Fantastic Friday: Shakespearean Toddler Humor

Since I teach Shakespeare as part of the AP Literature curriculum, I’ve read several plays multiple times, and often lines pop into my head at relevant—or irreverent—times.

Recently, Shakespeare and Toddler has been merging in my brain, so I thought I’d share some of the more entertaining bits.

Take the scene (I, v) from Hamlet in which the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father reveals the cause of his untimely end. It’s a scene that’s supposed to cause rage and disgust in Hamlet, prompting him to action:

GHOST: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

HAMLET: Murder?

GHOST: Murder most foul, as in the best it is.

But this most foul, strange and unnatural.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to replace “murder” with “diaper” and assign the parts to two sleep-deprived parents rather than a Danish king and his heir. And the scene still works—how timeless indeed are Shakespeare’s plays!

Mom: Revenge this foul and most unnatural diaper.

Dad: Diaper?

Mom: Diaper most foul, as in the best it is.

But this most foul, strange and unnatural.

Then there’s Macbeth and the famous scene (V,i) in which Lady Macbeth can’t seem to get the sight of blood off her hands—literally and metaphorically. In this scene, she’s guilt-ridden about a murder that she essentially orchestrated and carried out for her hesitant husband. From this point until her death, she cannot seem to stop sensing the blood she’s seen spilled.

LADY MACBETH:

Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?–Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.

Once again, for any parent who has ever had a kid puke on them or near them or in the crevices of a car seat buckle (all those crevices!), it isn’t too far of a stretch to imagine it’s the scent of toddler puke–that curdled-milk-sour-bitter scent–that won’t go away:

Frazzled Mom:

Out, damned smell! out, I say!–One: two: why,
then, ‘twas time to puke it.—This car seat is murky!–Fie, my
nose, fie! a mother, and disgusted? What need we
fear who smells it, when none can call our cleaning power to
account?–Yet who would have thought the kid
to have had so much milk in her?

And finally, not to get too involved. But once in a while, all parents see that stubborn little glimmer in their children’s eyes and wonder if they are actually secretly plotting. All parents have been there: the child is content coloring/watching TV/playing with blocks until the parent sits down and tries to do something that requires five minutes of focus, like send an email or go to the bathroom or chop up something for dinner. And then the kid strikes. Throws a tantrum, starts eating a crayon, starts messing with the volume controls or throwing blocks at the dog… Is this a cute little child or a secret sinister villain?

I am reminded of Richard’s monologue in Richard III from the very start of the play:

RICHARD: Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that lowered upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front,
And now, instead of mounting barbèd steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them–
Why I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determinèd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunk prophecies, libels, and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other;
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mewed up
About a prophecy which says that “G”
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul — here Clarence comes!

In the play, Richard is jealous of other members of his family/the court because he has been born deformed and cannot enjoy life and the company of women and others in the same way they can. So, to make himself feel better, he decides (essentially) to become a super villain. In a sleep-deprived mind wanting just a few minutes of solitude and concentration, a toddler can easily start to look like a master villain, at least for a few minutes:

Toddler: Now is the winter of my discontent
Made glorious summer by this show of Peppa;
And all the clouds that lowered upon our house
In the deep bosom of cereal puffs buried.
Now are my brows bound with victorious dress-up clothes,
My sticky toys strewn about like treasures,
Mom’s stern alarums changed to merry singing,
Her dreadful instructions to delightful silence…
Grim-visaged playtime hath smoothed the wrinkled front,
And now, instead of commanding clean-up duty
To kill the soul of toddler play,
Mom capers nimbly at her laptop, typing
To the pleasant sounds of grown-up music.
But I, that am not shaped for laptop use
Nor made to appreciate beautiful grown-up songs;
I, that can rudely stamp, and want nimble fingers
To type upon a laptop’s gentle keys,
I, that am curtailed of this tall proportion,
Cheated of height by dissembling Nature,
Toddling, unskilled, desiring before my time
To play with knives, stovetops, make up
And all so lamely kept beyond my bounds
That parents bark at me as I attempt them–
Why I, in this weak piping moment of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see Mom clean up my mess
And circumvent my own limitations.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a grown-up
To entertain these fair silent moments,
I am determinèd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these seconds.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By milk-drunk tantrums, actions, and thoughts,
To set my Mother and her spouse
In deadly fear that I might destroy something of the other
And if Mom’s time at her computer be as true and just
As I am wild, sugar-filled, and treacherous,
This day should Mom closely be mewed up
About a premonition which says that “I”
Of her free time the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul — here Mommy comes!

Well, maybe it’s not quite that deep in the mind of a toddler. Maybe laptop keys simply make a cool clicky sound. Maybe electric outlets and sharp knives and hot stovetops look like smiley faces and sparkling glitter and glowing lights.

Or maybe that toddler does have super villain tendencies.

In any case, it’s entertaining to imagine. And sometimes, while cleaning up spilled cereal or poured-out milk or an open Go-Gurt that got thrown at the dog, it makes the time pass more quickly. As Shakespeare observes in Macbeth, “Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.”

But it runs much faster if you can laugh about it.


Scarred Leter FinalIf you like villains, check out The Scarred Letter. In the novel, a reboot Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, R. Burton Childress takes on the persona of Hawthorne’s Roger Chillingworth as he plots against the protagonists and all that is good in the world.

You can even read the first few chapters for free and receive a coupon for 35% off at Barking Rain Press.

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