“The dog will have his day,” said Hamlet. And the man behind that phrase, Will Shakespeare, likewise penned this, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me” in Much Ado About Nothing, wherein there’s also a character named Dogberry. Yea verily, if you dig into the playwright’s output you’ll find buried many more references to canines, plus a walk-on by Crab, Launce’s pal in Two Gentlemen of Verona. Yet most often the references suggest vicious creatures. Back in that time they did have a negative rep, famed for being essential to the popular entertainment of bear-baiting or for tearing out the throats of other beasts hunted down for sport.
Indeed, man’s best friend has been getting the short end of the leash. But one named Hooker certainly tries to redress the balance in Shakespeare’s Dog, taking the UNO stage in the play by Rick Chafe adapted from Leon Rooke’s comic novel. Therein Hooker convinces the sometime Elizabethan actor to give up the makeup and pick up the ink feather, positing that long-lived fame never comes from performances that flicker and flame but once each time, while words on paper can endure eternally. Hooker must use all his verbal skills to get his master’s voice to turn to a new page.
Sitting in while the human writes, trying to inspire him, Hooker makes it clear that they live in a wild world full of unpredictable creatures, some of them human, and does all he can to get Will to wage a battle for the underdog. The animal companion is in trouble, too, accused of killing a deer on a lord’s private property, thereby facing his own dismemberment. Threatened, as well, are two highly sexed bitches and three other four-legged male denizens. Also appearing in the mature-advisory script is a gaggle of human characters.
“Chafe gives this canine view of Elizabethan England poignancy as well as humor,” said a 2008 review in Variety, pointing out that it also “emphasizes the brutality of the Elizabethan Age toward humans and animals…a tale (tail) worth telling that gives pause (paws) for thought, despite its comic approach and bawdiness.”
The play premiered that year in Canada where Chafe lives. He’s had three other plays produced there: The Secret Mask, Strike! The Musical and The Odyssey (a Homer spin-off, of course.) http://rickchafe.com/bio/
North Carolina-born Rooke, who also lives in Canada, wrote the novel in 1981. He’s published at least 40 books: novels, short stories, poetry. http://www.leonrooke.ca/
You might also consider this a kind of a preamble to A War of Roses: Part 1: Foreign Flames, also taking the stage at UNO in November. It lets slip the dogs of war.
Shakespeare’s Dog runs Sept.28-October 8 at UNO Theatre, Weber Fine Arts Building, 6001 Dodge Street. Weds.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $5-$16. UNO students: free. http://www.unomaha.edu/college-of-communication-fine-arts-and-media/theatre-productions