Shakespeare and the Million Monkeys - by Robert Egan - Illustrated by Jim Egan
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It's a fun and thought-provoking story everyone in the family can enjoy, featuring Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, the Globe Theater, Hampton Court, Stratford-upon-Avon, Gutenberg's Printing Press and a Million wild and crazy Monkeys. Hey, Shakespeare! Watch out for those banana peels!
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Book published in December 2012 by Most Excellent Digital Publishing, NYC
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The Front Cover of the Book
The Back Cover of the Book
Shakespeare's England: Locations from the book
...And now, finally...the book!...
One fine day, back in Jolly Old England, Queen Elizabeth was sitting on her throne watching as the Court Jester juggled oranges.
Suddenly, in walked the Queen's Lord High Treasurer and chief mucky-muck, Sir William Cecil, who was also known as Baron Burghley ("Burr-lee"). He was waving a piece of paper with numbers on it.
"Your Majesty, if I may ask about a check," said the Baron. "It's a check for 1,000 pounds from you to the Globe Theater run by a Mister William Shakespeare. May I ask what this is about?"
"It's about art and culture, my good Baron," said the Queen. "I want to support his theater. He writes such wonderful plays."
"But Your Majesty," said the Baron, "playwrights like this Mr. Shakespeare write about frivolous, made-up things. Stories about fools and wicked, evil royals. Shouldn't the money go to someone who writes books about things that are real—things like history and math and science? Shouldn't it go to the next Plato or Aristotle?"
"There's more to life than philosophy books and accounting ledgers, my dear Baron," said the Queen.
"Well," said the Baron, "my professional advice is that you should not be giving the good royal family money that you inherited from your father, King Henry the 8th, to a theatrical group."
"But it's William Shakespeare's theater group, Cecil old boy," said the Queen. "He's the most famous playwright in all of England. His stories appeal to rich and poor alike."
"Plays involve donkeys and fairies and ghosts and such," said the Baron. "And unlike great books, plays are like the wind. They amuse people for a few hours and then they go away, never to be seen or heard of again. On the other hand, books are forever. One hundred years from now no one will ever have heard of this playwright, William Shakespeare."
"But he's such a marvelous writer, Baron. He writes such wonderful and clever sentences like:
"Parting is such, sweet sorrow,"
"Romeo, Schmomeo! I say!" said the Baron, "Why I'll bet that if I put a bunch of monkeys in a room for a week and threw in some pencils and paper, they would end up writing a sentence as good as one of those of your Mister William Shakespeare."
"I will take that bet, Cecil old-boy," said the Queen.
"You will?" said the Baron, hardly believing what he had heard. "With pleasure." said the Queen, "Besides, we could use a little excitement around the palace. Your royal bridge games are getting tiresome."
"As you wish, my Queen," said the Baron. "But where on earth are you going to get monkeys that can write with pencils?"
"I can't," said the Queen. "But I can get the next best thing."
The Baron looked puzzled.
"Jester!" said the Queen loudly, "Bring me the Royal Mathematician, the Royal Printer, and the Royal Zookeeper. And make haste."
"Haste makes waste, Your Majesty," said the Jester. "Shall I bring a wastebasket, too?"
"You're too funny, Jester," said the Queen. "That's why I love having you around. But in this case, just do my bidding - before I have your head chopped off!"
The Jester froze in his footsteps.
"Just kidding!" said the Queen, looking around the court, "Boy! Everybody takes what I say SOOOO seriously. Lighten up, people!"
The Royal Mathematician, The Royal Printer, and The Royal Zookeeper were quickly brought before the Queen.
"My good Zookeeper," said the Queen, "could a monkey pick up a piece of metal type and drop it into the type box of a Gutenberg printing press?" she asked.
"Why, yes, Your Majesty. I'm sure monkeys could be quickly trained to do that," he said.
"And, my good Printer," said the Queen, “how many pieces of type does it take to make a page like this?" she said, holding up an official Royal Proclamation.
"Ummm . . . about 150 letters, Your Majesty," he replied.
"And, my good Mathematician," said the Queen, "how many monkeys, putting type randomly into a type box, would it take until one of those pages produced a sentence as wonderful and clever as one of those of Mister William Shakespeare?
The Royal Mathematician had never been asked a question so challenging before.
Quickly he scribbled some numbers. And, as he did, he murmured to himself, "Let's see, monkeys . . . times . . . letters . . . times . . . pages . . . minus . . . monkeys goofing off . . . equals . . ."
