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Deadpool Breaks the 4th Wall


Who is this Deadpool? He’s been making appearances in Marvel comics since 1990 and now he’s crawled his way into video games, cartoons, Internet memes and a big budget Hollywood film starring Ryan Reynolds. He goes by the name Wade Wilson, with a past that zig zags all over the place. He’s an unpredictable mercenary, who’s been hired by the government and evil forces as an assassin. What makes him a special soldier are his regenerative healing powers, which he gained by tests done on him through the Weapon X program — they’re derived from Wolverine. What makes him a unique comic book character: his special understanding of his place in the universe… That is, he knows all about the 4th wall and how to break it.

Deadpool references the comic book panel

By self-referencing the media he is being portrayed in and speaking directly to his audience, Deadpool is using a theatrical technique that has been around for centuries. He breaks the imaginary 4th wall that separates performers from their audience, by acknowledging that he knows he’s part of a fictional piece. Shakespeare’s Henry V starts with the Chorus:

Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend

The brightest heaven of invention!

A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,

Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels,

Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire

Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,

The flat unraisèd spirits that hath dared

On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth

So great an object.

Shakespeare sets the stage for this play literally by calling it an “unworthy scaffold.” He’s stating that in order to do the story proper justice, it needs “a kingdom for a stage” and the cast should be made of “princes to act.” These words are completely outside of the narrative.

Another example is Anton Chekov’s Seagull, which breaks the 4th wall in the middle of the play when Dorn, one of the main characters, gives a brief critique of the play and then jumps back into character to continue on with the story.

Deadpool references issue 16

Deadpool makes similar references by talking about the limitations of the panels in his comic book or by directly stating which was the last issue number when he encountered a villain.
Can you create something that reaches further into the audience than classic masters like Chekov and current pranksters like Deadpool? See how far you can stretch beyond the 4th wall in this lesson.

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FOX’s Empire is basically Shakespearean Hip-Hop Theatre

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Are Shakespeare’s plays universal?

In the poem “To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare,” Ben Jonson wrote that Shakespeare was “not of an age but for all time!” His argument was that Shakespeare’s works were universal, and that any audience could relate to the themes within them. His theory is evidenced by the countless retellings and reinterpretations of the Bard’s plays. FOX’s hit Empire about a hip hop dynasty seems to agree with Jonson.



The Bard’s Empire

In the pilot of Empire, one of Lucious Lyon’s sons, Jamal, says, “We King Lear now?” Lyon has announced that he has been diagnosed with ALS and will have to decide to which of his three sons he will leave control of his music business empire. Fans of Shakespeare may immediately think of Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan, but some of the fun of Empire is that the series offers many more parallels to Shakespeare’s plays than solely King Lear. Throughout the first season, we see connections to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Othello and Iago, and Romeo and Juliet, among others. Each episode, in fact, is named after a line from a Shakespearean play, which can prompt us into an even deeper investigation into parallels between the series and Elizabethan drama.


From the Stage to the Small Screen

One of the most interesting elements of Empire is the way the series maintains its own story while drawing on themes from Shakespeare. Shakespearean tragedies often begin in a state of disorder, either within the home, city, or kingdom. Over the course of the two hours of a play, the initial disorder is addressed, ultimately leading to a more orderly society. Things are not perfect, but the initial disorder is settled. Take Romeo and Juliet, for example. At the start of the play, we learn that the Prince is infuriated with the civic quarrels between the Montagues and Capulets. By the end of the play, everything is not resolved: two young lovers have died, along with many others. As a result, however, the Montagues and Capulets decide to put aside their hatred for one another, thus creating more order in Verona. Is it perfect? No. But, through the conflicts in the play, the initial conflict is resolved. At this point, the audience applauds and leaves the theater. What’s interesting about Empire is that the series can expand on this disorder-order model. Since the series airs weekly, and is much longer than two hours, there is more time to develop several themes and conflicts, and to create new ones. Just when the initial disorder is resolved, another conflict incites more disorder. In this way, the show can continue to draw on universal themes that make Shakespeare’s plays so beloved.