Bone Up Your Shakespeare
A Study Guide to the Complete Porno Films of the Bard of Avon
By Daniel Radosh
Considering that William Shakespeare coined the phrase, “making the beast with two backs” (Othello, I, i), it should be no surprise that there are numerous X-rated movies based on his plays. Amherst Professor Richard Burt has devoted a good chunk of his career to "bardcore" films. But are any of them worth watching? Ay, there’s the… rub.
The Play: A Midsummer Night’s Cream
How Much Bard: 70%
Cliff Notes: Certain subplots have been trimmed, the rest have had trim added, but the story and spirit of the original are intact. While there are benefits to this — double entendres like “I could munch your good dry oats” really come alive — there are also drawbacks — when it comes to porn, a guy with the head (and bray) of a donkey is more nightmare than dream. The acting isn’t exactly RSC-worthy either. But then you wouldn’t want to see Dame Judi Dench in this particular production.
The Play: X Hamlet
How Much Bard: 30%
Cliff Notes: Something is pervy in the state of Denmark. It seems the king’s brother, knowing the monarch’s penchant for cunnilingus, poisoned the queen’s good dry oats. Now the king’s ghost wants Hamlet to avenge him. Also, he wants Hamlet to have as much sex as possible. Some lines are familiar from Hamlet (“To screw or not to screw, that is the question”). Some recall other Shakespeare plays (“My kingdom for a fuck”). And some, Shakespeare could only have dreamed of writing (“There’s a present for you in my pants”).
The Play: Othello: Dangerous Desire
How Much Bard: 2%
Cliff Notes: “Life is pretty strange. Your name is Desdimona and mine is Othello. Not to say that has anything to do with Shakespeare. I just thought it was funny.” Actually, what’s funny is that Othello speaks dialogue with an American accent and voiceover with an Italian one, but this line is worth noting because it’s virtually the only connection at all to the alleged source material. The plot of this Othello involves the planning of a crime. Which in turn involves having lots of sex. The only other glimpse of Shakespeare comes when Othello wonders how Cassio got hold of Desdimona’s strawberry-spotted handkerchief. Or, in this version, her leopard-print thong.
The Play: Taming of the Screw
How Much Bard: 25%
Cliff Notes: Finally, an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew for everyone who thought Ten Things I Hate About You was too cleverly written. In this modern undress production, Kate’s witty banter stays at the level of, “Shut the fuck up! Fuck you!” Once tamed by her husband, with the help of various friends and waiters, Kate teaches other wives the meaning of marriage: “All they have to do is their husbands’ bidding. Is that so much to give for the love you get in return. Here my husband, let me return the love you have given me. Suck Pete’s cock, you two dumb bitches!”
The Play: Juliet and Romeo
How Much Bard: 40%
Cliff Notes: Montagues don’t fall in love with Capulets, they just have sex with them. “My heart is Montague,” explains Mercutio, “but my prick is nonpartisan.” So it’s a scandal when Romeo becomes so smitten by Juliet that he can barely bring himself to bone the servant girls. And when Romeo kills Tybalt in an ensuing feud he must flee to Mantua, where he can barely bring himself to bone his hostess. At the end, Romeo is about to take his life — but Juliet awakens just in time to stop him! When the mourners arrive, Romeo and Juliet hide inside her coffin, where he can barely bring himself to bone her. Apparently this movie was made before Viagra.
The Play: In The Flesh (an adaptation of Macbeth)
How Much Bard: 75%
Cliff Notes: This ambitiously artsy interpretation blends classical and contemporary. Though staged in gloomy stone castles, the text is modernized and the characters drive Jeeps and carry guns. As a reminder that this is “the Scottish play,” the men wear kilts and the women, um, blow bagpipes. Shakespeare left the explicit sex out of his version, but you can imagine he’d approve of, for example, Lady Macbeth’s leather-dom style and Banquo’s ghost presiding over an hallucinatory orgy. Unlike Juliet and Romeo, Flesh stays true to its tragic heritage. Everyone ends up dead, and even when alive — even when screwing their courage to the sticking place — they don’t seem to be having much fun.
A version of this article originally appeared in Playboy.