Much Ado About Nothing

I hate Shakespeare. I always have. And you -- if you're unfortunate enough to have slogged through one of his interminable plays (or worse, a film adaptation of same) -- probably hate him, too.

That is, unless you're a snooty dilettante who's allowed himself to be convinced that every couplet Old Will ever pinched off is a masterpiece. Or one of those sniffy theater nerds who take deep pleasure in wearing a bustle and reciting arcane language because it makes you "special" and an "artiste." But really, folks. It's time to remove the vial of Shakespeare urine you wear on a chain around your neck and tell the truth: Shakespeare is tired and boring and a pain in the ass to endure. It's time to admit what tens of millions of sports fans and first-year college students have always known: The Bard is a bore.

And please don't trouble yourselves writing to tell me what a philistine you think I am. I don't care what you think, and neither does Shakespeare. He's been dead for hundreds of years, and if he were alive he wouldn't think you were cool for standing up for him. If he were alive today, he'd be writing Terminator sequels. And he'd almost certainly admit that his previous work was a lot of flowery claptrap, although he'd probably say it like this: "The playwright who lives in infamy/Is someone lost to ages, yet not to me/With writing born to scourge both fair and foul/Who grace the stage but should throw in the towel." Which would cause scholars to swoon and the rest of us poor slobs to shrug and scratch our heads.

(I am paid to occasionally comment on one of Mr. Shakespeare's plays, a job for which I remain qualified despite my contempt for his work thanks to a little magic known as "critical thinking," which allows me to tuck away my deep dislike of, for example, Old English blathering about various dead kings and comedies of mistaken identity.)

You can holler all you want about the deep and lasting beauty of iambic pentameter, about how Shakespeare is a god who contributed more to human consciousness than anyone before or since. But consider this: Any work by any playwright that requires an interpreter is long past its usefulness. Imagine being forced to sit through both acts of Molière's L'Avare in the original French, because to translate it would be to insult the beauty of the original text. Or because a nation of cranky thespians would be offended if you did. Or because some hyper-nerdy artistic director loves the cadence of la belle langue française. Insanity.

We are not a nation of people who want to untangle archaic language to get to the story. Only pretentious fakers want to endure stories that play like a foreign film without the subtitles. These same phonies are forgetting that the Elizabethan language that sends them into ecstasies was spoken by peasants, and that mad, childish romance and gory, royalty-gone-to-battle melodrama are not elements of great playwriting. Forced to sit through any contemporary author's work in which the heroine is mistaken for her own brother and the punch lines are all vulgar quips, most Shakespeare fans would storm the box office demanding a refund. But slap Old Will's name on it, and they'll blow a wad into their own shorts at the sight of a man pretending to be a woman or -- worse yet -- a man pretending to be a wall. Shakespeare wrote goofball romantic farce and violent political diatribes, and all the prettily arcane language in the world can't cover it up.

People like Shakespeare for the same reason they like Laura Ashley slipcovers and American Idol: because they think they're supposed to. And theater companies keep producing Old Will because his plays are public domain (which means they're free) and because, when audiences stay away in droves, theater folk can sit around feeling superior.

Where Shakespeare is concerned, there's an elephant in the room (although it's probably a man dressed as a wall pretending to be an elephant in the play-within-a-play that is our lives), and I'm not afraid to say so. Shakespeare is boring and dated, and most of the people who claim otherwise are just plain wrong. They're poseurs, afraid of being thought of as dim-witted and insubstantial if they admit that Shakespeare was an Aristophanes-obsessed hack whose work confounds them.

I am not. I revel in my disdain for Shakespeare, who once wrote, in his own Sonnet 90, "Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now." I shall, Old Will, hate you now and evermore. I have seen your plays, I have read your poems, and I must proclaim that they sucketh.


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