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Theatre: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Three actors (male in the video and the original troupe), with the use of costumes, bad wigs, and more wordplay and slapstick comedy than you can shake a rubber skull at, reenact the entirety of the works of William Shakespeare within the time frame of a two-act stageplay. Hilarity most DEFINITELY ensues.

This was originally created by The Reduced Shakespeare Company, but has since been sold/given to/adapted by a wide variety of comedy troupes and theatre companies.

The play has No Fourth Wall, requires performers to make it up as they go and audience participation. This means the likelihood of two shows (even from the same company of actors) being the same twice is very low, if not outright impossible. Unusual for a modern play, performers are not under contract to be as true to the script as possible after acquiring performance rights.

That said, the script has three roles named for the actors who originally performed the piece: Daniel (the troupe leader), Jess (the scholar/serious actor), and Adam (comic relief; plays nearly all the female parts). Actors usually perform using their own names.

Amazingly, the play uses just about every Abridged Series Trope despite predating the genre by 19 years.


Tropes in TCWOWSA include:

  • The Abridged Series: Ur Example, and the Trope Codifier for theatrical productions. There are now equivalent shows for just about every literary oeuvre.
  • The Annotated Edition: The book of the show not only contains the script, but also hundreds of hysterical footnotes that make the book worth reading on its own.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "Shakespeare's plays have been reimagined on the lunar landscape, Nazi prisoner-of-war camps, and even Vancouver."
  • Audience Participation: At the end of the first act, the actors use an audience member's program to figure out what they haven't done. At another, they recruit an audience member to play the part of Ophelia—with the rest of the audience playing the various parts of Ophelia's psyche.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel (inverted) / Anachronism Stew: The costuming direction calls for Converse hi-tops to be worn with Shakespearean garb.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Adam refuses to perform dry, boring, vomitless Shakespeare.
  • Butt Monkey: Adam.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: Adam's worldview, as shown by his interpretation of "Chernobyl Two Noble Kinsmen".
  • Creator Cameo: Daniel Singer is the "volunteer" who plays the ego on the DVD.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Accidentally invoked when the frequent costume changes finally catch up to Adam, who emerges dressed simultaneously as Claudius, Gertrude, and Ophelia.
    Jess (as Hamlet): "Here, thou incestuous, murd'rous... cross-dressing Dane!"
  • Critical Research Failure: In-Universe example comes from Adam. When the others leave Adam on his own to research Othello, he comes to the conclusion that the "moor" referred to in the title is where you tie up a boat.
  • Cue Card Pause: "... and Mary Arden, daughter of a Roman. ... Catholic member of the landed gentry."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jess and Daniel. Depending on the crowd, the audience can get in on it, too.
  • Do Not Try This at Home: Invoked by the cast just before the 45-second Hamlet. Subverted when Adam suggests doing it at a friend's house instead.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The play incorporates (or at least mentions) every play and sonnet by William Shakespeare.
    Friar: Take thou this vial, and this distilled liquor drink thou off. And presently through all thy veins shall run a cold and drowsy humour.
    Juliet: O, I feel a cold and drowsy humour running through my veins.
    Friar: Told you so.
  • The Exit Is That Way: In the video version of the Hamlet performance
    Hamlet: The time is out of joint—O cursed spite, that ever I was born to exit right!
    *Starts to exit, realizes he is going stage left, and quickly reverses direction.*
  • Footnote Fever: In the annotated edition, the footnotes sometimes take up more space on the page than the text itself.
  • Gratuitous Rap: The Othello performance. Used because Othello is a moor.
    • In some performances the it's played for Deliberate Values Dissonance, with one member of the troupe clearly uncomfortable with this (until he forgets); usually the same one who was embarassed about even attempting Othello due to being "melanin challenged".
    • "Are you trying to piss off Oprah?!"
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: Numerous places in the script. Before Intermission, Daniel's stage direction is "[he] Stalls" with a footnote describing the absurd things previous productions have done to entertain the audience.
  • Historical Hilarity: "'Shakespeare invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, thus precipitating World War II.' I never knew that!"
  • Hurricane of Puns
    • Even the annotations are guilty of this. Example: Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra are linked with Macbeth (with MacDuff "from my mother's womb most untimely ripped") in what the script calls the "Caesarean section" of the show.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: On the DVD, when Romeo is about to kiss Juliet (Adam), he looks down and takes another swig of poison first.
  • Idiot Ball: Mostly carried by Adam, but Jess picks it up from time to time as well.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Jess (and his successor Austin), most obviously in the "Troilus and Cressida" segment.
  • Large Ham: Pretty much a requirement for all three.
  • Musical Gag + Mythology Gag: At least in the home video release, during the "EPILOGUE!" finish to Romeo and Juliet, Adam plays a guitar while intoning background music to the spoken narration. The song he sings is the 'Love Theme' from Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 adaptation. The others join in at the end:
