit around their cauldron. It is suggested in the Cast List that the three Sisters be played by three leading actors of the day – Martin Harvey, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and Forbes Robertson. Like another Punch burlesque, "THE BELGIAN SHAKSPEARE. JULIUS CAESAR," published in the issue of 23 July 1898, Hankin's Macbeth burlesque pokes fun at the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, dubbed by his admirers as "The Belgian Shakespeare." Maeterlinck's Pelléas and Mélisande had recently received its highly successful London premiere at the Prince of Wales Theatre on 21 June.8 In the production Campbell played Mélisande and Martin Harvey played Pelléas. Forbes Robertson may also have been in the cast, but to date I have been unable to verify this. The other extended Hankin burlesque consists of a long invented late night conversation between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth prior to Duncan's murder. It is spread over five pages and four issues of the magazine and follows an introductory note referring to George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra and the need for "new" versions of Shakespeare (Punch, 11, 18, 25 September and 2 October, 1901).9
As already mentioned, specific actors and the Shakespeare productions in which they appeared also provided material for burlesque in Punch,10 and this was certainly the case with regard to Macbeth.11 In 1847, for example, at the opening of the 1847 theater season in London. Douglas Jerrold contributed "PUNCH AT THE PLAY." This begins with a review of the coming season that includes some encouraging general comments about the offerings at the Princess's Theatre, praising in particular the performances of William Charles Macready as Macbeth ("especially in the fifth act") and of Charlotte Cushman as Lady Macbeth ("first-rate"). The scenic effects of Macbeth are, however, ironically mocked. Punch expresses "the intensest admiration of his [Macready's] scenery – it is so primitive, so perfect," but two accompanying engravings make the point by showing scenes from Macbeth (the exterior of Dunsinane Castle, and Lady Macbeth's sleep-walking scene) upon completely bare stages (Fig. 4, and Fig. 5). Although Punch was often disdainful of elaborate scenic effects, in this instance, the Princess's appears to have been rather limited in what it could offer Macready. So for once, it is the poverty of the sets that comes under fire in Punch.
In its cursory review of Macready's Macbeth, the magazine is able to juxtapose serious and positive commentary alongside comic burlesque. This technique of having things both ways is nowhere more obvious than in the much later review of Henry Irving's production of Macbeth which opened at the Lyceum Theatre late in 1888 and was reviewed in Punch early in the new year. Harry Furniss, a Punch artist, and Francis Burnand, the editor of Punch, were both present, and the resulting illustrated review on 12 January covered two full pages (96:15-16). Burnand found the production "admirable" but criticized Irving for first appearing on stage not as the victorious chieftain, but "as though he were brooding over a defeat." No thought of murder enters Macbeth's head until he meets the three Witches, and, we are told, without the promptings of his wife, Macbeth would never have gone ahead. For her part, Terry is not "the awful Tragedy Queen" normally associated with the play but her husband's "dearest chuck." The reviewer feels that her gentle exterior works in the scenes where she is with Macbeth, but "a horror-struck, nervous Lady Macbeth, listening for the result of her husband's murderous visit to Duncan's bed-room is not SHAKSPEARE'S Lady Macbeth, but Lady Macbeth Terry-fied" (96:16).12 Terry's performance in the sleep-walking scene also failed to impress the reviewer. She remained the "dearest chuck." But "she must be the tiger-cat as well as the purring domestic cat; and when alone the tiger-cat only. Velvet and iron is Lady Macbeth" (Punch, 12 January 1889). Ellen Terry, it appears, was the loving wife who supported her husband and urged him not to be afraid. Ignoring any incongruity with the text, she maintained the pose of the gentle, loyal housewife, one who forced herself to behave unnaturally to serve her husband's wishes. In Irving's production, her later madness and death was to be attributed to loneliness and a broken heart, caused by the loss of her husband's love.13
To the somewhat ambivalent response of Burnand, Furniss added seven comic drawings. The first is a fascinating half-page initial letter "M" that depicts the interior of the Lyceum. A comical tone is introduced, however, by making Mr. Punch visible in the audience, watching the ghost scene on stage. In the ghost scene, Irving used a trick seat from which the bloody Banquo emerged. Furniss included a separate drawing of this seat, showing Banquo's sudden appearance, akin to that of "Jack-in-the-Box" (Fig. 6), and another design (also deliberately burlesque in nature) showed Irving seated on the closed seat with the caption: "Macbeth rushes up, presses down lid, and sits on it, ‘Why, being gone, I am a man again!'" Two other drawings illustrated two different versions of Lady Macbeth. "The Dearest Chuck" of the past depicts a tall, imperious Lady Macbeth staring down at a diminutive and pleading Macbeth (Fig. 7), while the "Dearest Chuck" of the present shows Irving and Terry in a near embrace, looking lovingly into each other's eyes (Fig. 8). A week later, Furniss provided the design for a full-page composite of nine engravings that included vignettes of "The old Style" Macbeth (a powerful-looking warrior) and "A lady Macbeth of the Past" (a fierce-looking woman with a dagger in each hand). At the center of the design was in contrast a uxorious Macbeth with an adoring Lady Macbeth on his lap, the caption for which is "The Homely Style. Lady Macbeth convinces Mac to do the deed" (Fig. 9).
