Shrew 3: Brush Up Your Oxford

· 13 September 2018 ·

[‘Kiss Me, Kate’ and Cole Porter’s problematic lyrics, which I revise and repurpose]

In Part 1 I addressed the now-unattractive mindset of my original The Taming of the Shrew. In Part 2 I looked at a variety of Shrews, and went into some detail about an 18th-century revision that made the play even less palatable. To conclude this trio of shrewd posts, I now consider the mid-20th-century musical, Kiss Me, Kate (stage play 1948, film 1953), and one of its songs in particular.

While Cole Porter wrote the music and lyrics for the songs in KMK, the rest of the play was written by Bella and Samuel Spewak (yes, married). They took my Shrew, tossed Sly’s Induction into the dustbin like everyone else, then substituted another framing device in its place. This one concerns the off-stage relationship between the two actors playing Petruchio and Katherine in an out-of-town preview of a musical version of my play. Fred and Lilli used to be married, now they aren’t. Mischief and musical numbers ensue. This time there is more time spent in the frame than inside the play inside it. Something different.

Something else is different too.

No, not the spanking. Let’s not go there.

As television grew in popularity in the early 1950s, movie studios felt the pinch in their purses from the decline in ticket sales. Their hope was that new technologies like CinemaScope and 3-D would entice viewers out of their sitting rooms and back into cinemas. MGM made a big production of this production, so it got the state-of-the-art 3-D treatment. The depth-perception trick required viewers to wear spectacles with polarised lenses, not the red-eye/blue-eye sort.

You can tell that the picture was shot for 3-D, even if you’re not watching it that way. The sets are deep and the camera is very swoopy. Ann Miller tosses her gloves, scarf, and other three-dimensional assets around. People jump and climb over things like children at a playground. Objects are aimed at the camera: confetti, water, flowers, a smoke bomb. Tumblers tumble, jugglers juggle. Petruchio cracks his bright red whip at you. Don’t flinch.

You knew I would mention the whip.

coronet-spacer

I decided to play with on of KMK’s musical numbers. It’s why I started writing about The Taming of the Shrew in the first place, before it blew up into three posts.

Brush Up Your Shakespeare is sung by two gangsters, debt collectors for the local mob boss. (If you need a synposis, here.) This song is described as a show-stopper, and one can see why. The louts are likeable, and the lyrics are some of the sauciest and wittiest that Cole Porter ever wrote. The problem is that the subject matter straddles the line between enthusiastic dating and sexual assault. There’s no other way to put it.

For the rest of this post I’m focusing on form, not content. The wordplay is too good, and there are two versions to compare. The first is the original that Porter wrote for the stage play, and the second is what MGM was able to get past the Hays office censors and onto celluloid.

I burned a lot of electrons in Parts 1 and 2 over changing social values in relation to what I wrote in the play and what’s been done to it since. If you don’t like the dubious nature of these lyrics, skip the first two versions and scroll down to the new third one. I’ve changed the subject.

As for my harping about people who edit my words while I do the same to Porter’s: I’m not messing with his work then selling the mess as if it was still his. And turnabout is fair play, he and the Spewaks started it.

coronet-spacerBrush Up Your Shakespeare
from Kiss Me, Kate
music and lyrics by Cole Porter

Version One:
Original lyrics (1948) – same YT link as embedded below, in case you want to run it in another window while following the lyrics here
sung by Michael Jibson and James Doherty
with the John Wilson Orchestra
Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms 2014

The girls today in society
Go for classical poetry
So to win their hearts one must quote with ease
Aeschylus and Euripides
One must know Homer, and b’lieve me beau
Sophocles, also Sapph-o-ho
Unless you know Shelley and Keats and Pope
Dainty Debbies will call you a dope

But the poet of them all
Who will start ’em simply ravin’
Is the poet people call
The Bard of Stratford-on-Avon

Chorus:
Brush up your Shakespeare
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 won’t respond when you flatter ’er
Tell ’er what Tony told Cleopaterer

If she fights when her clothes you are mussin’
What are clothes? Much Ado About Nussin’
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow

Chorus

With the wife of the British ambessida
Try a crack out of Troilus and Cressida
If she says she won’t buy it or tike it
Make her tike it, what’s more As You Like It

If she says your behaviour is heinous
Kick her right in the Coriolanus
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow

Chorus

If you can’t be a ham and do Hamlet
They will not give a damn or a damlet
Just recite an occasional sonnet
And your lap’ll have honey upon it

When your baby is pleading for pleasure
Let her sample your Measure for Measure
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow – Forsooth!
And they’ll all kow-tow – I’ faith!
And they’ll all kow-tow

Chorus

Better mention The Merchant Of Venice
When her sweet pound o’ flesh you would menace
If her virtue at first she defends well
Just remind her that All’s Well That Ends Well

And if still she won’t give you a bonus
You know what Venus got from Adonis
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow – Thinkst thou?
And they’ll all kow-tow – Od’s bodkins!
They’ll all kow-tow!

Chorus

If your girl is a Washington Heights dream
Treat the kid to A Midsummer Night’s Dream
If she then wants an all-by-herself night
Let her rest ev’ry ’leventh or Twelfth Night

If because of your heat she gets huffy
Simply play on and lay on, Macduffy!
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow – We trou’!
And they’ll all kow-tow – We vow!
And they’ll all kow-tow!

coronet-spacer

Version Two:
Bowdlerised MGM film lyrics (1953) – same link as embedded
sung by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore

The girls today in society
Go for classical poetry
So to win their hearts you must quote with ease
Aeschylus and Euripides

But the poet of them all
Who will start ’em simply ravin’
Is the poet people call
The Bard of Stratford-on-Avon

Chorus:
Brush up your Shakespeare
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 heck of a fella
If your blonde won’t respond when you flatter ’er
Tell ’er what Tony told Cleopaterer

And if still to be shocked she pretends well
Just remind her that All’s Well That Ends Well
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow

(soft-shoe hoofing)

Chorus

If your girl is a Washington Heights dream
Treat the kid to A Midsummer’s Night Dream (sic)
If she fights when her clothes you are mussing
What are clothes? Much Ado About Nussing

If she says your behaviour is heinous
Kick her right in the Coriolanus
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow

(more hoofing)

And they’ll all kow-tow – Thinkst thou?
And they’ll all kow-tow – I trou’
And they’ll all kow-tow – Od’s bodkin!

(conversation, then one last time)

Chorus

(last bit of hoofing)

Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow!

coronet-spacer

Add Thomas Bowdler to my list of Miscreant Georgians, alongside Garrick and Kemble. Bowdler was a physician who deemed himself qualified and entitled to revise my work. His surname became a verb in 1807 when he published a set of my plays with the texts thoroughly neutered to remove all indelicacy of expression, rendering them safe for the sensibilities of women and children. His sister did most of the editing.

Bowdler was the hypocritcal progenitor of Will Hays (“Czar of all the Rushes”) and Joseph Breen, the enforcers of the Production Code.

The Family Shakspeare advert from 1819.

Hollywood’s MPPDA (later MPAA), 1934-1968.

The BBFC (later BBFC) had their own setup, but they
weren’t kept as busy as their American counterparts.

coronet-spacer

Version Three:
Mine (2018) – shorter than the play’s, longer than the film’s
alas, no video
[back to Part 2] — Shrew 2: Whips and Changes
[back to Part 1] — Shrew 1: My Household Stuff
coronet-spacer

Additional Reading for Part 3

  • Background on the commedia dell’arte, which I saw a lot of while I was in north Italy (heh) in 1575-76. The commedia was an obvious and important influence in my work. But there are none so blind as those who will not see – the article wears Stratfordian blinkers, and misses a great deal because of it. For instance, “The main plot of Katherina’s ‘taming’ has no obvious literary source…”. Ms Gay needs to read my Part 1, although she’s correct on a semantic technicality because my source wasn’t literary, it was personal.
  • For information that’s less orthodox but more accurate pertaining to commedia dell’arte and me, read Hank Whittemore’s blog post instead. [hankwhittemore.com]

VERO NIHIL VERIUS