"I have it!" he exclaimed.
"How many?" said the Queen.
"One million monkeys!" said the Royal Mathematician.
"Then one million monkeys it shall be," said the Queen.
She turned now to the Baron and said, "We shall have a Royal Contest to see who can write the most "wonderful and clever" sentence: Your one million monkeys or my Mister William Shakespeare."
"Printer, take these words down and print up the following proclamation," said the Queen.
"Shakespeare versus A Million Monkeys.
"And have them post the proclamations all over London and for miles around," continued the Queen.
Then, addressing the court, she said, "The contest will start in one month's time. If Mister Shakespeare wins, I will donate 1,000 pounds to his beloved Globe Theater. And, if the monkeys win, the good Baron can take the money and find a scholar to write a book about war or other things important to the good Baron."
Then the Queen said, "Fetch me the chief of the Royal Navy!"
The chief of the Royal Navy was soon fetched.
"Lord High Admiral, you have one month. I want you to use every ship in the whole Navy," she said.
"Yes, Your Majesty. Er . . . What for, Your Majesty?" he said.
To bring me a million monkeys!" The Queen said, smiling to herself. "The contest . . . is on!"
(End of Act One)
And so the Royal Word went out to all the corners of the earth (even though it was round) that the Queen wanted a million monkeys, with no expense to be spared, free passage to and from England, courtesy of the Royal Navy.
And soon British ships of all shapes and sizes began delivering monkeys to the docks of London.
There were long-tailed monkeys from South America and short-tailed monkeys from India. There were pygmy monkeys from Africa and red-faced monkeys from Mexico.
There were baboons and capuchins and marmosets and tamarinds. And even some tiger monkeys, too.
There were monkeys from jungles and monkeys from zoos, monkeys from Bangkok and Bombay, too. And even some from Timbuktu.
Not to mention battleships full of bananas to feed them all, too.
Soon the docks were overflowing with monkeys. The Royal Zookeeper, who was in charge of the monkeys, pleaded with the Queen for more room.
"Only a castle could hold this many monkeys, my Queen," he said. "The docks are all full!"
"Then, they will stay at Hampton Court Palace with me," said the Queen. "It should be great fun."
And so, a million monkeys skipped and danced and pranced their way through London from the docks to The Royal Palace. It was quite a spectacular parade.
A barmaid, looking out the window of the small inn on High Street said, "I'll never forget this in me whole life, I won't." (And she didn't.)
Soon the first monkeys arrived at the Palace.
"Oh, my!" said the Royal Butler to the staff. "WE HAVE GUESTS! LOTS OF GUESTS!"
And for the next two weeks the million monkeys had a grand time at the Queen's palace, courtesy of the Queen.
They were swinging from the chandeliers, raiding the Royal Food Cabinet, pretending to have tea, jumping on the Yeoman Guards' big black hats, diving off the towers into the moats, playing tag in the dungeons, and causing all sorts of monkey mischief.
They were having more fun than a barrel of monkeys. In fact, they were having as much fun as a castle of monkeys. Which they were.
Meanwhile, back at his thatched-roof cottage in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare, who was very much looking forward to the event, was getting ready himself, as writers do, mostly by thinking and reading and taking naps. In that order.
He would sit at his window and look out at the beautiful gardens, have a spot of tea, and think of things he would like to write about.
Things like comedy, tragedy, and history. Things like witches and kings and people doing good and bad things. Things that people liked to gossip about. Things that made them laugh. Things that sometimes made them cry. And things that sometimes scared them.
Shakespeare also spent one whole day in Stratford-upon-Avon going from quaint store to quaint store looking for a quill pen that felt "just right" to write with. The pen he found was made from a beautiful feather and had a sharp point that, when dipped in ink, wrote beautiful flowing letters, just the way he liked them.
And then he went home and took a nap.
(End of Act Two)
Finally, the day of the big event arrived. People came to the Globe Theater from miles around London to watch the contest. The Globe held 3,000 people, but at least 10,000 came, so the rest of them milled around outside the doughnut-shaped theater waiting to hear news about the writing match.
Inside the theater, on one side of the stage, was a small desk with Shakespeare's quill pen, a bottle of ink, and a stack of paper.
And on the other side of the stage was a Gutenberg printing press and several barrels of type.
The Queen walked on stage, followed by the Baron and the Court Jester.
