Shakespeare and The Simpsons

The Simpsons is satire of contemporary culture, therefore pop culture references are a huge part of the show. Shakespeare references are used on The Simpsons a lot (no wonder OJ Villacorta called The Simpsons Shakespeare remixes “Shakespeare for a younger generation”!) The Simpsons has continuously done Shakespeare remixes and includes multiple subtle references to Shakespeare’s plays. Below is a list of some Shakespeare references on The Simpsons.

1. The Episode Titles
Some of The Simpsons episode titles have names that reference Shakespeare’s plays, but aren’t the same storyline. Here are two episode titles I found that are clever spins on the titles of Shakespeare’s plays: Much Apu About Nothing (a take on Much Ado About Nothing) and Midsummer Nice Dream (a take on Midsummer Night’s Dream).

2. The “Do The Bard Man” segment from “Tales From The Public Domain”: The Simpsons version of Hamlet
This is considered to be one of the most well known and least subtle references to a Shakespeare play, because it’s a Simpsons adaptation of Hamlet, where the Simpsons characters play Hamlet characters. Do The Bard Man was what introduced me to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and I consider it to be the most effective reference to Shakespeare that the Simpsons has ever done, because it’s the perfect combination of Simpsons style humor, direct quotations from the original play, and Hamlet satire. The key difference between the Simpsons adaptation of Hamlet and the original play is the deaths. Everyone still dies in the end but the causes of death are different than the original play for the sake of making the plot significantly more comedic.

3. The Simpsons version of Macbeth: a segment from “ Four Great Women and A Manicure”
If you haven’t already seen The Simpsons version of Macbeth on the “Four Great Women And A Manicure” episode, the title explains itself. The Macbeth segment starts after an exchange between Lisa and Marge, where they’re bonding and having a manicure, while they talk about great and powerful women of history. Unlike the “Do The Bard Man” segment, it’s not a direct adaptation of a Shakespeare play. The Macbeth segment features all of the Simpsons characters as themselves, experiencing a Shakespearean dilemma.

Simpsons do Macbeth (from S20E20) from Gc Howard on Vimeo.

Here’s a plot summary to explain what I mean when I say it’s a Shakespearean dilemma:  Marge convinces Homer to try out for a Springfield stage adaptation of Macbeth. When he gets a part in the play that’s not the lead role, Marge convinces Homer to kill the actor playing Macbeth. As soon as the news spreads that their lead is dead, Homer is chosen to play Macbeth. When the play is performed in front of an audience for the first time, the critics give Homer’s cast mates better reviews than him. Every time an actor gets all the positive reviews or someone gets in the way of Homer’s path to success, Marge convinces Homer to kill them. This cycle of killing continues until Homer is the only one still alive. The ghosts of the dead Macbeth cast find out that Marge is what caused Homer to kill them and get revenge on her. When she dies, Homer is alone and delivers Macbeth’s famous “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy to the ghost of his dead wife.

The plot of The Simpsons version of Macbeth is a direct reference to the original play because the circumstance mirrors the plotline of the original. Although the Simpsons characters portray themselves in a contemporary Springfield, the arch of the story is similar. Both Marge and Lady Macbeth are convincing their husbands to kill because they want power, which in The Simpsons power relates to fame and fortune. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, power is being wealthy and a member of the royalty. Both women convince their husbands to kill all who stand in the way of their pursuit of power and face the consequences although in The Simpsons version of <em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>Macbeth, the consequences are different than the original for the sake of making it comedic.

These are some of the most well known (and easy to spot) references to Shakespeare in The Simpsons although there are several. Next time you watch The Simpsons, look out for the Shakespeare tributes hidden in some of the episodes.


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