William Shakespeare

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
Shall I compare thee to a Shakespeare play?
Thou art more easy, and less literate.
When Cracker's on the people in do stay,
The playhouse is abandoned to its fate.
If all the world's a stage, where are the stalls?
And if we merely players, what's our game?
So many pass each eve twixt their four walls
No action twixt their ears - the box to blame.
The case for the defence is simply made
With Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice,
For their eternal glories shall not fade:
Few theatres provide such fare as this!
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see
These shows will be repeated on TV.
Act 1
A blasted common. Thunder. 
Enter three witches.

All Witches:	Now are we three met again,
		Slop, hack and cackle in the rain.

First Witch:	What have you been at, sister?

Second Witch:	Vetting cats.

Third Witch:	And how about you, sister?

First Witch:	Hunting frogs.

Second Witch:	And you, my other sister?

Third Witch:	Spaying voles.

All witches:	Smog is air, and air is smog;
		Waddle though the sludge and claggy bog.

First Witch:	By a squinting through my glasses,
		Something gormless this way passes.

Enter MacPhail

MacPhail:	O woe! For sodden hours I’ve been lost.
		This anorak no longer cheats the wind,
		My frozen feet are squishing in my boots,
		An icy stream is trickling down my neck.
		I never should have come out ’baht me ’at.
		What made me think a walk would do me good?

First Witch:	Hail!

Second Witch:		Hail!

Third Witch:			With sunny intervals.

First Witch:					Though few.

MacPhail:	Whoever can these frumpish weirdoes be?
		I can’t say I’m turned on by facial hair
		Or rings through noses, eyebrows, tongue or lips.
		And yet I’m somehow drawn to speak with them,
		So strangely interesting in their garb,
		Intriguingly prophetic in their speech -
		It’s unsafe for such hags to think me rude.

		Good afternoon. It’s turned out nice again.  
Second Witch:	But happen not as nice as future times.

MacPhail:	What’s this? An augury of jam to come?
		When had I last so welcome a surprise?
		For years my life’s been going off the rails. 
		So busy I’ve no time to think by day,
		And too much time by half to think at night.
		Come, loathsome ladies, show me what’s in store,
		What brilliant phantoms haunt your crystal balls.
		I’ll cross your palms with silver if I must.

First Witch:	No charge! Non-profit prophetesses, we.

MacPhail:	I see no need to talk you out of that.
		Well, say then, gentle frights, how shall things be?

Third Witch:	Hail, thrice-promoted manager of men!

First Witch:	Hail, lesser than Dick Williams yet greater.

Second Witch:	Hail, he who in his time shall sweep the Board! 

MacPhail:	Me, thrice-promoted? Pull the other one!
		That bastard Williams will queer my pitch
		And cook my bloody goose – he always does.
		And yet – you see me greater e’en than he?

First Witch:	Aye, lesser than him, and yet greater too.

MacPhail:	Investments can go down as well as up,
		And nuts may lurk in any dish you eat.
		Such mealy-mouthed advice is no damned use.
		Will Williams ever cease to bar my path? 
		Come, Oracle, and make thy meaning plain.

Third Witch:	Dick Williams will never stand aside
		For any man of mortal woman born.

MacPhail:	Aha! I see a glimmering of light.
		As always, they use small print for the truth.
		My mother, bless her, shelled out through the nose.
		Some salesman, damn his twisted soul to Hell,
		Persuaded her that my inheritance
		Would be best spent on cryogenic kit
		To keep her frozen till they find a cure.
		So she’s immortal, barring power cuts,
		And Williams must bend the knee to me!

First Witch:	He’s spouting tosh! He’s lost it! Keep on, girls!

Second Witch:	Hail, he who in his time shall sweep the Board!

MacPhail:	Aye, and the Board! Directorship for me!
		With golden handshake, handcuffs, and hello;
		Goodbye and parachute more golden still.
		I’ll run my baths from solid golden taps,
		My cisterns will be cocked with golden balls.
		The wife will cook my fry-ups in gold pans,
		I’ll scoff them with gold knives and silver forks.
		I’ll use a golden nib to write my cheques,
		And sign my name in perfect copperplate.
		My raiment shall be all of cloth of gold.
		My car shall be a stylish gold Rolls Royce.

First Witch:	What did I tell you, girls? He’s flipped.

Second Witch and
Third Witch:						She’s right.

MacPhail:	What’s that?

Third Witch:			The Rolls, we said – a pretty sight.

MacPhail:	The pretty sight will be for me inside:
		Of rats still in the race as I glide by.
		They surely know their onions, these sage crones.

First Witch:	And mark our words, this prat’s sure to get stuffed.

MacPhail:	What’s that?

First Witch:		I said you’ll win rosettes at Crufts.

MacPhail:	Ah yes, retrievers can be golden too…
		And eagles, pheasants, hamsters, plovers, calves.
		I’ll have a whole menagerie of gold.

Second Witch:	You’re right, he’s flipped.

First Witch:				Of course he has!

