La Story and Shakespeare

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In American comedian/actor/writer/director Steve Martin's L.A. Story, there are many Shakespearean references. This is displayed on multiple levels. Sometimes it is subtle, like a borrowed plot device that bears a tiny resemblance to the play it was borrowed from. At other times, there will be a direct quote credited to Shakespeare himself. Or there will be a scene directly taken from a Shakespeare play, almost verbatim. The movie itself serves as a model of the influence that Shakespeare has had on filmmaking.

The movie is credited with being a variation on A Midsummer Night's Dream. This is a more subtle lifting of the works. The similarities are limited to the device of the confused lovers, and the possible use of magic in order to bring the lovers to their correct partner. The similarities would probably have gone unnoticed were it not for the production notes that came as a supplement on the DVD, wherein Steve Martin bluntly says that he took the idea from A Midsummer Night‘s Dream. But as previously stated, the theme is slight. Only two sets of lovers end up with each other in the end. Steve Martin and Victoria Tenant's characters finally fall for each other by the end of the film, due to the machinations of an electronic freeway billboard which sends them personal messages.

In the beginning of the film, Steve Martin states that his favorite Shakespearean quote goes : "This other Eden, this Demi Paradise, this precious stone set in a silver sea, this Earth, this realm, this Los Angeles." This is his intentional misquoting of:

"This other Eden, this Demi Paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the head of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England"
— Richard the Second, Act II Scene i.

Ten minutes later in the film, Steve Martin's weatherman character states, "Hey, life is pretty stupid, with lots of hubbub to keep you busy, but really not amounting to much." He explains he is paraphrasing the line, "Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." (Macbeth, act V, scene v, lines 27-28)

These two "quotes" are the only ones of their kind in the film, and may have been put in place to prove a point. There may have been a few audience members watching who questioned whether Shakespeare actually made reference to Los Angeles at some point in his life. Generally speaking, the references are made to set up Steve Martin's character as more intellectual than he leads people to believe. There is little doubt that despite his portrayal of a "wacky" weatherman, his education and knowledge of the greater text show a level of depth to his character that may lead him to feel alienated in Los Angeles. This could be a statement addressed toward Steve Martin himself, since many other aspects of the movie are embellished retelling of certain events of his life, such as the fact that the character playing his love interest is his then-wife Victoria Tennant.

There is one scene directly taken from one of Shakespeare's plays, and that occurs in a Hollywood cemetery. Shortly after walking past a grave for William Shakespeare, Steve Martin and Victoria Tenant encounter a grave digger (played rather humorously by Rick Moranis). This meeting prompts a near word for word replaying of the gravedigger sequence in Hamlet (act IV scene I). While it begins with Steve Martin discussing the skull in question as a person that he knew, Victoria Tennant soon takes over the dialogue, actually acknowledging that these lines are being lifted from another source. Although it is never specifically stated in the movie that she is quoting Hamlet, anyone familiar with the play will recognize the text instantly. Rick Moranis also joins in...
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