I Got 99 Problems and They're All Shakespeare's Comedies
Updated: Jun 18
Hello, and welcome to Reading Has Ruined My Life. You, my dear reader, are in for a very special treat this week.
Like every English major across the globe, I was required to take a class solely on William Shakespeare. I’ll be honest, this was one of my least favorite courses I took during my time as an undergrad. I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare. I find some of his tragedies ok; Macbeth is one of my favorite pieces of classic literature. I would also say his historical pieces are good. Richard III was an interesting read. But, my god, I cannot stand his comedies.
Reading Shakespeare’s comedies was some of the most tedious work I had to do in college. I should mention, I took this course during the spring of my junior year; I was just one year away from graduating at that point. I had a lot of experience in reading boring, long-winded, odd, and just plain bad, pieces of literature. But I would gladly read the entirety of Ulysses multiple times over before I’d reread any of Shakespeare’s comedies again.
Yeah, I just said that. Shakespeare’s comedies are some of the worst I’ve ever read. Come for me, I don’t care.
Disclaimer, I have not read the entirety of Shakespeare’s canon. I’ve read hardly any of his historical pieces, I’ve really only read the big name tragedies like Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet, but I’ve read a good amount of his comedies.
Every single one I’ve read basically have the same plot. Person A is mistaken for Person B, Person A is in big trouble and Person B gets arrested and sentenced to death or a torturous punishment, Person A finds out about Person B and saves Person B at the last minute, the story ends with everything magically being righted at the end and everyone lives happily every after. Oh, there’s also some heavily stereotyped Jewish character who is always the butt of horrendous anti-sematic jokes that weren’t funny during the Renaissance and aren’t funny now.
Now let’s be real, the majority of the jokes in Shakespeare, outside of those racist remarks, are dick jokes. Again, this isn’t comedy gold. On the comedy tree, dick jokes are the lowest hanging fruit. Scratch that, dick jokes are the fruit that has fallen from the comedy tree.
Yet society has decided that Shakespeare is the best of the best when it comes to English literature.
I have questions. First of all: why? Second of all: how? I know I’m looking at Shakespeare from a modern day lens, but how have we as a society decided these comedies are still funny?
To me, they’re not. If you break down the dialogue, it’s cringy and/or juvenile at best and racist at worst.
This brings me to my next point. Seeing as Shakespeare wrote plays, and to fully cover the question of if his work is funny, one must consider the play actually being performed.
Actors breath life into scripts. The best of actors can even make the worst of material funny or dramatic and heart wrenching. In every single Shakespeare comedy I’ve watched, the actors have given it their all. All the performances I’ve watched have gotten laughs…just not from the actual dialogue.
Movements, reactions, facial expressions, general background acting, all that good stuff got laughs. The dialogue always bombs. No matter what, it’s still dick jokes and racist comments. If the dialogue does get a laugh, it’s more so because the actor has done something funny, not because the line is actually humorous.
Now, I admit, I do have a large bias against Shakespeare. But seriously ask yourself this: when you read a Shakespeare comedy, do you find yourself laughing at the dialogue? Is anything truly funny said? Or do you find the whole thing boring and juvenile like me?
I think it’s clear to see that I do not find Shakespeare’s comedies funny. I think the dialogue is extremely dated, and what does hold up is comedy that middle school boys think is the funniest shit ever. This is not top tier comedy. Really nothing holds up in 2021. I think the only thing Shakespeare comedies have proven are that actors can do magic with even the worst of scripts.
In short, actors can make Shakespeare funny, but the actually writing is as funny as a stick in the mud.
Let me know if you agree with me. Tell me what you think about Shakespeare’s comedies. Are they the crème of the crop when it comes to comedic plays? Or do you agree with me and think they belong in the trash?
Until next time, I bid you all adieu. Stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.