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[whitespace] Shakespeare vs. Shaw

By Richard von Busack

With help from Metro Santa Cruz's crack staff of dramaturges, I have prepared a summary to help audiences tell the difference between Shakespeare and Shaw.


Arms and the Man
A starry-eyed Bulgarian girl who has illusions about the glory of war is surprised in her bedroom by a soldier on the run from a military rout. He is a proudly self-confessed coward. This antiwar play became exceptionally popular during the worst years of World War II. Timely references to "cowardly Serbs" will elicit plenty of knowing laughter today, as will the ever-popular "guy hiding in a girl's bedroom from his pursuers" routine.

Romeo and Juliet
The old cautionary story: two teenagers mess around with drugs and end up dead.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
This is the one with the funny dog. Crab is his name, undisciplined, unhousebroken and not even affectionate: "This cruel-hearted cur who is a stone, a very pebble stone, and has no more pity in him than a dog." Crab livens a plot of algebraic complexity, which is basically about the "thousand-mile limit"** (i.e., 1,000 miles is about as far as faithfulness can be expected to last).

Maids and Servants

Arms and the Man
Louka: insolent hot-stuff servant. "A handsome proud girl in a pretty Bulgarian peasant's dress." Any half-way decent Louka can steal the show from the lead, Raina.

Romeo and Juliet
The Nurse: all-knowing servant. Usually a role for big women, ever since the great, hefty Pat Heywood played the nurse in the Zeffirelli film version. She pleads for her charge Juliet--but isn't there a certain edge in the way she describes the lovelorn girl as "blubbering and weeping, weeping and blubbering"?

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Speed and Launce: wacky, jackass servants. Two stooges, always sweetening each other with nicknames like "unmannerly slave," "whoreson" and "jolthead."

Quaint Terms

Arms and the Man
"chocolate cream soldier"--euphemism for candy-loving mercenary.

Romeo and Juliet
"mouse-hunt"--skirt chaser
"crow-keeper"--human scarecrow
"butt-shaft"--blunt-headed arrow for target practice

The Two Men Gentlemen of Verona
"farthingale"--hooped petticoat

** This rule was formulated by my brothers and me when we were young enough to get away with this kind of thing.

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From the July 14-21, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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