The New Shakespeares

When I say that a particular person is a new Shakespeare, I don’t mean to suggest that they’re “quality” in any stuffy academic literary sense. I mean that they have a delightful style which is much beloved yet simultaneously not appreciated by high culture, at least not in their own time.

Prophets are traditionally not loved in their own countries; only when they move to the Undiscovered Country are they recognized and appreciated.

So: who do I think is the modern Shakespeare?

I think there are two contenders: Matt Groening and Joss Whedon.

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5 Responses to “The New Shakespeares”

  1. I suspected Matt was going to be your pick.

  2. The patron of the King’s Men was (surprisingly enough) King James, and before him the Lord Chamberlain. That’s about as “high” as you could get in those days. Even if you consider them not to be arbiters of high culture, shouldn’t Ben Jonson’s opinion count? Speaking of which, my previous comment was incorrect in that Samuel Johnson was the 18th century lexicographer (who frequently quoted Shakespeare) while Ben Jonson was Shakespeare’s contemporary and rival.

  3. I think we have have to make a distinction between popularity and approval.

    There’s no question that Shakespeare was popular, just as there’s no question that Joss Whedon is popular. It doesn’t mean that the literati approve.

    The wikipedia entry on Shakespeare mentions various aspects of his popularity. I cannot determine the degree to which it is accurate and representative.

  4. Like I said, the King may not count as literati but Ben Jonson certainly did. Do you think his modern analogue would write similarly about Matt Groening or Joss Whedon (I’m unfamiliar with the latter’s work, so I admit I could be speaking out of ignorance).

  5. Difficult to say. Many people have written about the themes of The Simpsons, and when the show was good (i.e. when Groening was actually involved in making it) it had a lot of sophisticated and subtle content, as well as delightful humor.

    Ben Jonson was certainly a fan of Shakespeare; others of his peers were less enthusiastic. I’d guess there are modern-day equivalents that are fans of Groening and Whedon, respected voices that appreciate the quality of the works even while they’re dismissed by academia. I admit that I cannot name anyone as an example.

    I also think there are specific examples of both Groening’s and Whedon’s work that are equal in quality to Shakespeare’s plays; they give me the same sense of awe and delight that my favorite parts of Shakespeare do. But that’s ultimately just my opinion.

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