Imagine a high school class on the Great Works of Western Civilization, circa 2400. The teacher shows the students a selection of films by Quentin Tarantino, that exalted late-20th- and early-21st-century dramatist who worked in the medium then known as film. The series culminates in Pulp Fiction, perhaps, for modern audiences, the most enduring and accessible example of the master’s art. Yet most of the kids in the room falter on the edge of comprehension, and one eventually explodes in frustration. “Why do they all dress like that?” the student demands, in whatever the English language has evolved into. “And seriously, why do they talk that way? Why do we even have to watch this, anyway?” Then the teacher, returning to his drying well of patience, his face settling into the creases worn by decades of stoically borne disappointment, explains to his despondent charge that Tarantino’s all about the language. “He used English in ways nobody had before,” he says, for nothing close to the first nor last time, “and if you put in just a little more study time, you’d understand that.”
Her Majesty’s Secret Players do seem to understand that, bring as they will a production called Pulp Shakespeare (or, A Slurry Tale) to its West Coast premiere at this summer’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. To view the clip of the show above is to feel at least two senses of odd familiarity at once: don’t I know this scene and these characters from somewhere, and don’t I know these words from somewhere? Were you to watch it without context, you’d probably guess that the dialogue sounded Shakespearean, and in the first few minutes, that guess might even take you as far as wondering which of the lesser-known plays this might be. But Pulp Shakespeare offers not Shakespeare’s words but a pastiche of Shakespeare through which to watch Pulp Fiction, effectively bringing that 25th-century classroom scenario into the present. Rendering Tarantino’s dialogue in Shakespearean dramatic poetry both familiarizes Shakespeare’s style and de-familiarizes Tarantino’s, giving strong hints to anyone looking to understand Shakespeare’s appeal in his day, how history might treat Tarantino, and how the two have more in common than we’d have assumed.
(Note to 21st-century teachers: we nonetheless do not suggest you introduce Shakespeare as “sort of the Quentin Tarantino of his day.”)