Sometimes allusions to Shakespeare are so egregious they bash you upside the head with a leather-bound volume of the First Folio. (Think of Simpsons’ product parodies, like “Much Ado About Stuffing.”) Sometimes, though, Shakespeare references are like a gold coin tossed into a fountain full of loose change. Those are the best ones, in my opinion: the allusions that make you work to find them.
Two days ago, I posted a little tidbit about how in Disney’s “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” the mother dog is named Perdita, who is an abandoned child raised by shepherds in The Winter’s Tale. I applauded Disney for their subtlety, in that Shakespeare’s Perdita is an adoptee, while Perdita the dog eventually becomes the adoptive parent of all those extra puppies. (In the source material for the movie, there’s actually a third Perdita, but I won’t go into that here.)
Very quickly, my husband, whom I’ve decided to call Inspector Spacetime for the purposes of irritating him, leapt to the fore and discovered another instance of clever Disney Shakespeariana (Shakespearean Disneyana?)*: Iago, the parrot from “Aladdin” who’s named after Shakespeare’s nastiest, most cunning and morally bankrupt villain. Shakespeare’s Iago is best known for deception, especially when it comes to his own nature and motivations. Throughout Othello, Iago is known as “Honest Iago,” even as he’s lying through his teeth and carefully orchestrating the bloodbath that takes place at the end of the movie. While the Disney version isn’t quite so violent (to be honest, I didn’t even remember an Iago from the movie until I read the Wikipedia entry), Iago the parrot is indeed a treacherous little creature, hiding his intellect and choking down crackers until he can avenge himself against a man who barely thinks twice about him. Yup, that’s Shakespeare’s Iago to a T. For some unknown reason, Iago has a vast, venomous hatred for Othello, even though to Othello Iago is just another soldier in the platoon. It’s one of those unsolvable Shakespearean mysteries that English professors can and will ponder for decades, because it seems so urgent to resolve, like the the true nature of humanity or the existence of evil. Bravo to Disney for having the guts to stuff all that material into a parrot.
Now, we could also go into the choice of the name Ariel for “The Little Mermaid,” seeing that in The Tempest Ariel is the resourceful spirit who gets jammed into a cloven pine by the evil witch Sycorax. Ursula, the evil Disney witch, also tampers with Ariel the mermaid’s movement in the world. But then, Ursula gives Ariel legs and takes away her voice, which imprisons her in a certain way, but doesn’t outright paralyze her. So is there really a parallel here? Does this really make a statement about enslavement or empowerment? Is the world the Little Mermaid’s cloven pine? Does everything–Disney movies, hydrogen molecules, hemorrhoids–point back to Shakespeare?
And this is the point where I step back from the abyss and try to track down some tequila. Goodnight, Fickle Readers!
*This the Inspector conveyed through the even more clever vehicle of a nice little run of dialogue from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”:
“Emphasis on Iago—backstabber!”
“I’m surprised you’ve read Othello.”
“What the hell is Othello? I’m calling you the parrot from Aladdin.”
Here is an instance of a Shakespearean reference spawning other references and on and on into the mediasphere. Such quote-sharing has been happening ad infinitum since about the year 1700. And yes, you can spend your whole life documenting all these permutations. You can also attempt to write dissertations about them. Now you know why I’m insane.