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Review of The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show!

Brooke A. Carlson, Chaminade University


The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show!—a podcast hosted, produced, and performed by Aubrey Whitlock and Jess Hamlet—appropriates the Shakes for feels and for fun. In all seriousness, the podcast infuses the Whamlet (Aubrey and Jess) into listeners in such a way that they leave the experience with both new content and ways to share, make, and partake in twenty-first-century Shakespeare (of some four hundred years of Shakes-ing).

The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show!. First published October 17, 2017.

Hurly Burly homepage
Hurly Burly homepage

Knock knock.

Who's there?

The first line of Hamlet.

That's not mine. I heard it on The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show! (The Hurly, or the Whamlet, from here on out), a podcast by Aubrey Whitlock and the aptly named Jess Hamlet. As is often done with jokes, I delivered it like I got it. Good comedians, however, adapt and appropriate. They take from everyone and everything around them, make it their own, and then deliver it up for great laughs. Appropriating is taking the Shakes and making it yours, and these two appropriate Shakespeare for feels, fun, and for you to make the Shakes, too.

Podcasts are happening these days. In a world gone mad, podcasts are a great way to tune in and drop out, and the next new episode is only as far away as one's phone. More intimate than the radio, a podcast is best experienced with earbuds: when you want it, where you want it. Phone applications, or apps, broadly speaking, focus on engagement and interaction; by contrast, the user-friendliness and individuality of the podcast are key components to technology that works hard to offer a unique and singular experience. A podcast out of a webpage, "The Hurly" offers some extras: a "Footnotes" page with textual footnotes, short clips, and pics; "Extras," which are mini-takes on all sorts of topics, some ten to fifteen minutes long; and a "Contact Us" page. The Whamlet does spill over into the asynchronic Twitter, and Aubrey and Jess, or the Whamlet, can all be reached: @AubsWhitlock, @jesshamlet, and the @HurlyBurlyShake.

The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show!, which began its run in the fall of 2017, addresses Shakespeare, writ large: it takes up foundational questions, such as why plays from nearly four hundred years ago are (still) being read today and how they are (still) performed on stages and screens all over the world; and comprises topics both broad and the narrow, from plot summary to textual interpretation, from character discussion to cultural relevance. Above all, the creators and hosts want the podcast to be useful to people: to beginners, students, teachers, actors, people going to see Shakespeare in the park (anywhere, everywhere) for the first time...anyone who wants it. The Hurly is best for beginners and students of Shakespeare, listeners for whom most of what is shared is new information. For academics, however, The Hurly is a fantastic resource across multiple levels. Academia tends to remove emotion and the Whamlet consistently have feelings: they laugh, nearly cry, crack ribald jokes, curse, and feel Shakespeare as real, good, humans do. They posit Shakespeare as the establishment of colonialism, even as they seek to offer a twenty-first-century Shakes, citing Paulo Freire and post-colonialism, welcoming the study of Shakespeare and race. Their performance-based background, coupled with their experience in education, both as teachers and as students in higher ed, makes for an aural experience that is different from a classroom, certainly not a recording of a performed event, and yet both dialogic and transformative.

William Davenant started adapting and appropriating the Shakes in the seventeenth century, not long after William Shakespeare himself passed. Shakespeare's texts are always already in a process of editorial change and variation. However, most think of the terms adaptation and appropriation in relation to the staging of the Bard and the making of Shakespeare films, the latter being largely a twentieth-century phenomenon. As technology continues to offer us new ways of being, the ways people adapt and appropriate Shakespeare keep changing. An example of this is the idea of "liveness" and the way websites devoted to the Shakes are seeking new ways to promote "real-time" or "live" action as a means to attract an audience. Another term that follows here is "mediation," which is a way to control space, events, and engagement.1 A podcast that addresses Shakespeare production asks new and different questions about Shakespeare, the text, art, editing, adaptation, appropriation, and certainly what art means. One gets two voices, then, without bodies, but with lots of being human, The Hurly make Shakes their own and allow listeners, in turn, to take on and make Shakespeare as they hear and see fit.

In keeping with the Whamlet's desire to help listeners make Shakespeare, I offer a quick take on the structure of the podcast. The Hurly has episodes on all of Shakespeare's plays and some plays by his contemporaries, so this can be a great way to explore early modern drama as a whole. The Hurly covers each Shakespeare play multiple times, as a 101, 201, and 301, or the introductory, the survey, and the graduate workshop. Listeners choose depending on their own comfortability and experience with the text or play.

For this review, I focus on the Hamlet episodes. "The play's the thing," so "Hamlet 101," from October 23, 2017, is 44 minutes of everything listeners might want to know, including a five-word unhelpful title, a five-minute summary of the play, some general themes, a game called "Choices Were Made," where the Whamlet offer a rapid-fire series of performance choices of...interest, and a closing bit on the new stuff shaking out in the Shakes bubble (they call the world of Shakespeare the "Shakes bubble"). For example, listeners learn that at some 4,000 lines, (mostly) in iambic pentameter, Hamlet is the play Shakespeare scholars have written the most about. The Whamlet spend some time on the theme of the revenge tragedy and the notion that Hamlet has an ur-text, which makes Shakespeare's play an adaptation of the ur-Hamlet. The Lion King, on the other hand, is an example of an adaptation of Hamlet ("Hamlet 101," 2017). In sum, the 101 is a smart and insightful introduction to the play, especially for those who have yet to see or read it. Hearing The Hurly before reading or seeing Shakespeare allows listeners more to make of Shakespeare, when and how(ever) they Shake it.

