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Laura Rogers as Milady and

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Ludwig at the Gala: New Lyrics to Brush Up Your Shakespeare

As part of the Folger Shakespeare Library's 75th Birthday Gala, Ken Ludwig was asked to supply a new set of lyrics to Cole Porter’s Brush Up Your Shakespeare, paying tribute to some of the people whose generosity made the gala possible. The lyrics and Ken’s introduction are printed below.

In his singing debut, Ken sang the introductory verse with friend Roger Rees. (No, the audience did not throw fruit. Ken attributes this less to his range and vocal color than to the dangerously close proximity of Mr. Rees, who nobody wanted to hit by mistake.)

Other guests at the gala included Sam Waterston, Ken Howard, André DeShields, British Ambassador to the United States Sir David Manning and Lady Manning (who were the patrons of the event), Maxine Isaacs and Jim Johnson (the event sponsors), Gail Paster (Director of the Library), and Barbara Mowatt, Director of Research.


Lyrics to “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” for the Folger Gala

by Ken Ludwig

In 1948, Cole Porter wrote a song called “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” for his musical Kiss Me Kate. The original song is sung by two gangsters and is addressed to the men in the audience. I was asked to write a new set of lyrics to honor the Folger on its 75th birthday. These lyrics will be sung by eight gangsters – also known as some of our most beloved actors here at the Folger – and the lyrics this time are addressed to the ladies in our audience and are therefore meant to restore the balance.


* * *

The guys today in society
Don’t go for classical poetry
They sit on their keesters and eat ice cream
Instead of watching “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

For them it’s nothing but Camden Park,
Football and movies and grope in the dark.
If you don’t want them thought of as brainless and crass
It’s your job to give ’em some culture and class.

So the place you’ve got to take ’em
Ain’t a farm and ain’t a dairy,
No the place to tie and stake ’em
Is a place called the Folger Li-brairy.

Refrain:
Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now,
Brush up your Shakespeare
And the menfolk you will wow.

1.

If he wants to shoot deer in Wisconsin,
Say you’d rather watch Lear with Jim Johnson,
If you fear that your night’s a disaster,
Call and get front row seats from Gail Paster.

If he cries “No I just won’t allow it,”
Then it’s time to bring out Barb’ra Mowatt!
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow.


2.

{Refrain}

If he says you’re his good little soldier
Take him straight for a date at the Folger,
If his ardor you hope to be fanning
Bring him down to meet dear Lady Manning

If you’re tired of the way he’s behavèd
The example he needs is Sir David!
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow.

3.

{Refrain}

Maxine Isaacs is just like Ti-taynia,
She turns donating into a mania.
When we’ve donated all we can give her
She says “Okay, now donate your liver.”

And it’s great to donate to old “Shakers,”
Cause it’s that or box seats at the Lakers!
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow!


4.

{Refrain}

When he’s frisky and feeling a sport-o
Say you’ll show him your folio and quarto,
If he thinks that you’re being facetious
Read him rhymes from the Rape of Lucretius

If he says you’re a shrew, say “I’ll tame ya
At the theatre just off Pennsylvania!”
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow.

5.

{Refrain}

If he wants something kinky that night-us
Show him Timon of Athens or Titus,
If he says he can’t go cause he’s sickly,
Say you’re happy to play mistress, quickly.

When he wants to ascend to Valhalla
Drive him straight to the Library’s gala!
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow – forsooth!
And they’ll all kow-tow – methinks!
And they’ll all kow-tow.

{Refrain}


Bonus Track:
Here’s an additional verse that didn’t make it into the performance

If your boyfriend is hopin’ to feel ya,
Say you’d rather he felt for Cordelia.
If it’s golfing on which he has reckon’d
Say you’ll play him for Richard the Second.

If he dreams about shooting a birdie
Take him out to see Richard the Thirdie!
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow!

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