Furniss's graphics in both the review and his composite one-page graphic extravaganza demonstrate how burlesque can offer both comic amusement by undermining the dignity and preeminent status of Irving, currently the most esteemed Shakespeare tragedian,14 while simultaneously bringing to the fore what the Punch reviewer felt were weaknesses in the production: Irving's unsuitability for the role of Macbeth, Terry's misguided failure to portray Lady Macbeth's evil assertiveness, and the general attempt in the production to impose upon the couple's relationship a cosy, domestic appearance.
Whereas the above selected examples indicate something of the varied kinds of Punch burlesques based on Macbeth,15 something further needs to be said about which lines and scenes most frequently caught the attention of the Punch artists and writers. Although there are small handfuls of burlesque items based on the banquet scene in 3.04 (9 items), the "Hang out our banners" of 5.05 (7 items), the "Is this a dagger?" soliloquy of 2.01 (6 items), and the "Bring no more reports" of 5.03 (3 items), it is the scenes involving the Witches (or Weird Sisters) that most interested the burlesque writers and artists who worked for Punch.16 For Victorian playgoers, the Witches were usually far removed from the menacing figures of ill will that modern critics find in the text. They were very different, too, from their counterparts in most modern theater productions where generally attempts are made in numerous different ways to elicit among audiences a degree of frisson, fear, disgust, and horror. The Victorian audiences, for the most part,17 saw a version of Davenant's re-working of the play with its various operatic interpolations.18 Among the prominent features of Victorian stagings was a witches' corps de ballet and, as performed in the nineteenth century, show-stopping spectacle involving large numbers of dancers, music, and choruses. The three Witches themselves tended to be almost comic figures and had in the past often been played by male comedians.19 Their potential power as harbingers of evil and symbolic representations of Macbeth's hellish ambitions and deeds was muted. All too often, they must have seemed like playful pretend fantasies of evil, ideally suited, perhaps, to the Victorians' beloved world of melodrama and pantomime, and, it goes without saying, to the world of burlesque. Within the pages of Punch, certain lines and scenic moments involving the Witches appear repeatedly to have attracted a response. The first line of the Witches' initial twelve-line scene that opens the play – "When shall we three meet again?" – inspired a cartoon by John Tenniel in 1857 that depicted three politicians shaking hands on the eve of the opening of Parliament. Almost two decades later, E. J. Milliken composed an extended burlesque of the scene in which another three politicians (C. S. Parnell, Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone) take on the Witches's roles (Fig. 10). In politics the three men had reached a common understanding concerning Ireland, but Gladstone's son created havoc for his father when he revealed what had happened. The crisis regarding government attempts to hammer out a workable policy for Ireland is central to Milliken's burlesque and the grave uncertainty created by Gladstone's son's "leak" is captured in Milliken's version of Shakespeare's line that now becomes "How shall we three meet again?" Accompanying Milliken's text was a full-page design by Tenniel depicting the three politicians as witches if" target="_blank">(Fig. 11). Other versions of the line appear in a small 1880 graphic by Alfred Chantrey Corbould depicting a dejected man in a stable saying farewell to his horse and hound at the end of a hunting trip, and an unsigned 1884 graphic depicted three Englishmen at the end of a wet evening at a French spa where they have been for three weeks.20 Yet another burlesque use of the line occurred in St. John Hankin's "The Belgian Shakspeare" (see above). As for line eleven in the opening scene ("Fair is foul, and foul is fair"), there are three burlesque renderings: one involves a pun on "foul/fowl" to comment on a glut of poultry in 1850; another refers to a debate about cab fares in 1851; and another in 1881 concerns the newly-founded National Fair Trade League. The Milliken burlesque of 1885 concludes with the Third Witch's (Gladstone's) political aside "Fair seems foul, and foul seems fair, / In Party fog and poisoned air!"
For the second appearance of the Witches (1.03), Punch provided only three burlesque items in 1855, 1878, and 1890 respectively, each referring to a different line in Shakespeare's text. However, for Macbeth's second encounter with the Witches in 4.01, Punch offers some sixteen burlesque items. These divide into two main clusters: the first depicts the three Witches around their cauldron at the beginning of the scene or alludes to the text of this section (9 items), and the second depicts the later segment when Macbeth witnesses a series of apparitions (6 items).21 The episode around the cauldron with the three Witches concocting a fearful mixed brew lent itself in the pages of Punch to a variety of situations, most of which involve political commentary. The three Witches could represent any group of three powers , whether countries of persons; what they toss into the cauldron could represent the issues they are involved with; the cauldron, if inscribed, could represent a general identity for what is going on; and Macbeth, if he is shown, newly-arrived and observing the Witches, could represent some key interested party. Two examples will suffice. In the summer of 1847 occurred a general election. One of many comments by Punch surrounding that event, was a cartoon entitled "THE ELECTIONEERING CAULDRON" that Punch published in July 1847. The engraving, designed by Richard Doyle, depicted England (Britannia), Caledonia (Scotland), and Ireland (Hibernia) as the three Witches posed around a cauldron inscribed "GENERAL ELECTIONS." Below was their chant, the words derived from Davenant's version of the play: "Whiggish buff, Tory blue, / And Peel neutral gray, / Mingle, Mingle, / For Mingle you may." Into the cauldron, Britannia throws "Railway Gents," an allusion to Lord George Bentinck's and George Hudson's Irish Railway scheme; Caledonia throws "Free Kirk," and Hibernia throws "Repeal," an allusion to the movement to nullify the Act of Union. At top right enters Macbeth (Lord John Russell), who had replaced Sir Robert Peel as prime minister a year earlier in June 1846 when this latter resigned.
