Hilarious Shakespeare?
May 20, 2009 12:56 AM   Subscribe

What is the funniest scene in a Shakespeare play?

Inspired by a comment in a post about storyreading, I thought it would be fun to read out a scene from Shakespeare as a birthday present for a friend who is a big fan of his work. As much as I'd love to re-read them and pick one myself, I just don't have the time. Recommendations? Bonus points for sexy innuendo.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
First thing that comes to mind is the a section of Scene 1 from The Taming of the Shrew, starting with this line by Petruchio "Good morrow, Kate; for that's your name, I hear." The funny part ends when Baptista, Gremio and Tranio enter.

I acted this out in a high school class, and I have to admit that some of the humor is still above my head, but there's definitely some 'sexy innuendo' in there.


Thou hast hit it: come, sit on me.


Asses are made to bear, and so are you.


Women are made to bear, and so are you.
posted by hellogoodbye at 3:21 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Scene 1 of Act 2, that is. Also I don't claim that this is THE funniest...
posted by hellogoodbye at 3:22 AM on May 20, 2009

at the end, play within a play, Midsummer Night's Dream.
posted by RedEmma at 4:11 AM on May 20, 2009

Mercutio gets pretty filthy in II.i of Romeo and Juliet.

You could also get decent comic mileage out of Exit pursued by a bear.
posted by permafrost at 4:19 AM on May 20, 2009

Malvolio's scenes from Twelfth Night---II.5, III.4, and IV.2---are in my opinion some of the funniest in Shakespeare. But I'm not sure they'd work just being read out, and I'm not sure any one of them would work on its own. They're all a big practical joke, where the punchline's only funny if you hear the setup and the setup's only funny if you get to the punchline. Unfortunately, that's the way it is with a lot of Shakespeare.

So I've got to agree with V.1 of Midsummer Night's Dream. How often do you get to hear a wall give a speech?
posted by goingonit at 4:26 AM on May 20, 2009

V.1 from Midsummer is funniest if actually performed...badly. My HS Shakespeare class had the handful of boys in the class reading it while the teacher did everything in his power to distract and hinder us (we had to follow him around to sort-of read the text). If you can get a bunch of folks to ham this one up, it's a gem.
posted by graymouser at 4:46 AM on May 20, 2009

The Porter's speech from Macbeth. Act 2 Scene III
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:53 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

IV.iii, Love's Labour's Lost, is very funny. Successive piling-up of absurdity, with a mix of ridiculous physical hiding-in-trees, overblown rhetoric, unconvincing lies, ineffectual fights and bad poetry. The focus is on four men who've sworn to study together and not talk to women; but all of them have secretly fallen in love with someone. In this scene each one is writing poetry to his beloved, and has to hide when someone else comes in - only to realise that whoever's come in is writing poetry too. There's a gorgeous cascade of revelations where one after another jumps out and says "what, you're in love? TRAITOR! I would never do such a thing!".

This is certainly the scene from Shakespeare that I have laughed most while reading. We did a readthrough of the whole play for a friend's birthday last year, complete with climbing up trees and lurking, and this scene was definitely the highlight.

On the down side
  • It has quite a few characters (I think seven?), and because there's a lot of arguing and hiding from each other, I think you would need a different reader for each part. But three of the characters only burst in partway through - you could arrange for another three of your friend's friends to be secretly present, and burst in at that point, which would be quite fun.
  • Part of the funniness comes from the fact that the forsworn men are far too overblown and ostentatiously fluent in their speech, so it's perhaps a relatively tricky one to do well.
  • There's a weird bit near the end of the scene where three of the characters suddenly start saying stuff like "thy love is black as ebony [and is therefore unattractive]". The main character pretty much says "why yes, and she's also prettier than all of your beloveds, what's your point?", and it works very effectively (for me, anyway) as a reminder that these characters aren't actually very nice, one of a few that suddenly thump into place during the play; but that might not be what you're after for a cheerful birthday readthrough.
In summary, it's really, really funny, but it might not fit the constraints you're working under - so what are those constraints? Will it be just you reading, or you and your friend, or a group of you? Will you have time to prepare at all? Is your friend familiar with all the plays, so we don't have to worry so much about whether things are in context?

