The Entertainer

I’d like to state for the record that I love William Shakespeare.  My first cat was named Shakespeare. My college senior semester was in Shakespeare’s tragedies. My college senior thesis was on Ophelia from Hamlet.  I have a Shakespeare bobble-head. I have a life-size poster of Shakespeare. I’ve read most of the plays. I’ve seen most of the plays. I own most of the plays on DVD.  I love Shakespeare.  Love. Him. Love him.

It seems to me that we modern folk tend to focus on Shakespeare’s fancy language, forgetting that it was just the way people talked back then.  We forget that Shakespeare wrote plays for the regular guys.  Writing and putting on plays was how he made his living, after all.  And if he was going to pack the house night after night and increase his percentage of the take at the door, he needed to appeal to the common rabble – there just weren’t that many aristocrats around.

So I’d like to share a little secret that your English teacher isn’t going to tell you.  William Shakespeare wrote to please the masses so they would keep buying tickets. 

He pleased them by throwing bawdy, rowdy humor into almost every play, no matter how serious the overall story. He pleased them by writing the worst kind of hacker /slasher trash (Titus Andronicus– ick). He pleased them by using special effects (“exit – chased by a bear”). Basically he pleased them by being pretty lowbrow in a lot of ways.  Because if he didn’t please them, they would throw food and…other things…at the actors. And they wouldn’t come back and buy more tickets.

The real awesomeness of Shakespeare, in my humble opinion, is that he did all of this – he provided raucous entertainment that literally kept people standing for hours – while at the same time managing to convey pure and heartbreaking truths.  He pleased the masses, yes, but he (usually) did not compromise his story to do so. He talked about real people, in a real way, with honesty. And because he did, we love him more than 500 years later.

The lesson I take away from Shakespeare is not only that he wrote beautifully, honestly and well.  It is that he wrote beautifully, honestly and well, while at the same time entertaining the tunics off those schlubs in the theater.

Because entertainment and thoughtful insight do not have to be mutually exclusive.

It only seems that way sometimes on tv. 

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