Hear me out on this, and I will stand by this statement: Roland Emmerich, director of Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and most recently 2012, is the William Shakespeare of the modern age.
This is on my mind for a couple reasons. 2012 comes out on DVD on Tuesday, and if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so. And, in recent news, it was announced that Mr. Emmerich will soon be directing a thriller about the theory that Shakespeare did not write his plays-- set in the time of Shakespeare. So, it’s probably safe to assume that the world won’t be ending in this one.
2012 is a movie I liked-- a lot. It’s ridiculous and goofy and sentimental, but it is all of those things in the name of entertainment.
Now, take Shakespeare’s “The Twelfth Night.” If you’re familiar with it at all, you know that it is ridiculous and goofy and sentimental but also that it is damn entertaining.
And, there’s the thread. They are entertainers. Shakespeare was the most popular playwright of his time. We know this because he is the most popular playwright of our time. His plays have survived hundreds of years, not because they advanced the medium of the theatre and of the written word, but because they were massive hits. Everyone wanted to see them, and mass audiences still want to see his plays.
It is a joke among writers that if there is an original idea to be conceived, Shakespeare already did it. Commonly ignored is the fact that anything Shakespeare did the Greeks did first. But, the point remains that if all ideas can be boiled down to 400-year-old plays, then those plays must have been comprised of key facets of the human experience.
Shakespeare then took the human experience and multiplied it to the nth degree and invented pop culture. Scholars have spent years and will continue to spend years looking for the deeper meaning in “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Richard III,” and so on down the line, but the truth is that the meaning is right there on the surface.
The plays are fantastic entertainments that one need not think too deeply about to have a good time. Anyone who pretends that the plays of William Shakespeare are anything more than mere melodrama ratcheted up for visceral thrill and emotional response is doing a disservice to himself and to the pure joy that is Shakespearian farce.
And, for melodramatic farce, look no further than Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum traveling to outer space to infect an alien mother ship with a computer virus. Strike that, look further back, and you may find that Shakespeare already did it.