Shakespeare, Beard of Avon

  • Fran Teague


“Brush up your Shakespeare,” sings a gangster who’s hanging around backstage to collect an overdue gambling debt, “Start quoting him now …”

Brush up your Shakespeare,

And the women you will wow.

Just declaim a few lines from Othella,

And they’ll think you’re a hell of a fella.

If your blonde don’t respond when you flatter ‘er,

Tell her what Tony told Cleopatterer …

The number stops Kiss Me, Kate so completely that Cole Porter added encore verses because “we realized that… [it] was a ‘boff ‘ number—a show stopper” (McBrien 1998, 313–14; 116). The number uses a comic tempo “to conjure up images of middle-class gentility and sentiment,” and “outrageous rhyming and increasingly bawdy imagery that Porter derives from Shakespeare’s titles” (Swain 1990, 134; 136). Initially it simply alludes to Shakespeare’s plays with cleverly forced rhymes to amuse the audience (“Othella / hell of a fella,” with its piled up rhyme, for example, or “flatter ‘er / Cleopatterer,” with a dialect gag). As the song progresses, Shakespeare’s titles become double entendres, so that references to the eminently respectable Shakespeare permit the lyric to suggest the startlingly unrespectable:

If she fights when her clothes you are mussing

What are clothes? Much Ado about Nussing…

If she says your behavior is heinous

Kick her right in the Coriolanus…

When Your baby is pleading for pleasure,

Ler her sample your Measure for Measure.


West Side Sexual Revolution Interracial Friendship Stage Direction Beer Hall 


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Copyright information

© Richard Burt 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fran Teague

There are no affiliations available

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