Ridiculous storylines, crazy behaviour, outlandish plot twists, a collection of grotesque characters unlike anyone you would ever encounter in real life…it could only be the world of the soap opera.
Or could it? This might give Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench an apoplectic fit, but the works of Shakespeare are every bit as outrageous, implausible and demented as the best (or worst) soap script. Now, this isn’t to say that they’re not also profound, lyrical meditations on the human condition, because the Bard’s plays clearly are.
But purely from the perspective of plot, Shakespeare’s plays are the Elizabethan equivalent of the modern-day soap: hectic, ludicrous and thoroughly entertaining. They were dramatic pot-boilers before pot-boilers – and possibly even pots – were invented.
As our English teachers were wont to say, examine the textual evidence. Hamlet is a lurid Oedipal melodrama. Romeo and Juliet is a Home and Away-style teen romance with added poetry. King Lear and his daughters form the classic dysfunctional soap family. Antony and Cleopatra features the most fantastical suicide ever (death by poisonous snake bite, in case you were wondering).
Shakespeare was the Coronation Street or Dallas of his day, with enough excitement, romance, laughter, tragedy and emotional meltdowns to sate the appetite of the greediest soap addict. But what would it be like to combine the two? Well, let’s find out. Oh players, play on…
‘Hamlet in an EastEnders style’
Act I, Scene I
It is wicked cold at the battlements of Elsinore Castle, innit? And the ghost of Hamlet’s old man appears or whatever, and he’s all like, ‘Ooh, tell me son I was murdered, innit’, and Hamlet finds out and he is well pissed off.
Act II, Scene II
So Hamlet is standing wiff a piece of a skull in his hand what is well gross innit, and he’s thinking about stuff. He’s, like, deep or whatever?
HAMLET: Oy, Horatio. You ever wondered about, like, wot a piece of work is man and that? Iss all, like, noble in reason and infinite in faculty, innit? A bit like Superman or sumfink. Or, like, Paxman wot does Universally Challenged. He’s well clever, inney?
HORATIO: Leave it aaht, ya plonkah.
They shout at each other for ten minutes, then go for a pint of laaaw-gaah.
Act III, Scene I
I reckon Hamlet knows at this stage abaaht the old man being done in and, like, his conniving mum and that, wot he sort of fancies and all, the dirty little monkey. So he’s all, ‘Ooh, wot am I to do?’ or whatever. Just do sumfink, ya useless git!
HAMLET: Well, what I’ve gotter ask meself is, to be or, like, not to be? Wevver it is nobler in the old grey matter to put up wiff all this palaver, or should I, like, take arms against a sea of troubles, innit?
OPHELIA: ’Allo, my daahlin’. Wotchoo doin’ there, talking to yourself? You’ve gone stupid in the head, innit!
HAMLET: Shove orf, ya slaaaaag! You ain’t even meant to be in this scene!
They shout at each other for fifteen minutes, before Ophelia storms off to begin a secret affair with Ian Beale. Hamlet gives an extravagant yawn.
HAMLET: I am well tired, innit. I could do wiff a bit of kip or whatever; to sleep, perchance to dream. Yeah, there’s the rub and that.
Hamlet lies daahn in one of the fruit and veg stalls for a kip, and has right ’orrible dreams of one day being played on film by Mel Gibson. He awakes wiff a start, and sets off to end this, once and for all…just like Mel would do. Ooh, he’s handsome, inney? Bit of a nutter and all, though.
The final act, final scene
I fink everyone is dead by now, except maybe the extras what they use for crowd scenes and that. It all got well confusin’ there for a while, but I fink I ’ave it all worked aaaht now. Ophelia went mad about her old man dying and gone and drownded herself or sumfink, and Hamlet, like, stuck a knife in some old fart wot was hidin’ in the curtains and all that, and Rosenthingie and Guilderwhatever is dead too. And then some more people was stabbed or poisoned or whatever, and I don’t know wot’s goin’ on no more.
Anyways, Hamlet is lying on the graaahnd, philosophising, which ain’t much good when you’re bleeding to deff, innit? Be better off callin’ a doctor or sumfink.
HAMLET: Bloody ’ell, it’s all gone Pete Tong, innit? But it’s me own fault – I should have acted earlier and that. But I just couldn’t be bovvered, really.
He dies or whatever. Close curtain. The end, innit.