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Shakespeare & Beyond

Reduced Shakespeare Company and the golden age of Shakespeare parodies

Reduced Shakespeare Company

Reduced Shakespeare Company. (l-r) Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, Austin Tichenor. Photo by Jeff Thomas.

A high point in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s 2016 celebration of Shakespeare, The Wonder of Will, is the return appearance of the Reduced Shakespeare Company—the other RSC—and its world premiere of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) at Folger Theatre.

The fact that a comic version of Shakespeare is being performed in a theater that shares a wall with the world’s greatest Shakespeare collection tells us that we are long past believing that parody poses a threat to the Bard’s genius. Indeed, the Reduced Shakespeare Company has been getting rave reviews for decades. Perhaps the word most commonly used to describe their high-spirited approach to Shakespeare is “irreverent.”

I wonder if that’s right. To be irreverent is to not revere. It is to scorn, deride, spurn, or mock. Yet as I see it, the ensemble’s madcap performances arise from a great love for Shakespeare, an attachment so strong that they’re not afraid to take risks or push boundaries. Underneath all the hilarity lies respect for Shakespeare’s plays and deep knowledge about them. After all, satire only works if you know exactly what you are satirizing.

Shakespeare parodies date all the way back to the Restoration, but their golden age was the nineteenth century—when skilled comedians spoofed the latest new Shakespeare production, whether George L. Fox imitating Edwin Booth’s commanding Hamlet (1870) in New York City or Marie Wilton starring as Perdita in a travesty of Charles Kean’s popular London revival of The Winter’s Tale (1856).


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