The Shakespeare Codex – Stephen Briggs

Based loosely on The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, Lords and Ladies and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Shakespeare Codex is a new Discworld stage adaptation written to commemorate Terry Pratchett’s life and works.

Pratchett and Shakespeare fans may also spot snippets from Maskerade, Wyrd Sisters, Richard II, Henry V, Hamlet and others as two worlds collide.

From the rear cover of the book

First published in 2021, but initially performed on 6th April 2016, this is Stephen Brigg’s first adaptation since Terry Pratchett’s death on 12th March 2015 and unusually takes as it’s base not one of Pratchett’s novels but the short novella written as part of the second Science of Discworld series which is used as the links between the science sections written by professors Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. In the Science of Discworld series of four books the wizards of Unseen University accidentally create what they call Roundworld, but which is clearly our home planet of Earth, and then get involved in various adventures trying to keep it safe. In the case of book II this is to prevent Discworld elves taking over and involves Shakespeare as the man to write them eternally into fantasy and figures of fun and therefore no longer a danger, which he does in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Briggs quotes extensively from Shakespeare’s plays with instructions to the actors taking the roles that these should be “played straight. Not hammy”.

As said in the quote from the rear cover Briggs has extended the source material beyond the Science of Discworld II and produced a play that works well even for non Discworld fans and which sold out through its first performances at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon, Oxfordshire where Briggs is part of an amateur dramatic company. He has been adapting Pratchett’s material since 1991 and these have been performed all over the world to apparently equally happy audiences. Despite this being the twentieth ‘Discworld’ play by him this is the first I have actually owned and read and it was very enjoyable with the mix of Shakespeare and Pratchett handled really well and plenty of the Bard’s own words to set it firmly in Elizabethan England.

The wizards are able to travel through time and ‘fix’ things that have gone wrong and which would prevent Shakespeare being born but they remain largely puzzled by this place where magic doesn’t work but despite which everybody there seems to believe it does work. They are also the only people able to see the elves as they spread their malevolent influence over the population although the Countess of Shrewsbury says to Queen Elizabeth at the end of the play that she could have sworn there was another Queen on the stage at some point so she clearly had seen, or at least sensed, the Queen of the Elves. Of course, all’s well that ends well, so to say and all does end well for the wizards and indeed for William Shakespeare whose new play making fun of the elves as silly fairies that try to interfere with mortal men but are ultimately defeated is a big hit with his audience.

As a final thought the Discworld librarian of the Unseen University is an orangutan (it’s complicated) and throughout the original book and this play is apparently successfully disguised as a Spaniard. I’m intrigued as to what nationality he is assigned in Spanish translations of the two books.

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