Shakespeare was the Larry David of His Day
Shakespeare certainly had a popular audience, one that enjoyed the occasional fart joke, sex reference, and sword fight. Of course, Shakespeare also includes poetry, history, and philosophy in his work. I think the mixture of “high and low” is probably why Freud liked Shakespeare so much (although he fell for the brainless Shakespeare conspiracy nonsense about authorship).
The very presence of clowns (today’s equivalent of the crazy neighbor in a sitcom) in Shakespeare’s plays tells us that he liked a little comic relief, but also that he basically followed the contemporary dramatic format of his time. Clowns were just another convention of theater. Everyone used them. Shakespeare wasn’t so much a radical genius as he was someone who became really good at the conventional form, and made a bunch of dough in the process.
You could say he was the Larry David of his day. David took the standard late 80’s/early 90’s sitcom format and was very successful at appealing to an audience while pushing it in some new creative directions. Looking back, Seinfeld is not all that different from most sitcoms of that time. (After all, it’s a 20 minute comedy show about bumbling New Yorkers…that could describe many things on TV.) However, there’s a chance it may come to stand out in television history as a kind of breakthrough, or at least as an exceptionally well-done version of what was popular at the time.
This is all just barroom talk from me (Not literally; I’m using an idiom, Shakespeare’s chosen weapon, and I’m definitely NOT in a bar at 10:00 am. Instead I’m grading research papers, or I’m supposed to be), but I think it’s important that Shakespeare isn’t placed on a pedestal, not because he isn’t great. He certainly is, but because it obscures the context and point of his work to re-cast him as some legendary literary genius from another planet.
Posted by Andrew Neuendorf on April 12, 2012