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We love Monty Python. To an embarrassing, quote-flinging, watch-and-rewatch-and-rewatching degree. (In fact, I’m of the opinion that we should’ve launched Flying Circus episodes into space to introduce ourselves to aliens. Silly walks and dead parrots are—no pun intended—universal).

But our beloved Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones, and Palin were no mere workaday comedians: they were Oxford and Cambridge men, and terribly well-read ones at that. So it’s no surprise that some of their best skits train their absurd and surreal brand of sketch-writing on the literary canon. Here are ten of our favorites.

Victorian Poets

“Good afternoon Mr. Wadsworth, Mr. John Koots, and Percy Bysshe…and Alfred Lord.”
“Tennyson!”
“Tennis ball.”
“Son!”
“Sorry. Alfred Lord, who is evidently Lord Tennis Ball’s son.”

 

The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights

“Oh! Catherine”
“Oh! Heathcliffe”
“Oh! Oh! Catherine”
“Oh! Oh! Heathcliffe”

 

Ewan MacTeagle, the Scottish Poet

“Can I have fifty pounds to mend the shed?”

 

Agatha Christie

“So the murderer must be someone in this room…unless he had very long arms. 30 or 40 feet. I guess we can discard that one.”

 

Gorilla Librarian

“Now, it seems to me that your greatest disadvantage is your lack of your professional experience, coupled with the fact that, being a gorilla, you will frighten people.”

 

Literary Football Commentary

“Jarra United came of age in a European sense in an almost Proustian display of modern existentialist football…”

 

Poets

“Dear! There’s Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the bathroom!”

 

Wilde and Shaw

“Your majesty is like a big jam doughnut with cream on the top.”

 

Summarize Proust

“As you may remember, each contestant must give a brief summary of Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu once in a swimsuit, and once in evening dress.”

 

 

Hamlet

"Everywhere I go it's the same thing. All anyone wants me to say is to be or not to be."

 


Blair Thornburgh's picture

Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh is an editor at Quirk Books. A native Philadelphienne and apparent devotée of gendered demonyms, she makes a mean plate of scrambled eggs, a much friendlier cup of coffee, and would love to talk to you about (or in) multiple dead languages. Hwæt!