"Let the contest begin!" announced the Queen grandly.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," the Court Jester bellowed, "in this corner of the Globe Theater stage, England's greatest playwright, Mister Will . . . yummmmm Shakespeare!"
"And in the other corner of the stage, and stretching back for miles and miles, a Mill . . . ionnnnn Monkeys!"
"Here are the rules: Three days! Write as much as you want. The most "wonderful and clever" sentence wins!"
"Competitors, start your sentences!" the Jester said, as he clanged a big hand-bell several times, so that even the audience outside the theater would know the competition had begun.
And with that, Shakespeare got down to writing. He stroked his chin. He tapped his fingers. He looked intently into the sky for inspiration. And then, when he finally put ink to paper, the crowd let out a collective "GASP!" because they knew a master was at work.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the stage, it was a total zoo.
A line of monkeys stretched from the stage, out the theater entrance, and all the way back across the River Thames to Hyde Park, where all the monkeys had been gathered. They were eating bananas and causing mischief and doing all those things that monkeys do when they are far away from home.
Then, one by one, the monkeys were led onto the stage where the Royal Zookeeper showed them how to reach into the barrel of type, grab several letters, and then drop them randomly into the type box of the printing press.
Meanwhile, the Royal Printer and his assistants quickly straightened out the letters in the type box, smeared ink onto the type, and inserted the paper into the press.
They pulled the handle to press the ink onto the paper, and the result was a proclamation-sized page full of letters.
After they printed the first page, they nailed it up on the wall for all to see. But they covered most of the letters with a cloth that said "SAMPLE" in case the monkeys had already written something "wonderful and clever."
And even though the letters that the people could see, spelled only gobbledygook - crazy words like RCMGFD or LPRFTU - they still thought that behind the cloth might be a beautiful sentence that would win the contest.
And why not? The odds seemed to favor the monkeys. After all, there were a million monkeys and only one Shakespeare.
From then on, all the pages were brought into the back room where they were inspected by the judges in secret. And each time the printers pulled out a freshly printed page, the crowd "OOOOHed" and "AHHHHed" as they fought each other for a glimpse of a page that might contain a most "wonderful and clever" sentence.
Meanwhile, Shakespeare wrote away with his new quill pen, usually deep in thought, sometimes laughing to himself, sometimes shooing off the odd monkey that jumped on his back or flung pieces of banana at him.
"Well, that's show business," Shakespeare thought to himself, "If it will help me raise money for the theater, it's worth it." He also enjoyed looking out the entrance of the Globe at the vast crowd outside. "Good advertising for my theater, too," he thought.
For three days and three nights Shakespeare wrote, only occasionally taking a short nap at his desk. One time a small monkey sat on his semi-bald head and tossed banana peels into the audience to much laughter. But sleepy Shakespeare slept right through it.
And for three days and three nights the million monkeys dropped little metal pieces of type with letters on them randomly into the type box.
And in the back room, the judges inspected the printed pages, searching for "wonderful and clever" sentences.
As the end drew near, the tension mounted. The noise of the crowd got louder and louder.
The fans who were rooting for the monkeys were shouting, "Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkeys can out-write Shakespeare, too!"
While the fans rooting for Shakespeare were shouting, "Shake it, Shake it, Shakespeare! Shake that pen! Win it for your Queen and your country-men!"
One of the monkeys' fans started a rumor that spread like wildfire throughout the crowd, when he said, "The monkeys have written a sentence so spectacular it will put Shakespeare to shame!"
The Shakespeare fans became worried. Maybe the monkeys' fans were right. Maybe a million monkeys had outwritten the great Shakespeare. Maybe you didn't have to be a genius to write great things. Maybe you just needed to write a lot of random words. They dreaded seeing their hero, Shakespeare, embarrassed.
Finally, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on the third day, the last monkey left the stage. The Queen, who had been brought to the stage on a traveling throne, rose from her chair.
Shakespeare bowed to the Queen. Then, kneeling on one knee, he said, "Your Majesty, I have written for three days and three nights. I hereby present to you the first draft of my latest play I call it Macbeth."
The Queen looked the pages over with delight. Then, with great satisfaction, she handed them to the Baron.
The Baron was taken aback. The play took up many pages and looked like a book. He had thought that the words in plays were mostly just made up on the stage by the actors. But he now saw they were all written down, just like the words in a book.
"Well done, Mister Shakespeare," the Baron said. "Unfortunately for you, though, I am confident I will win this bet."
