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The Shakespeare Problem Neil Gaiman Faced On Good Omens

There are two things that one can count on to appear in a Neil Gaiman story with relative confidence. First, gods — or god-like characters — are a must. The man clearly enjoys his mythos. Second, there's probably going to be a solid dig at the Bard. In two separate, hilariously specific examples, Gaiman wrote out how William Shakespeare required divine intervention. While many viewers may now be privy to Shakespeare's appearance in "The Sandman" thanks to Netflix's 2022 version of Gaiman's comic, the Amazon adaptation of "Good Omens" also includes a unique nod to the playwright.

Gaiman co-wrote the novel "Good Omens" with the late Terry Pratchett and told The Verge that he made a promise to the dying Pratchett to make a faithful adaptation of their novel, which he may try to expand into a second season. "Good Omens" is about the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and demon Crowley (David Tennant), who are both stationed on earth to promote their respective agendas, but neither of them are really feeling it. The third episode of the Amazon series depicts their growing relationship, which begins a little begrudgingly, but eventually transforms into something beautifully genuine. In that sequence, Aziraphale and Crowley take a trip to the Globe Theatre. To make the moment even more interesting, it's entirely different than the one Gaiman originally planned.

The filming window was limited, so rewrites were required

According to The Wrap, Neil Gaiman wrote a sequence for the third episode of "Good Omens" in which Aziraphale and Crowley attend the debut of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet." The "Good Omens" team was allowed to film at the Globe Theatre, which marked the first time the historic location would be used for filming. As a result, there were stipulations. The crew was given a brief five-hour window to film everything they needed, and they were responsible for corralling the hundreds of extras required for filming a full audience. All of this made the scene quite expensive and bloated the budget.

The use of so many extras in such a short time period was not a tenable option, so something had to change. Gaiman offered his team two options: The scene could depict either a rehearsal or a flop of "Hamlet," neither of which would need that many actors present. The creative team opted for the flop, so Gaiman rewrote the scene that appears in the episode. Crowley — on Aziraphale's behalf — magically boosts the PR for "Hamlet," so that further productions will be a hit. Gaiman explained to The Wrap, "The original scene in The Globe, I didn't have Shakespeare in it, didn't really have that punchline or anything." 

And just like that, the team snagged a victory from the jaws of defeat. Reflecting on the scene, Gaiman said, "What I discovered in writing that sequence is you could pick any time in human history, you can take Crowley and Aziraphale, you can stick them into it — not doing whatever their respective head office thinks they're doing — and you have a story."