My other example was published in March 1887, with an engraving designed by Linley Sambourne and an accompanying text by E. J. Milliken. Entitled "ROUND THE CAULDRON. A Scene some way after Shakspeare," the engraving depicts the three Witches as three leading British politicians (Lord Salisbury, G. J. Goschen, and Lord Hartington) standing around a cauldron that is inscribed "IRISH STEW." Into the cauldron they drop two documents, one inscribed "LAND BILL" and the other "COERCION." In Milliken's dialogue below, they speak of adding various other ingredients: "Eye of law," "Hand of steel," "Justice's unflagging wing," "Concession," "Redress," and the "Olive" of peace.22 The combined composition of engraving and text is thus a witty comment on the pressing question of Ireland, a matter that was a central Parliamentary concern for much of the Victorian era. Burlesque may work within a comic mode, but it is fully capable, as the pages of Punch demonstrated time and again, of drawing attention to serious matters.
This last point is further illustrated in two examples of burlesques of the final apparition that the Witches present to Macbeth, described in the stage direction of the First Folio text as "A shew of eight Kings, and Banquo last, with a glasse in his hand." In the first example, a full-page design by JohnTenniel (Fig. 13) is accompanied by a textual burlesque of lines 44 to 123 by E. J. Milliken (Fig. 14). Tenniel's design is entitled "MAC-SMITH IN THE WITCHES' CAVE," and it depicts Mac-Smith (W. H. Smith, Leader of the House of Commons) confronting the three Witches in their cave. In his hand he holds a scroll inscribed "CRIMES BILL." (Fig. 14) The apparition that the Witches show him is an endless line of figures, each labelled "AMENDMENT."23 In May 1887, when the burlesque was published, landlord-tenant disputes in Ireland had become particularly difficult, and Parliament introduced a drastic new Crimes Bill. Because of the extended debate and the introduction of a stream of amendments, to pass the Bill the government eventually had to severely restrict debate, fixing a time limit beyond which clauses were to be put without amendment or discussion. The result, however, was to be more bitter upheaval in Ireland. Milliken's text is entitled "MAC-SMITH IN THE WITCHES' CAVE. (Shakspeare Adapted to Circumstances.)." In this instance, the Witches represent the Irish opposition and are greeted by Mac-Smith's "Here now, you secret Separatist hags, / What is't you do?"
The other example that I wish to point out here appeared in Punch towards the end of October 1899 in the form of a full-page cartoon on the Boer War by John Tenniel (Fig. 12). Entitled "KRÜGER'S VISION," the engraving depicts Paul Krüger, the Boer premier, in the place of Macbeth. He is standing in a cave and looking out aghast upon a vision of rows and rows of British soldiers. The patriotic and propagandist caption reads: "WHAT, WILL THE THIN RED LINE STRETCH OUT TO THE CRACK OF DOOM?" Ironically, however, although Tenniel would have been unaware of the fact, Britain was experiencing severe troop shortages at the time.24
Burlesque, as the above examples indicate, was ubiquitous in Punch, but it was also inseparable from a love and respect for Shakespeare. Writers and readers who knew their Shakespeare could share a common enjoyment in a kind of subversive deconstruction of a familiar and revered original text, but in the end the appreciation of that original remained untouched. Indeed, its status was arguably enhanced. Furthermore, using a play such as Macbeth as the basis for burlesque, though requiring readers to have some prior familiarity with Shakespeare's play, was arguably one means by which Victorian readers became yet more familiar with the original. Shakespearean burlesque in Punch was thus a means of enriching the position of Shakespeare within Victorian culture, and burlesques of Macbeth in the pages of Britain's preeminent comic magazine played a major role in that process.
[Please feel free to contact me if you have comments or suggestions concerning this essay.
Alan Young's E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]
1. Richard W. Schoch, Not Shakespeare: Bardolatry and Burlesque in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 6-7, 10.
MACBETH (looking into the "dim and distant future"). – "THIS PUSH WILL CHEER ME EVER, OR DISSEAT ME NOW.
* * * * *
GIVE ME MY ARMOUR.
At the end of Gladstone's Parliamentary career, Milliken and Tenniel created a combined text and engraving based on Antony's speech to Eros in 4.14: "Unarm, Eros, the long day's task is done, ..." etc. Tenniel's engraving depicted Gladstone as Antony surrounded by discarded pieces of armor as he hangs his sword (inscribed "LEADERSHIP") upon the wall.
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