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Feb 05

Numeracy in Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in LoveIn my never ending efforts to provide my readers with the most trivial observations of life, I recently wrote roughly a thousand words about a ten cent mathematical error in the film Rocky. And I promised that I would discuss a similar issue in the film Shakespeare in Love.[1] This brings to mind an even more trivial question: why only Academy Award winning films? I don’t know. It could be that I’m just not paying attention, because I noticed the math in both these films around the same time many years ago.

Shakespeare in Love begins with Hugh Fennyman and his henchmen torturing Philip Henslowe, because of unpaid debts. Henslowe proposes that they go into business together to put on a play. Fennyman likes this idea, so he begins to speculate.

Fennyman: A play takes time, find the actors, rehearsals; let’s say we open in two weeks. That’s what, 500 groundlings at tuppence [two pence] a head, in addition, 400 backsides at thruppence [three pence], a penny extra for cushions. Call it 200 cushions. Say two performances for safety. How much is that Mr. Frees?

Frees: Twenty pounds to penny, Mr. Fennyman!

Fennyman: Correct.

Let’s do the math, shall we?

500 × 2 + 400 × 3 + 200 × 1 = 1000 + 1200 + 200 = 2400

Two performances: 4800? That’s twenty pounds to the penny?

The United Kingdom has since metricized their currency, but not that long ago, and for a long time before, their currency made as much sense as all the other imperial units. Here is a list:

4 Farthings = Penny
6 Pennies = Sixpence
12 Pennies = Shilling
20 Shillings = Pound
240 Pennies = Pound

So 4800 Pennies is, in fact, “Twenty pounds to the the penny, Mr. Fennyman!”


[1] I’m sorry to bring this up, but there was another thing in Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor’s Reduced Shakespeare that annoyed me:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead — Two Bards

Everybody rise and give it up for Tom Stoppard. Not only did he re-energize the short-funny-alternative-Bard industry with Dogg’s Hamlet … he also helped Marc Norman write the delightful screenplay Shakespeare in Love, and he created Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, his worm’s-eye view of Hamlet in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (minor characters in Shakespeare’s play) become the leading characters in their own story and discover they aren’t up to the task. Filled with Stoppardian wit, Shakespearean in-jokes, and Beckettian existential dread, Stoppard examimes a world in which “every exit is an entrance somewhere else.”

So it’s a bummer to report the movie’s a bit of a drag. Although very funny in spots, and a treat to watch Gary Oldman play a bumbling, funny, nice guy, you can’t avoid the fact that the play is ultimately about two guys who merely watch and wait. Action heroes they’re not.

With that caveat, however—enjoy.

Shakespeare in Love is a great film in all ways except for the primary plot, which is okay. Given Marc Norman’s history of writing (in large groups) such gems as Cutthroat Island, I doubt that anything I actually like in this film is due to him. All that is clever and interesting is most likely Stoppard’s.

I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who think that the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is better than the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It is just so much richer. In particular, it is great to watch Rosencrantz (Oldman) discover or invert Archimedes’ principle, the steam engine, gravitation, conservation of energy, flight. The film is a delight that only gets better with more viewings.

The criticism that the title characters just spend the film watching and waiting is amazing, given that Martin and Tichenor seem to be aware that it is an homage to Waiting for Godot. Given that, what are the characters to do? What are any of us to do? That’s life: we wait around until we die. I don’t think people turn to Shakespeare when they are in the mood for an action movie.

Update (21 November 2012 4:57 pm)

I changed the numbers I got wrong by only doing a single performance. See comments below.

2 comments

  1. Michelle purcell

    2400 pennies would be 10 pounds (240 x 10 = 2400). So, it wouldn’t be 20 pounds, but only 10 pounds to the penny

  2. admin

    Good catch Michelle! However, there are *two* performances. I’ll update.

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