The 201 episode is the survey class, so here the Whamlet assume listeners have read and have some understanding of the play. The 201 went live on March 12, 2018, and at nearly 60 minutes, it forgoes a synopsis in order to go narrow and deep. For this play, that means a rhetorical device (aporia), an exploration of the three early printed texts (first quarto, or Q1, the second quarto, or Q2, and the Folio, or F), and female agency. Listeners at this stage are likely to have read or seen this and other plays by Shakespeare, and they likely have some background on England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the rise of the printing press and playhouses. Hamlet is a play with two women, Ophelia and Gertrude, who are defined in relation to men; neither character is ever on stage without a man, and when the two speak to each other, they talk about a man: Hamlet. Both characters are pawns to be played by men. The Whamlet argue the Q1 is a tighter and more political narrative, and they close read the closet scene, arguing that Gertrude here subverts expectations. This leads to the suggestion that actors and directors can do more in the play with female agency, coaxing contemporary feminism out of a four-hundred year old play text, which in turn helps keep the Shakes bubble current. Part of the discussion here includes the brilliant idea of Viola Davis cast as Gertrude, which I pass along here in hopes of making it a reality ("Hamlet 201," 2018).

The 301-level is the graduate seminar, and accordingly, the Whamlet delve more deeply into literary and performance theory. Using theory as a lens to better understand the play, they offer a kind of public-facing grad-school experience. Unlike grad school, listeners here can merely listen. Without a working grip on literary theory, this is a tough task, but the Whamlet navigate well around the serious, academic world of Shakespeare, in clear, emotive, and fun ways. Their humanity—laughing, crying, cursing, saying silly things, and using funny voices—brings so much more to the discussion, especially for listeners who have not gone to graduate school (while managing not to exclude those who have). In tribute to Whitlock's late mother, episode 301 builds out of a paper in which she argues Hamlet to be legally insane,2 and the discussion is full of feels. The episode aired on March 11, 2019 (March is Women's History Month) and runs about 60 minutes. The Whamlet start with the way people often read the character of Hamlet as one who is manipulative, smart, and sane the entire play; as one who starts sane, but ends up crazy; or as crazy from the outset. The paper also illustrates how we bring our own experiences to the critical forefront to know and understand Shakespeare, which makes a great deal of sense in relation to appropriation and the Whamlet using the Shakes as their own mental furniture. People often (still?) use Sigmund Freud and psychology that was developed a hundred years ago to explain Shakespeare (who lived, created, and performed these plays some four hundred years before the science of the mind was developed). The Whamlet are eager to share here that they are not gatekeepers, and that there are plenty of productions of the play that offer different interpretations. In fact, this 301 episode also includes a discussion of a staging of The Changeling (not a Shakespeare play), and the ethical issue of portraying sexual violence on stage. Nic Helms, one of the actors in that production, suggested that the play was about the fallout of sexual violence, assault, and rape, which are often unreported and unaddressed on college campuses, leaving young women forced to see and interact with their attackers on a regular basis.3 Jess Hamlet explains that she felt the production was disheartening in that it silenced the female voice. Theater, she argues, is something different from film, radio, or podcast, in that it is bodily, and there is less agency for people. Consequently, moments of violence on stage need to be handled differently ("Hamlet 301," 2019). In this regard, the theater itself renders contemporary actors Shakespeare makers who appropriate an audience. A podcast, The Hurly, in its lack of whole human bodies in the same space, appropriates differently, but it certainly enacts itself upon us transformatively.

The Hurly appropriates Shakespeare via podcast discussion that is emotional, timely, helpful, smart, and delightful. Hearing Aubrey and Jess in their very own Shakes bubble is an appropriation that is itself appropriating: while it is the creation of the Whamlet, it also affords the listener the chance to (re)create Shakespeare as her own mental furniture. Like film and drama, the podcast is a technology that puts voices, plays, characters, plots, and analysis directly into listeners' heads. Unlike a reading, staged performance, or film, however, the presence of others taking over oneself opens the door to listeners (re)making the Shakes as something new: something of themselves, of the Shakes, and even of The Hurly. Most of what goes down in The Hurly, though, happens in the cast, fast, so catch what you can, when you can...and then make some Shakes.


1.   For an exploration of ways by which the internet and streaming live performance is changing Shakesproppriation, see Geoffrey Way's article "Together, Apart: Liveness, Eventness, and Streaming Shakespeare," in Shakespeare Bulletin, volume 35, number 3, Fall 2017.
2.   The paper the episode explores came out of a night class Aubrey Whitlock and her mother took together when Aubrey was in high school.
3.   The Whamlet suggest listeners read Kim Solga's Violence Against Women in Early Modern Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), where Solga makes an argument for why sexual violence is always done off-stage.


Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds. Washington: Folger Shakespeare Library. Available online at https://shakespeare. folger. edu/shakespeares-works/hamlet/. [Accessed 18 November 2020.]

Whitlock, Aubrey and Jess Hamlet. 2017. "Hamlet 101. " The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show!, 23 October 2017. Podcast. Available online at https://hurlyburlyshakespeareshow. com/podcast/2017/10/23/episode-001-hamlet-101. [Accessed 18 November 2020.]

Whitlock, Aubrey and Jess Hamlet. 2018. "Hamlet 201. " The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show!, 12 March 2018. Podcast. Available online at hurlyburlyshakespeareshow. com/podcast/2018/2/26/episode-22-hamlet-201. [Accessed 18 November 2020.]

Whitlock, Aubrey and Jess Hamlet. 2019. "Hamlet 301. " The Hurly Burly Shakespeare Show!, 11 March 2019. Podcast. Available online at hurlyburlyshakespeareshow. com/podcast/2019/2/17/season-2-episode-27-hamlet-301. [Accessed 18 November 2020.]