V.i in Midsummer Night's Dream, mentioned above, is pretty great, but we did an eight-person readthrough and that scene was still a strain on numbers. At the simplest end, there's III.iv, Henry V: two characters, both female, both French, one of them teaching the other English. The scene combines double-entendres (the English-learner is horrified by the words "foot" and "gown", which sound to her like rude French words) with bad French, surely a winning combination.
posted by severalbees at 4:53 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Much Ado About Nothing, where everyone is running around trying to match Benedict and Beatrice.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:59 AM on May 20, 2009

Let me throw out something that may be wildly inappropriate, but I'll take a chance anyway.


A group of super-nerds are collaboratively re-writing the screenplay of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction into one of "Shakespeare's lost plays".

It is called A Slurry Tale. Here is an example you may or may not recognize, scene 2.2:

Vincent: And know'st thou what the French name cottage pie?
Julius: Say they not cottage pie, in their own tongue?
Vincent: But nay, their tongues, for speech and taste alike
Are strange to ours, with their own history:
Gaul knoweth not a cottage from a house.
Julius: What say they then, pray?
Vincent: Hachis Parmentier.
Julius: Hachis Parmentier! What name they cream?
Vincent: Cream is but cream, only they say la crème.
Julius: What do they name black pudding?
Vincent: I know not;
I visited no inn where't could be bought.

Depending on your friend, and your group's sensibilities, this could be funny. Personally, I think it is hilarious. Some days I just go around hugging myself, delirious with the thought that something like this even exists on the internet.

But as they say, your mileage may vary.
posted by seasparrow at 6:14 AM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My personal favorite is in Antony and Cleopatra, in which a messenger arrives bearing news of Antony's marriage to Octavia. Cleo isn't so good at receiving bad news, and nearly kills the poor fellow, threatening to "unhair" his head. He flees in terror, but she has him dragged back to her chamber immediately afterward, however, so he can give her a detailed account of Octavia's appearance, upon which she comments with sublime bitchiness.
posted by hermitosis at 6:18 AM on May 20, 2009

Not strictly Shakespeare, but an adaptation (warning: offensive language and plenty of it)
posted by phax at 6:32 AM on May 20, 2009

I'll agree with the porter and his limp dick laments. With a little pantomime, this usually gets an audience roaring:


....drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things.

26 What three things does drink especially pro-
27 voke?

28 Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine.
29 Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes
30 the desire, but it takes away the performance. There-
31 fore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator
32 with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him
33 on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and dis-
34 heartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in
35 conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him
36 the lie, leaves him.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:45 AM on May 20, 2009

I came in to say 'exit pursued by a bear' and the 'play within a play' in Midsummer Night's Dream, so I will just second those.

I also find Dogberry's scenes in Much Ado About Nothing to be absolutely hilarious. I have a crackpot theory that he's the basis for Frank Columbo.
posted by thebergfather at 7:11 AM on May 20, 2009

As an undertaker, I've always been partial to Hamlet, Act Five, Scene 1, the scene with the gravediggers. Not a lot of sexysexy, but some good jokes about life, and two dudes capping on each other.

First Clown
Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull
ass will not mend his pace with beating; and, when
you are asked this question next, say "a grave-maker":
the houses that he makes last till doomsday. Go, get
thee in, and fetch me a stoup of liquor.

posted by ColdChef at 7:16 AM on May 20, 2009

The porter in Macbeth and the clowns in Hamlet are good. The problem with something like this is the fact that in most of his works, the stuff isn't really haha funny without the context of the rest of the play. Half of the humor in the play-within-the-play in Midsummer is watching all the work that goes into planning the play. This was Shakespeare at his most professional: rehearsals can be crazy things, often looking not at all like the final product. Without all the background of the "actors," their performances don't make as much sense. Plus, that play-within-the-play ends weird, and I think the film version with Kevin Kline et al nails it and makes much more sense of it than most people do.
posted by nushustu at 7:52 AM on May 20, 2009

King Lear has some wonderful bits:
Out, vile jelly!
Stand up for bastards!
And Gloucester's speech before he is about to "throw" himself from the cliffs of Dover is hilarious (with the undertsanding that he is blind and wants to commit suicide, but who is led by his son (who he doesn't know is his son), who of course won't really lead him to the precipice, so instead, he falls flat on his face).

