How Shakespeare Invented Modern Storytelling

“It’s 1594, and Romeo & Juliet is premiering; let’s take a look around to see what else is out there. It…sucks. There’s Christopher Marlowe (who might have given Shakespeare a run for his money if he hadn’t gone and gotten himself killed), and that’s about it (Ben Jonson hadn’t happened yet). Other than that, you’ve got a bunch of straggling morality plays and some stilted court masques and a handful of other dramatists’ whose work history has been very ok with forgetting. … And Shakespeare basically made it up as he went along. … The mistake that some people sometimes make is thinking of Shakespeare as some lofty, unapproachable font of profound art. He wasn’t. He was a guy who made his living from one play to the next, trying to write things that people would like. He was, a commercial artist trying to write things that would be marketable (another word he invented). Also, some of his plays were terrible — for every Hamlet or Macbeth, there’s a Pericles or a Henry VI that only the most die-hard fans would choose to suffer through today. … Your comparison to Stephen King is actually a good one — both men considered themselves to be storytellers first and artists second; the Author’s Notes in King’s Dark Tower books make really good points about the distinction there. But King is largely only possible because Shakespeare happened before him, because of our exposure (another Shakespeare-ism) to a manner of storytelling that is driven by the complexities of character, where the entire plot of a play or novel can consist of a flawed (that’s another one) character reaching a decision. That may not seem like a big deal now, but that’s only because it has been almost universally adopted into how we tell stories. But, when it happened, it changed everything. … But if you measure by looking at the impact of his work, upon culture and upon art, Shakespeare is the quote-unquote-greatest author who ever lived, and nobody else even comes close.”

Commenter on ‘I believe Shakespeare is undeserving of the legacy he left behind, including the title of greatest author to have ever lived. Change my view.’.





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