In May of 1964, the Beatles performed a spoof of Shakespeare’s “Pyramus and Thusbe” on a television show in Great Britain. Broadcast just a few months after their performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Around the Beatles” had a musical variety show format that included other Merseyside musical acts and this skit to break up the music. With John as Thisbe, Paul as Pyramus, George as the Moon and Ringo as the Lion, the Beatles’ version is a spoof that is also a good reminder of the wide appeal of Shakespeare’s plays.
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe has been retold and adapted innumerable times, including versions by Boccaccio, Chaucer, Dumas and the musical The Fantasticks. Probably of Babylonian origin, the first surviving elaboration of the myth is found in Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where the lovers’ blood transforms the white berries of the mulberry to the familiar purple. Though heartfelt, Shakespeare’s Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream perform a parody of the tragic romance.