A Mad World, a masterpiece, and a manipulation


Being an English student, I’d say I’m pretty good with finding many (many, many) ways to express the same thing. But the true masters of evasion and synonyms proved to be my family – particularly when I suggested we go and see some Shakespeare. From “too much ironing” to “not speaking the ‘lingo’” to not wanting to drive in the sun/rain/cloud/fog/morning/afternoon, it seemed that I was never going to be able to convert my nearest and dearest into becoming fans of Ye Olde Theatre.

However, back in those distant days of A-Level procrastination, into my inbox came an advert for a play not by Shakespeare, but by one of his contemporaries: Thomas Middleton. I’d never heard of Middleton, nor read anything by him…but the advert looked pretty good. A live jazz singer? A prostitute pretending to be a nun? Is that a man in his boxers on a leash?

I was intrigued, and a quick Google of the plot convinced me that (a) clearly it was time for a revision break and (b) perhaps this smutty comedy could be just the thing to show that, even though the playwright is long-dead, his dirty jokes and rubbish puns are still just as hilarious. On a whim (well, more to avoid doing practice exam questions on the Hadley model…), I forwarded it to my dear mother’s e-mail. To my surprise, she said she quite liked the look of it. And then she booked tickets. And a few weeks later, we rocked up into our seats, cracked open a bag of Sports Mixture, and my parents experienced their first professionally-performed Jacobean drama.

When the lights came up at the end, I was still semi-convinced that they were all going to hate it, and say it was rubbish – that it had no story, that all the humour just tried too hard, etc. – but I was pleasantly bowled over by the fact that they loved it. There were tears from laughter, moments of quoting and even a minor squabble about who was the best character. None of the reviews had lied: it was genuinely hilarious, with my personal favourite line being “I cannot be patient and physician too”. Oh, Thomas Middleton – what a classic and brilliant one-line corker.

But possibly the greatest moment? The ultimate admission of triumph: “You were right – that 16th century theatre isn’t that bad. Perhaps we could see what else is on soon…”

So. Successful conversion number one. To all my fellow English students out there with families who just “don’t get it” – fear thou not! Keep hunting and trying. And, eventually, they’ll give in.

Now, just to convince my chemistry-studying neighbour…

PHOTO / Wikipedia


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