If, in any discussion, particularly of diversity or style, you bring up Shakespeare, you lose the argument. Boom, that's it, you're done. Thank you for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you. You can shut the hell up now.
Seriously, it's the absolute worst possible argument to make. And it always gets made.
A: We need more diversity on our stages and less of an emphasis on dead, old white guys.It's lazy, it's weak and worst of all, it's stupid as hell. No matter what snarky comments people like joshcon or I make, everyone likes Shakespeare. You know why? Because he was a freaking goddamn authentic genius. That's basically beyond debate. The guy was a stone-cold, straight-up, full-on player with no shame in his game. No one who's serious about this field at all is going to question that. So obviously, no one is talking about throwing him on the midden heap.
B: But...what about Shakespeare?!? Are you just going to chuck Shakespeare on the dustbin of history?!? Well, he's an old dead white guy!?!
A: ...Screw off, dickhead.
And here's the thing, too: you couldn't if you tried. That guy is burrowed into the canon like a chigger. He IS the motherlovin' canon. There are Shakespeare festivals and theatres in 49 states. 49! (What up, Hawaii? Don't you like culture?!? Won't someone please think about Shakespeare?!?) The guy only wrote 36 plays. 36! Just in case you missed it, 49 > 36. Very few of those is likely to fold any time, I'm willing to bet. And even if they did, he's on curricula across the country. He deserves to be. Because he was a freaking genius! Not in debate!
If every play by a dead white guy was a play by Shakespeare, I honestly don't think anyone would have many complaints. Okay, some folks would. But really, that's not the problem. Shakespeare isn't the problem. It's all the other dead white guys. Middleton and Kyd and even Jonson and the guy who wrote Our American Cousin (poor bastard) and you name it. It's the guys who weren't geniuses, who didn't write timeless plays that live and breathe today. And yet, they still get produced. Hell, I'll even throw some of those great one-hit wonders on there, like Rostand or Wycherly. I dig the fine folks at Red Bull a lot (full disclosure: I've worked with some of them), but you know crops up in half of their reviews: "It's almost as good as Shakespeare." Those guys weren't as good and they get productions! That's pretty nice work, if you can get it.
In fact, Shakespeare is so much a part of the canon, so much in the popular mind, that people are freaking bored with it! The theatres certainly are. Half of those "Shakespeare festivals" don't produce all that much Shakespeare anymore. They ran out! So now they go to the back-benchers. And it's some kind of offense to suggest that maybe we should throw some of those guys back on the trash heap that you plucked them off of because you couldn't find anyone as good as Shakespeare writing today.
A: Why produce this crazy-ass old white guy who's not Shakespeare?But when this comes up, it's always Shakespeare going out the window. Always the genius that everyone likes.
B: No one's produced him in centuries!
A: Because it's not as good as Shakespeare.
B: It's not! But it's interesting, isn't it? Makes you appreciate Shakespeare more, doesn't it?
A: But...I have this new play, by a young living writer.
B: Well. She's no Shakespeare, is she? We want to produce great plays.
A: Except this one. Which isn't as good as Shakespeare.
B: I'm sorry, what was that?
A: Gee, it'd be great to have a black president, wouldn't it?Because no one ever says, "What about Rutherford B. Hayes?!?" Why? Because he kind of sucked. So did most of the old dead white guys.
B: Why? What's wrong with all of our other presidents? Huh? You don't wish that Abraham Lincoln hadn't been president, do you?
A:...You're a freaking moron.
This goes the same for Brecht, Mozart and the B-Boys (Bach, Beethoven), Da Vinci, the whole crowd. They're cool, they'll be fine, and, trust me, no one is going to stop listening to them, really. But to focus the whole system on guys who happen to look like them is just dumb, especially when it's full of people who aren't geniuses. So what if the young writers aren't geniuses yet? Really, neither was George Chapman.
Case in point. Really? And Mart Crowley isn't even dead! (No offense, Mart, glad to hear you're still with us. Thanks for being a good sport!) You couldn't commission a young playwright to write a new play about the life of gay men now, even as a reflection on how things are different, 42 years later? It would probably be less than the New York production rights. But, you know, it's old. So obviously, it's good. Right.
There are totally legitimate arguments against David Byrne's immodest proposal, and, in all fairness, some of them do show up here. But "What about Shakespeare" isn't a good argument. It just isn't. Next time it comes up, play 'em off, Keyboard Cat. (That reference is almost as topical as The Country Wife. Ba-zing!)