"Are you a comedian?" When the Olivia of Mark Rylance, who is a law unto himself, asked the question of Samuel Barnett's Viola in Twelfth Night last week, I thought he was tweaking the text. I have known the play since my teens, taught it at Harvard, and seen it over the decades in more productions than I can list. And the situation as such was thoroughly familiar. Intrigued by an importunate pageboy (in truth a shipwrecked maiden in disguise), Olivia speculates that he might be an actor. But a comedian? The transcendent Shakespeare's Globe production, now previewing on Broadway for a November 15 opening, mimics Elizabethan conventions, yet the twinkle in Rylance's eye gave the word a fizzy contemporary spin. Olivia was not asking whether "Cesario" played roles for a living. She was asking if his job was to tell jokes.
Reality check: according to the online concordance at OpenSource Shakespeare, the word comedian appears in Shakespeare just once. Here.
A few evenings later, in Julie Taymor's inaugural Midsummer Night's Dream for the new, permanent home of Theater for a New Audience, the Rude Mechanicals were discussing their forthcoming production of Pyramus and Thisby. "But there's a problem," one of them said. "that is, to bring the moonlight into a chamber; for,
you know, Pyramus and Thisby meet by moonlight."
A problem, forsooth? In Shakespeare?
Reality check: according to the online concordance at OpenSource Shakespeare, the word does not appear in Shakespeare at all. In the authentic text, the line in question begins, "But there is two hard things," the other being to bring a wall into the chamber.