"Zookeeper," the Baron added, "surely my million monkeys have produced a sentence far more "wonderful and clever" than any of Mr. Shakespeare's. Please bring me my monkey masterpiece!"
The Royal Zookeeper pulled a big cart onto the stage from the judges' office. In the cart was a tall stack of all the sheets of paper the monkeys had made.
He pulled off the top sheet and, as he gave it to the Baron, he said, "Unfortunately, of all the pages of type the monkeys made, Sir, the judges could only make out one word longer than three letters. Specifically . . . the word "drum.""
"Drum?" said the Baron, clearly agitated. "A million monkeys can only come up with the word "drum," and meanwhile Mister Shakespeare can write a whole play full of hundreds of "wonderful and clever" sentences like..."
The Baron opened the manuscript and read three random sentences out loud:
"Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and caldron bubble."
The Royal Zookeeper looked down at his feet and said sheepishly, "Well, perhaps we needed more monkeys."
"I royally doubt it," the Queen piped in, clearly enjoying the way things were turning out.
Then the Queen turned to Shakespeare, "Good job, Mister William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. You win!"
And, handing a check to Shakespeare, she added, "Here is the check for 1,000 pounds for the Globe Theater. Continue your outstanding work."
"Hazzzah!" shouted the crowd all together (mostly because the word "Hooray" hadn't been invented yet).
The Queen allowed Shakespeare to kiss her hand goodbye. And, as he walked away, she said to him, "Write on, Mister Shakespeare! Write on!"
And so Queen Elizabeth gave the money to help support the Globe Theatre, and a rebuilt version of the theatre still exists today. You can even visit it if you go to Merry Old England.
As a "thank you," the Queen was given Royal Box Seats, complete with Royal Refreshment Stand in the first balcony. And from there she could see 3,000 of her subjects enjoying Shakespeare's plays.
And below her, on the floor of the theater, she could see the "groundlings," the poorer people who were only charged a penny to see the play (but had to stand up for the whole show).
And even the Baron learned to love plays even the ones about naughty Kings, conniving Queens and skeptical Barons.
And the million monkeys, who didn't actually know what they had been doing in England, but had enjoyed swinging from the chandeliers in the Queen's palace, were taken back to their homes around the world by the British Royal Navy, whose sailors were VERY happy when the last monkey left the last boat.
As for Shakespeare, he returned home to Stratford-upon-Avon a hero. And, as a souvenir of the event, he took with him one of the monkeys' printed pages.
And, by chance, while looking at the random assortment of letters on the page, he happened to see, in a diagonal row, the letters T-O-B-E-O-R-N-O-T-T-O-B-E, and said to himself, "Hmmmm . . . TO BE OR NOT TO BE — why that is a good question! Maybe I'll use it in my next play."
And he did. And the play was called Hamlet.
But that's another story.
One without monkeys.
(End of Act Three)
The author (right) and illustrator (left) monkeying around in their youth.
Shakespeare hard at work with the quill pen he bought that was "just right" to write with.
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SHAKESPEARE AND THE MILLION MONKEYS
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Foreign readers - to read this book in your native language, copy the url at the very top of the website; then go to Google; then find Google Translate in the drop-down menu; then paste the URL into the box on the left hand side and choose the language you want this webpage translated into on the right; this will result in a URL to a webpage featuring the translation and all the pictures.
Sorry, monkeys, Google doesn't translate into "monkey language" so you'll just have to look at the pictures.
Scenes from the book: The Globe Theater during the contest.
Scenes from the book: Shakespeare at Stratford-upon_Avon
Scenes from the book: Four of the Million Monkeys randomly enter type into a Gutenberg Printing Press with the help of two printers during the contest with Shakespeare.
Click the following link to read The Million Monkey Theorum in Popular Culture - from Wikipedia.
A million monkeys typing....
A million monkeys typing....
Edwin Booth - a famous Shakepearean actor and brother of the notorious John Wilkes Booth. A distant cousin of the telephone Booth.
The interior "galleries" of the Globe Theater (from Wikipedia).
On a black-and-white Kindle - 1
On a black-and-white Kindle - 2
On a black-and-white Kindle - 3
Kindle Fire version cover
Kindle Fire version - inside
Early Cover Concept with Keyboard Monkeys
Developing the cover in Black and White
Developing the Printing Press scene
Type in a type box
"Woodcut" Version of Front Cover
The Classic Shakespeare image
Shakespeare - Warholized!
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