Seconding Taming of the Shrew!

Any banter between Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing is nothing short of genius.

I also enjoy the relationship between Juliet and her nurse as she's inquiring about Romeo for the first time as well as the "Do you bite your thumb at me?" dialogue at the beginning of the play.

You also might enjoy Shakespeare: the Complete Works, Abridged.

And one can not forget about the shoe maker in Julius Caesar, who is "a mender of souls"!

I love being an English major!
posted by litterateur at 8:47 AM on May 20, 2009

You know what does work, for comedy, is many of Shakespeare's insults.

"[Thou art] a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mungril bitch." Kent, King Lear (2.2.15-23)

So that's a pretty good example.
posted by nushustu at 9:05 AM on May 20, 2009

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the most sublime comic character in Shakespeare, Falstaff; he has more lines in Shakespeare's plays than any character besides Hamlet. Then again, I'm not completely surprised; the history plays have unfortunately gotten little recognition over the last few years as they're more topical, but I think they're fantastic. Falstaff appears in Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and also in The Merry Wives of Windsor, but his funniest scene (to my mind) is Act I, Scene 3, of Henry IV, part 2. They say that Queen Elizabeth frequently requested The Merry Wives of Windsor because she so loved Falstaff; and I can't blame her.
posted by koeselitz at 9:09 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm with Thebergfather, I haven't read all of Shakespeare's comedies, but all of Dogberry's scenes in 'Much Ado' crack me up every time.
posted by Caravantea at 9:13 AM on May 20, 2009

For inspiration on performing MSND Act V Sc. 1, I give you the Beatles.
posted by nosila at 10:08 AM on May 20, 2009

I think the play within a play at the end of Midsummer's is some of the funniest stuff ever written.
posted by miles1972 at 10:09 AM on May 20, 2009

If you have time, get the movies made by Kenneth Branagh and (then-wife?) Emma Thompson: they deliver lines -- which are great on the page -- in the way that you will presumably want to do it.

litterateur, is that a link to the Reduced Shakespeare Company? Their stage act of doing all the history plays as a football game (for the crown!) was great stuff.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:13 AM on May 20, 2009

Let me go lowbrow here and propose that the funniest scene in Shakespeare may, in fact, be the scene in Comedy of Errors where Dromio of Syracuse relates his encounter with his twins' wife, Nell, to his master, Antipholus of Syracuse. He spends a good deal of time comparing her to a glove, specifically detailing which part of her body is which country and why. The description of Nell is so vividly awful that every time I've seen it performed, the audience has screamed with laughter when he finally reaches the great punch line "Oh, sir, I did not look so low." (COE II.2)

I also will second several of the scenes in Much Ado About Nothing, but the highlight for me has always been Act II Scene 3, which starts with Benedick's wonderful speech against love and concludes with Benedick falling madly in love with a baffled Beatrice. The 180 degree turn Benedick goes through during this scene is wonderful.

The popular mechanical scene in Midsummer Night's Dream is hit or miss for me. I've seen it go spectacularly awry.

There's also some very, very funny stuff in the brothel sequence of Pericles, particularly in regard to descriptions of various Europeans drooling over the virginal Marina - and regarding the sad quality of the rest of the prostitutes in Mytilene.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:29 AM on May 20, 2009

Response by poster: wow you guys are fantastic!! thanks so much, I can't wait to dig in to some of this stuff! The parodies are also a great idea, too, this is going to be a lot of fun.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:55 AM on May 20, 2009

I think Parolles' speech about virginity from All's Well That Ends Well is pretty awesome. He's a ladies' man, a coward, and a braggart, and he thinks virginity is a withered pear.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:23 PM on May 20, 2009

Henry V has the leek-eating scene -- which should only be performed if one of you is willing to eat a raw leek onstage.

This scene from Troilus and Cressida (down to the end of Thersites's speech) contains some of the choicest insults and putdowns in all of Shakespeare. I especially like "idol of idiot-worshippers."

Lastly, this scene from As You Like It is extremely silly and involves the classic three-hander of stupid guy, funny guy, and pretty girl. (ipse is Latin for "he" and should be pronounced "ip-say.")
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:23 AM on May 21, 2009

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