    "For Romeo and Juliet are dead!"
    • Some productions have been known to use "Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits.
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: Ophelia in the crew's version of Hamlet.
    "Cut the crap, Hamlet! My biological clock is ticking and I want babies now!!"
    • Keep in mind that the above line is not actually spoken by Ophelia, but by the audience representing her inner monologue.
  • Nice Shoes: The cast traditionally wears Converse hi-tops. Given the sheer physicality of the show, this is as much a practical choice as it is an aesthetic one.
  • No Fourth Wall: Taken Up to Eleven. Not only does the cast constantly address the crowd, but they also drag members onstage (willingly or not), steal their seats, sit on their laps, pretend to vomit on them, and in one (brief) case, take a member hostage.
    "I'll kill the cameraman!"
    "I don't care; we've got five of them."
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. The company calls multiple people "Bob" claiming it's easier for them to remember.
  • Parental Incest: In the composite comedy:
    The fairies and the pages get into a knock down fight in the mud!
    During which the pages' clothes get ripped off revealing female genitalia!
    The Duke recognises his daughters!
  • Radio Drama: The play was adapted into a six-part radio series in Britain, with episodes dealing with Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, the remainder of the tragedies, the comedies, the histories and the life of William Shakespeare. The format effectively doubled the length of the stage show and enabled the troupe to expand jokes and add new material. This included "special guests" (Reed "impersonating" people like Oprah and Helena Bonham Carter), more raps and recreations of the origins of the Capulet/Montague feud and the lost Shakespeare play "Cardenio".
  • Rule of Funny: The show is made from this.
  • Rule of Three:
    Ghost of Hamlet's Father: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!
    Hamlet: Murder!
    Horatio: Murder!
    Ghost of Hamlet's Father: For the serpent that did sting thy father's life now wears his crown!
    Hamlet: My uncle!
    Horatio: His uncle!
    Ghost of Hamlet's Father: Let not the royal bed of Denmark become a couch for incest!
    Hamlet: Incest!
    Horatio: A couch!
  • Scotland: Gleefully plays with every major Scottish stereotype the authors can think of.
    • Lampshaded by the annotated version, which notes the lack of any lines about the engines' inability to "take any more o' this."
  • Shown Their Work: Underneath all the silliness is a very thorough understanding of Shakespeare's work. The show actually makes for a pretty decent introduction to the Bard.
    • The script also marks which lines come more or less directly from the original Shakespeare. There are more of them than you'd think.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Actual lines from the Shakespearean plays mixed in with phrases such as "Up yours, Capulet!" and "Dude, your boob!"
  • Subliminal Seduction: Just before performing Hamlet backwards, Austin says "Be sure to listen for the Satanic messages!"
    • Frank Sinatra is God!
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Played straight, then subverted in the rap.
    Othello loved Desi like Adonis loved Venus,
    And Desi loved Othello 'cause he had a big...sword.
    But Iago had a plan that was clever and slick.
    He was crafty, he was sly, he was kind of a prick.
    • Some troupes (or, at the very least, one performance by one troupe) made the subversion more obvious, replacing "prick" with "penis" followed by an awkward pause.
  • Take That: In the televised show during the composite comedy.
    One of the shrews is elected Senator from New York!
  • The Danza: Actors will generally just use their own names for the show, as the original run did.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Adam's biography of Shakespeare becomes one of Hitler after he drops his index cards.
  • Throw It In: Both subverted and played straight. The show's conceit is that these guys are making it up as they go, and much of the "spontaneity" is actually scripted. Then again, improvisation is encouraged, and there is a lot that can go wrong, so no two performances are ever quite the same.
    • Austin discourages it though when Adam and Reed try to bring a toy Godzilla into his segment about Troilus and Cressida.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The annotated version makes the claim that in Elizabethan England, men commonly sharpened their penises and used them as tools (such as boning knives) or weapons, giving the phrase "profaners of this neighbor-stained steel" an entirely different meaning.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Adam vomits in all his death scenes. Usually on audience members.
    Adam: I refuse to do dry, boring, vomitless Shakespeare.
    • It should be noted that he only pretends to vomit. The DVD features him dry heaving (with extremely evocative sound effects) into an audience member's hat.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Averted if the troupe in question casts a woman as Adam's role.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Justified, costume changes are ridiculously short.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Averted, surprisingly. Almost all of the dialogue is either directly from Shakespeare, or contemporary English. The few cases where they blend are played for laughs.
    Romeo: "Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized—"
    Juliet: " 'Butt-love'? Why would I call you 'Butt-love'?"


Compleat Female Stage BeautyTheatrical ProductionsThe Composer Is Dead
Code MENTThe Abridged SeriesDangan Ronpa Abridged Thing

alternative title(s): The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare Abridged
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