Last evening, I had the pleasure of watching my lovely, talented Nerd Cactus partner (known to y’all as A) in her new show, a musical version of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood wherein the audience gets to choose their favorite ending. You know, since Dickens went and died before finishing. I totally made her character fall in love with her twin brother. What? I miss Game of Thrones already. It helped stem the hurt, if only for a brief moment.
Anyway…what does this have to do with Shakespeare, you may ask? Well…there was a Shakespeare joke. A ‘to be or not to be’ joke, to be specific. Nothing particularly hilarious, but definitely chuckle-inducing. But, really, the point isn’t really about how funny the joke was, or not: it was the fact that the joke was so easily thrown into the show…and we were expected to get it. We were just expected to know from whence it came.
Now…of course theater-going people are generally of above average literary intelligence, but still…I think we should celebrate just how much Shakespeare has become part of the zeitgeist. OK, so…too many people use ‘wherefore’ to mean ‘where’, but at least they know, “Wherefore art thou?” right? We all know that ‘to be or not to be’ is the question. Many of us know that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.
Have any of you been told to ‘screw your courage to the sticking place’? Don’t lie! You’ve all sung along with Gaston during the ‘Mob Song’ in Beauty and the Beast. Has someone ever ‘betrayed’ you, however jokingly? ‘Et tu, Brute?’ You know…Disney is actually a gold mine of Shakespeare references. A lot of those movies we remember from our childhoods–those movies we love and which form a big part of our emotional core–have casual references to the Bard. There’s a parrot named Iago plotting the Sultan’s downfall in Aladdin while no one but the audience (and Jafar) notices (a reference to the character of the same name in Othello). In Toy Story 3 (ok, neither from our childhoods nor technically Disney), the toys perform Romeo and Juliet.
Oh yeah…and The Lion King is pretty much Hamlet.
And then there’s so much more! Children of the 90s totally remember Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Guess what? He’s playing a modern Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew. Actually, the way that movie ends–with each character growing and changing for one another–is pretty much how everyone performs Shakespeare’s version now…given the problematic ending of the play if it is otherwise. (Hint: It’s not particularly feminist-friendly.) There’s even a Channing Tatum/Amanda Bynes movie that turns Twelfth Night into a story about soccer. And it’s much better than it sounds.
Basically…the point I’m making here with way too many bits of evidence is that Shakespeare is everywhere. He has invaded our language, our humor, our every-day lexicon and our entertainment. He is absolutely pervasive. People reference him without realizing it. They laugh at jokes in movies that are definitely Shakespeare jokes. Ever heard someone say a couple was, “making the beast with two backs?” Shakespeare. Has someone eaten you out of house and home? Shakespeare. Met someone who has a heart of gold? You know…I think you get it.
So why…why, then, do people fear and loathe Shakespeare so much? Why are his plays so often a byword for dry, old-fashioned theater with men and women giving stilted, over-cultivated performances with ridiculous accents that didn’t even exist when the Bard wrote? Why aren’t they still revered as hilarious and meaningful (Hamlet might be an annoying character, but that play captures grief impeccably well), even today? Yes…it takes some effort to read, but the language isn’t THAT difficult. And seriously…any understanding issues go away with a great performance!
What is the point here? MAKE EVERYONE LOVE SHAKESPEARE! Or at least make them realize how much they already love him by poking them every time they make/laugh at a reference. Seriously…POKES FOR SHAKESPEARE!
POKES FOR SHAKESPEARE. POKES FOR SHAKESPEARE. POKES FOR…OK, you get it…
The Bard is everywhere. It’s time we make the world realize it.
End rant. (By the way…that’s also Shakespeare.)
ps- Tomorrow…we get silly.