The Beatles Perform in a Spoof of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1964

In late April of 1964, Eng­land was cel­e­brat­ing the 400th birth­day of William Shake­speare. At the same time, “Beat­le­ma­nia” was in full swing. And for a brief moment, two of Britain’s cul­tur­al trea­sures inter­sect­ed when the Bea­t­les per­formed in a play­ful send-up of A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream.

The sketch was record­ed in Lon­don on April 28, 1964. Only the month before, the Bea­t­les had made their Amer­i­can debut on the Ed Sul­li­van Show. The Shake­speare­an spoof was part of a one-hour British TV spe­cial called “Around the Bea­t­les.” It’s from the play-with­in-a-play in Act 5, Scene 1 of A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, in which a group of actors make a mess of the clas­sic Pyra­mus and This­be sto­ry from Ovid’s Meta­mor­phoses.

Pyra­mus and This­be, a source of inspi­ra­tion for Shake­speare’s Romeo and Juli­et, are a pair of star-crossed lovers whose feud­ing par­ents for­bid them from see­ing one anoth­er. They live next-door to each oth­er but are sep­a­rat­ed by walls. Through a crack in one wall they whis­per their love and make plans to meet on a moon­lit night under a mul­ber­ry tree. This­be arrives first, only to see a lion with blood drip­ping from its mouth after eat­ing its prey. Ter­ri­fied, she drops her veil and runs. Pyra­mus arrives soon after­ward and sees both the blood and the veil. He assumes the lion has killed This­be, so he falls on his sword and dies. This­be returns and finds Pyra­mus dead. She takes his sword and kills her­self.

In the sil­ly Bea­t­les sketch, Paul McCart­ney plays Pyra­mus, John Lennon plays This­be, Ringo Starr plays the Lion and George Har­ri­son plays Moon­shine. When Lennon was asked why he took the role of the maid­en, he said, “Because if any­one likes dress­ing up more stu­pid than the rest, I enjoy it, you know. I was asked to do it because they thought I had the deep­er voice.”

via Brain­Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Peter Sell­ers Per­forms The Bea­t­les “A Hard Day’s Night” in Shake­speare­an Mode

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Son­net 18

Shakespeare’s Satir­i­cal Son­net 130, As Read By Stephen Fry

Find Shake­speare’s Col­lect­ed Works in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books Col­lec­tions

Down­load Shake­speare Cours­es from our Col­lec­tion of Free Online Cours­es

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Buce says:

    This is won­der­ful but in what sense a “spoof?” On Ovid maybe, but cer­tain­ly not on Shake­speare. This is pret­ty clear­ly exact­ly the sort of per­for­mance he was shoot­ing for, and I think he would have been delight­ed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.