Tuesday 13 February 2007

Judging a book by another book's cover.

I have three pieces of Shakespeare that have accumulated in a file on my desktop. They are not by the bard himself, but humorous cover versions if you like, as written by the slangmeisters of 80/90 years ago. I'm not making any connection between them or placing them in a larger context. They are simply here. First is a rendition of Romeo and Juliet in an excerpt from The Sentimental Bloke by C J Dennis, the Australian versifier. The 1916 publication of The Sentimental Bloke sold 65,000 copies in its first year, and by 1917 Dennis was 'the most prosperous poet in Australian history'. Prosperous poet!!? That was another age altogether, what? Long narrative ballad poems were once the rage, in the days when Casey first struck out. In this sequence the Bloke is describing a performance of Romeo nad Juliet to his girl friend, Doreen. The copy I have has a 1950s style cover that is not unattractive, but this needs a period feel, so I'm illustrating this with a cover from a different book, Edward Dyson's Fact'ry 'Ands from 1920, which is much more in tune with the proceedings, with a cover by his brother the great cartoonist Will Dyson.

"Then Romeo, ‘e dunno wot to do,
The cops gits busy, like they alwiz do,
An’ nose around until ‘e gets blue funk
An’ does a bunk.
They want ‘is tart to wed some other guy.
Ah, strike! She sez. ‘I wish that I could die!’

Now, this ‘ere gorspil bloke’s a fair shrewd ‘ead.
Sez ‘e ‘I’ll dope yeh, so they’ll think yer dead.
(I tips ‘e was a cunnin’ sort, wot knoo
A thing or two.)
She takes ‘is knock-out drops, up in ‘er room:
They think she’s snuffed, an’ plant ‘er in ‘er tomb.

Then things gits mixed a treat an’ starts to whirl
‘Ere’s Romeo comes back an’ find ‘is girl
Tucked in ‘er little coffing, cold an’ stiff.
An’ in a jiff.
‘E swallows lysol, throws a fancy fit,
‘Ead over turkey, an’ ‘is soul ‘as flit.

Then Juli-et wakes up an’ sees ‘im there,
Turns on the water-works an’ tears ‘er ‘air,
‘Dear love,’ she sez, “I cannot live alone!’
An wiv a moan. She grabs ‘is pockit knife. An ends ‘er cares…
’Peanuts or lollies!’ sez a boy upstairs."

* * * *
"archy and mehitabel," By Don Marquis, first appeared 1916 in the New York Evening Sun. pete the parrot and shakespeare, whence comes my excerpt, is a later entry in the series, I believe from 1927. I have a Faber edition from 1967 with no illustrations or picture on the cover, so I'm scanning this other edition's cover with illo by the great George Herriman from the booklet of a Herriman exhibition in Angouleme in 1997 (very nice if you can find a copy). archie, as you know, is a cockroach who jumps around on the typewriter but can't get to the shift key. bill is Wm Shakespeare

"well says frankie beaumont
why don t you cut it bill
i can t says bill
i need the money i ve got
a family to support down in
the country well says frankie
anyhow you write pretty good
plays bill any mutt can write
plays for this london public
says bill if he puts enough
murder in them what they want
is kings talking like kings
never had sense enough to talk
and stabbings and stranglings
and fat men making love
and clowns basting each
other with clubs and cheap puns
and off color allusions to all
the smut of the day oh i know
what the low brows want
and i give it to them"

* * * *
Finally, an excerpt from Julius Ceasar according to Milt Gross. His schtick, when he wasn't drawing sunday funnies, 'was to retell familiar stories in the Yiddish-influenced dialect of first- and second-generation urban Jews'. I don't know from where this comes, as I found it here thanks to David Kathman, so I'm illustrating it with the cover of another of Milt's books, Dunt Esk!!, from 1927, which I am very pleasd to own thanks to my pal mr j.

How It Got Bomped Huff Julius Sizzer
Pot Two
Sootsayer: "Bewerr from de Hides from Motch, Sizzer!!"

Sizzer: "Why I should bewerr from de Hides from Motch??"

Sootsayer: "It stends in de Crystal Ball signs you should bewerr from de Hides from Motch!"

Sizzer: "Noo, it stends ulso in de sobway signs I should dreenk Cula-Cola!! Is dees a criterion?? Hm -- geeve a look a whole mob -- Hey wot you teenk diss is, boyiss? De Kenel Stritt sobway station? Should I know why it lays a cheeken haggs?? Boyiss -- put away de deggers -- Deedn't I told you guys -- neex on de mommbly-pag beezness -- Whoooooy -- Hay -- I tink wot dey trying to essessinate me!!"

Kraut: "Hm -- You ketch right hon, dunt you?" Wot dey gafe heem witt de deggers so -- wot it looked gradually de gomment like it came beck jost from a wat-wash lundry.

So dees was de cocklusion from Julius Sizzer.



Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

My favorite Shakespeare transformation, outside of "Complete Works (Abridged)", has to be Wayne and Shuster's Shakespearean Baseball sketch from 1953 and the founding of the Stratford Festival in Ontario.

13 February 2007 at 00:47:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My birthday is on de Hides from Motch so I'm now noting that phrase for future reference!

Odd that you have Herriman before that; the Noo Yoick slang sounds a lot like Krazy Kat dialogue.

13 February 2007 at 09:17:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

Ah, dialects. I speak with a strong Southern accent (USA), of which there are many, many variations. I don't feel that my Southern accent is that strong, but there are those who would disagree.

A few years ago I flew into Boston and rented a car. At the gate out of the place, I stopped to ask one of the attendants the best route to the Interstate highway. He quite literally could not understand a single goddamned word I was saying, so we gave up trying to communicate.

In San Diego some time back, a Brit was trying to buy some stuff from my booth, and we had a bitch of a time speaking to one another. My ear was just not attuned to whatever dialect the guy was using. We muddled through.

First time I met Karen Berger (one of only two meetings), she quite pissed me off by making fun of my accent; not in a friendly way, but in a most insulting and arrogant manner--(fuck her up the ass with a two by four).

Inevitably, when I'm north of the Mason & Dixon Line, I will be approached by some Yankee bigot who will begin to wag his tongue concerning "niggers and Jews". They just assume that I'm a bigot, too, because of my accent, having no idea that I hate racists and that my mom was half-Jewish.

Some writers are quite adept at using dialect in their work. HP Lovecraft was awful at it. Both Cormac MacCarthy and Harry Crews use dialect very effectively.

13 February 2007 at 10:06:00 GMT-5  

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