Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If Shakespeare Were Alive Today …. What?

I see this question all the time on Twitter.  If Shakespeare were alive today he’d be writing soap operas.  He’d be hanging out with Lady Gaga.  He’d have a blog.  And so on.

Pretty much all of those come from folks with little more than the typical knowledge of “Shakespeare as great writer” much like you’d associate “Einstein” with “genius” without having a clue about what the latter contributed to science.  Ya know?

So I’m curious.  Most of us here are fairly well versed in Mr. Shakespeare, all facets of his life.  What *do* we think he’d be doing? 

Here’s a couple to get it rolling:

* I highly doubt he would have had a shotgun marriage to Anne Hathaway. That alone could alter his whole life story.

* He could work “virtually” anywhere, and wouldn’t have to leave his wife and kids in one town while he trekked off to live miles away for most of the year.

* He’d have the potential for worldwide recognition, and as such could have potential audiences with a number of world leaders.  However, unlike his own time, he wouldn’t be constrained by fear of pissing off those leaders and ending up in jail.  He could be much more direct in his political commentary.

* Assuming he made a success of himself I expect he’d spent a great deal of time suing people for copyright infringement.  Back in his day it was much harder to bust people for it, but we do know that Shakespeare was the litigious sort who wouldn’t let a debt go unanswered, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him attempt to go after the pirates.

* While he’d be good at self promotion and no doubt have a fairly significant brand associated with his name, I wouldn’t expect to see him hanging out on Twitter for example. Why give it away?  He’s a business man, people pay him for what he writes.


JM said...

"If Shakespeare Were Alive Today …. What?"


JM said...

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Seriously, I don't think he'd be worried much about copyrights or recognition or entrepreneurship.
I think, all things being equal, he'd be a dismal failure. Whatever form his writing took, it would still be informed by an awful lot more than could be said in the little information bites that get smaller on demand day by day. He was already a bit of a literary iconoclast in his own time, form-wise, but could he adapt to this kind of stringency? I don't think the Shakespeare we know would be capable. --A "modern Shakespeare" maybe. But then, what--or who--exactly is that? I dunno.

skunk said...

I think that even in the world of the entirely theoretical, it's difficult to imagine what Bill would be up to. I suppose we'd have to compartmentalise our thinking on that score. I think it's a pretty sure bet that he'd dress differently, probably would have joined the writer's strike and I hope would have had enough understanding of intellectual property that he would have made a point of squashing the Oxfordian conspiracy, but then that's assuming he would be, as JM said, "really, really, old" rather than a contemporary guy with all of what we believe to be Shakespeare's characteristics.

The only time I've ever heard his name evoked and his opinion assumed in a manner that I found apt was years ago during the first season of the Sopranos. Various self-styled moralists were expressing minor outrage that a mobster/murderer like Tony Soprano should be expressed in anything like a sympathetic vein much less be given a conscience and the ability to want to be a good father in addition to his murderously vengeful streak.

The opposing side of the debate--the pro-Soprano critics--didn't go so far as to claim that Shakespeare would have written the series, but they did imply that he would have appreciated the humanist paradox of good people who do bad things and, conversely, the possibility that bad people can do good things too. If you need to dust off Shakespeare and use him as some sort of theoretical rhetorical tool, then used in that fairly slender way seemed appropriate to me and probably accurate too.