Shakespeare is one of the very few writers, historical or otherwise, that everyone knows but so few have read. Or, for many of those who did the required reading in high school, have forgotten everything they learned. When I read Shakespeare in high school, I hated it. The language was old “King James” English with the thees and thous and I not only couldn’t understand all the language, but I certainly couldn’t figure out what it all meant. Needless to say, I didn’t do well.
When I got to college, Shakespeare was a required course of English majors. It was a requirement that I take it…I dreaded it with a passion. As luck would have it however, I had a teacher who really loved Shakespeare and explained it so that it made sense to me. It wasn’t necessarily a lot easier to read, but I could actually make some sense out of what was going on. Then I liked it.
Both my high school teacher and my college professor talked about how brilliant Shakespeare was and his work is both brilliant and ground-breaking and all that other hooey. I’m not suggesting it wasn’t…but there’s more to the story.
Writing professors talk about how brilliant Shakespeare was and how we should emulate him (his brilliance anyway if not the actual words). HOWEVER, in the same breath, many of them decry “commercial” fiction as if it weren’t worthy. They praise Shakespeare and condemn (if not gently, cause Universities are now “nice” universities, everyone trying to just get along and all) the John Grishams, Stephen Kings and Andrew Vaachs in the same breath.
Truth of the matter is, however, that Shakespeare was a very commercial writer. He wrote for the masses. He wasn’t trying to create literature, he wasn’t trying to create “art.” Nope. Shakespeare was trying to MAKE MONEY—and if that isn’t the definition of commercial, what is? So, how then, can we reconcile that fact? Will John Grisham, Stephen King, et al., be considered “literature” in 400 years? Many literature professors would tell you that they certainly hope not. If that’s the case (and it generally is, right?), they how can they sing Shakespeare’s praises in the same voice?
What it all comes down to, really, is a matter of taste. If the masses like Grisham, does that mean he’s “bad?” Not at all. But why doesn’t that mean he’s high art? It all comes down to the old saying: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I’ve written comic books that have sold more copies than many of these so-called “literary” writers. As a writer, I’ve got enough ego in me (oh come on! ALL writers have SOME ego!) that I’d rather more people READ me than not. And, I’d rather them read my work…while I’m still alive! Of course, that’s just one man’s opinion.