Third Witch:						Not half!

MacPhail:	What’s that?

Second Witch:		We said you have good cause to laugh.
MacPhail:	These homespun ladies say undoubted sooth -
		No lookers, maybe, but unmatched as seers.
		From infancy, e’en while I mewled and puked
		I’ve always known I’d stand out from the herd.
		The seeds of greatness will not be denied;
		Pent up for winter decades of blank gloom,
		When spring arrives they surge up for the sun.
		My triumphs now are guaranteed by fate.

		But soft! What light is that, looms through the trees?
		I recognise that engine’s feline purr.
		No longer o’er this common must I roam –
		The little woman’s come to take me home.

Exit MacPhail
First Witch:	Right on cue, his lady wife
		To steer him home, direct his life.

Second Witch:	She’ll know what he needs to do
		To make his vaunting dreams come true.

Third Witch:	He’ll do tons of wicked things;
		She’ll be pulling all the strings.

All Witches cackle.	

First Witch:	Firmly planted now the notion,
		Fertilise it with a potion.

		Round about the cauldron go,
		In the grotty offal throw.
		Hurl the squelchy bric-a-brac:
		Nether parts of natterjack,
		All the rankest stuff we’ve got,
		Chuck it in the curséd pot.

All Witches:	Double, double toil and trouble;
		Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch:	Heart of weasel, spleen of stoat,
		Screech of owl and beard of goat,
		Dogfish from the science lab,
		Third leg on the left of crab,
		Spinning gland of attercop,
		Pollen from a GM crop,
		Half a jar of piccalilli…
		Stir and stir the hellish billy.

All Witches:	Double, double toil and trouble;
		Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch:	Tail of coypu, blood of bat,
		Slime of slug and piss of gnat,
		Leg of tadpole, eye of mole,
		Cock of roach and balls of vole,
		Horn of rhino, stink of skunk,
		Long-lost tongue of Trappist monk,
		Hair of badger, brush of fox,
		Half a dozen unwashed socks,
		Hood of cobra, sting of bee,
		Half a pound of nasty tea,
		Artificial flavouring
		So you can’t taste anything,
		And, to seal a ghastly fate,
		Monosodium glutamate.
		With E numbers we must fill it,
		This infernal flaming skillet.
All Witches:	Double, double toil and trouble;
		Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
			First Witch tastes the brew and grimaces

First Witch:	Well done, girls; that’s proper rough –
		Quite unspeakable enough
		To conjure forth McPhail’s vile sins.
		Let’s prance round it, widdershins.

All Witches:	The Weird Sisters, hand in hand,
		Posters of the sea and land,
		Thus do go about, about,
		Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
		And thrice again, to make up nine.
		Peace! The play’s wound up.	
The Bradford Bard
Some famous passages translated into Yorkshire
‘Appen, an’ ‘appen not. It’s ‘ard to say
Whether it’s best to sit an’ take what comes
Or stir thisen to do summat as might
Improve things - such as top thi bloody sen.
The next day, and the next day, and the next,
In Mytholmroyd the time do drag on so;
Tha’ might as well be dead - an’ soon tha will
Be pushin’ up at t’daises, under t’ground.
Thi life don’t signify; tha’s soon forgot.
A wezzock’s story, makes a bloody noise,
But don’t mean nowt.
Eh up, lads, come, let’s gie it one more go!
Mind what I telled thi - it’s ‘Arf-looers or bust.
At ‘ome, it’s best to sup thi pint in peace
An’ keep thi trap shut an’ thi nose reet clean,
But when yon Frogs get up it, stir thisen
To bloody tigers, nay nesh pussy cats!
Show thi teeth an’ claws, an’ gurn like ‘ell.
Now scare ‘em shitless wi’ thi gimlet eyes
An’ make ‘em think Big Daddy’s come to t’war
All armed to t’teeth, psycho wi’ attitude.
Leave Froggy buggers in nay bloody doubt
We’re Yorkshermen, an’ we don’t mess about. 

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is unlikely to be a new name to you, and it is hard to say anything about him that hasn't been said before. He died on 23rd April 1616 - St George's day, appropriately - exactly 10 days after Cervantes, who died on 23rd April 1616. (England and Spain were using different calendars at the time.) A few years ago there was a successful powerboat racer called Bill Shakespeare.

If you liked MacPhail, see also The Tragedy of Taliped Decanus, a delightful version of Oedipus Rex hidden in the middle of John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy.

I won't attempt to excuse my attempts at Yorkshire dialect, other than to explain that Big Daddy was a generously-proportioned wrestler from Yorkshire a few years ago. (For all I know, he may be grappling still. More power to his side headlock.) His real name, I believe, was Shirley, which is a perfectly unremarkable male forename in God's Own Country.

There's a city called Bradford in Yorkshire, and also a town called Bradford-on-Avon which is rather closer to Shakespeare territory. As far as I know the Bard had no particular connection with either of them. I just liked the title. 

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This page last updated 02/03/2007