The Beatles Perform a Fun Spoof of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1964)

Before Bri­an Epstein dis­cov­ered The Bea­t­les in 1961, they looked noth­ing like the British mop-top mods of their ear­ly six­ties pop phase. As the Quar­ry­men, they aped the looks of Amer­i­can fifties rock­ers (see a slideshow in this fan-made video of “In Spite of All the Dan­ger”): Some­times they dressed like folk revival­ists in check­ered shirts and jeans, some­times like a Carl Perkins rock­a­bil­ly band in match­ing suits and skin­ny ties, and some­times like pom­padoured greasers straight out of West Side Sto­ry.

But even after the band acquired its dis­tinc­tive look and wrote a cache of orig­i­nal songs, they were still “com­pet­ing for increased expo­sure just like every­body else.” This meant numer­ous goofy pub­lic­i­ty stunts, every one of which they seemed to thor­ough­ly love. In one such affair, the four­some taped a tele­vi­sion spe­cial called “Around the Bea­t­les,” a ref­er­ence to the the­ater-in-the-round stu­dio set­up. In the first part of the pro­gram, they donned yet anoth­er cos­tume, Shake­speare­an dress, and staged a spoof of Act V, Scene I of A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream in hon­or of Shakespeare’s 400th anniver­sary. (See the orig­i­nal black-and-white BBC broad­cast from April 28, 1964 above. The show was broad­cast in Amer­i­ca on ABC that Novem­ber, in col­or.)

After some fan­fare, “Around the Bea­t­les” opens on Ringo, in hose and dou­blet, fir­ing a can­non. Then we get the oblig­a­tory hoard of scream­ing teenage fans singing the prais­es of each Bea­t­le and march­ing into the stu­dio with signs and ban­ners. After anoth­er trum­pet fan­fare, the play begins, and we’re off into slap­stick British com­e­dy, with a mug­ging Paul as Pyra­mus, sneer­ing John as This­be, smirk­ing George as Moon­shine, and a scene-chew­ing Ringo as Lion. The heck­lers in the box seats were script­ed, most­ly (one yells “go back to Liverpool!”—probably not a plant). Over­all the sil­ly skit con­firms what I’ve always main­tained: if the Bea­t­les’ hadn’t made it as musi­cians, they’d have done well to stay togeth­er as a com­e­dy troupe.

The sec­ond part of the spe­cial fea­tured musi­cal per­for­mances from sev­er­al oth­er acts and, of course, from the Bea­t­les them­selves. See the band bop along to a med­ley of “Love Me Do”/ “Please Please Me”/ “From Me to You”/ “She Loves You”/ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” above. They pre­re­cord­ed the music on April 19th and mimed the per­for­mances, as you can sure­ly tell from the total lack of ampli­fiers onstage. This was, as it is again, the way of things in pop music on tele­vi­sion. But if you are one of those who think The Bea­t­les didn’t put on a good live show, Col­in Flem­ing at The Atlantic begs to dif­fer, with a thor­ough expli­ca­tion of rare record­ings from an Octo­ber 1963 per­for­mance in Stock­holm.

via Brain Pick­ings

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

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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