Almost Shakespeare’s Complete Works

HOST: Good afternoon, and welcome to “Good Books,” a show for and about people who like good books. I’m delighted to say that we have a special treat for today’s program. You’ve all heard the old story that a million monkeys, if given enough time randomly banging on typewriters, could reproduce Shakespeare’s complete works. Of course, that’s just a myth to illustrate the nature of randomness, right? Not anymore, apparently, because in our studio today is the spokesmonkey for a million monkey effort that has just published “Almost Shakespeare’s Complete Works.” Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Miles, the Talking Monkey!

[Camera pans to Miles. He is wearing tiny carpal tunnel wrist supports]

MILES: Just Miles, please.

HOST: I’m sorry?

MILES: My name is Miles. Not Miles the Talking Monkey, or Miles the Speaking Simian or anything like that. Just Miles. And thank you for having me on your show.

HOST: Oh yes, I see. Well Miles, this book of yours is causing quite a stir at the bookstore. How long has this been in the works?

MILES: It all started years ago with that New Yorker cartoon. You know the one where the dog is using the Internet? I’d been thinking about the whole “million monkeys” problem, and when I saw that cartoon, I thought to myself, this is it.

HOST: So the Internet was critical to your success in replicating this four hundred year old opus?

MILES: Absolutely. I’d been working as a web consultant in the DC area, so I was keenly aware of the potential of distributed computing. After a few months and some funding from George Soros we had monkeys of every species typing away: squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins, macaques, howlers, …

HOST: Chimpanzees?

MILES: Please. Those arrogant bastards and their superior no-tails attitude. They’re not real monkeys, and frankly, I don’t need the hassle.

HOST: Gorillas?

MILES: Also not monkeys. At any rate, a gorilla couldn’t type his way out of a paper bag, randomly or otherwise. This is a 100% monkey effort.

HOST: I see. Now perhaps you can tell us about the title: “Almost Shakespeare’s Complete Works.” Why “almost”?

MILES: There simply wasn’t enough time to get every last comma in place. We had hundreds of thousands of monkeys pounding keyboards, thousands of copy editors, and an ambitious publishing schedule. I’m satisfied that, given a few hundred more years, we’d have nailed the Bard from beginning to end. Nevertheless, I think it’s a very creditable rendition of his work. Beyond that, our little interstitial peccadillos bring a certain arch nature to the work, an insouciant monkey sensibility that, frankly, I believe improves on the original.

HOST: Improves on Shakespeare?

MILES: Just so.

HOST: Let’s look at an example or two to see what we’re talking about. Let’s see: “To be or not to bee, tHat is the question.” So far so good, but then, “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the soilings annd arfrgub bahbah ba shgjckj festivvfalc hot coeds await yourr callsxhjtyp alkss.” It goes on for pages and pages like this. Would you call this an improvement?

MILES: You happen to have picked a bad example.

HOST: It’s the single most well-known passage in the English language!

MILES: And as a result, horribly clich├ęd, no? I see this as a sort of Dada-esque arpeggio, a riff on the expectations of the cultural elite.

HOST: Yes, but fifteen pages of nonsense sprinkled with obscenities and 1-800 numbers strains a reader’s patience. Some of these differences seem a little less than random. For instance, this is from act five, scene one of The Tempest. Miranda is speaking, and she says: “O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! O brave new world, that has such monkeys in’t!” Or this, from the witches’ scene, in act four of Macbeth: “Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat banana banana banannabanana bananas banana banana…” and so on.

MILES: [smiling, eyes closed]Sheer poetry! I tell you, those monkeys can write.

HOST: Tell me, Miles, were you part of a government experiment that made you really smart?

MILES: Sadly I’ve come to expect this last question of yours. This is my sixteenth stop on this interminable book tour, and would you believe every last goddamned interviewer has asked me about the government experiment. There was no experiment! I’m just a typical monkey web consultant with literary aspirations. Is that so odd?

HOST: I wouldn’t expect you could talk about it.

MILES: There was NO experiment! Can we please talk about the book…

HOST: Of course there wasn’t. Now I admit this book or yours is pretty close to what Shakespeare wrote, but who’s to say that you didn’t just start with the original and work backwards? [Miles scampers off to the left] Miles… Miles! Come down from the lighting supports please. Come down from there.

MILES: [muffled, off camera] You’re as bad as those insufferable chimps! Nothing good enough from a monkey, eh? Go on with your “monkey business” jokes and your goddamned Ebola virus slander. I’ve had enough. Take that!

[monkey waste comes winging in from the top left of the screen, narrowly missing the host]

HOST: JESUS CHRIST! I have never…! [Bobbing and dodging] That’s all the time we have this week. Join us next week on “Good Books” when we interview the extraordinarily prolific author Anonymous.

[End of broadcast]