Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jon Stewart, Today's Shakespeare?

I read a humor article, from Salon, that compares Shakespearean insults to the political jabs of Jon Stewart:

I have been thinking for several years that there is really no one in the world today who represents what Shakespeare represented in his Elizabethan and Jacobean lifetime.

But the more I think of this subject, and despite the fact that I do not watch Jon Stewart regularly, the more I think that Jon Stewart might just be the closest thing we have to a Shakespeare today.

I have to admit that I am no expert when it comes to politics today. I am much more fascinated by the politics of 400 years ago. The irony is that they can be very similar.

What do Shakespeare and Stewart have in common?

Both Shakespeare and Stewart are masters at writing satire.

Twelfth Night is arguably his greatest political satire, and the caricature of Olivia skewers Queen Elizabeth like no other role in Shakespeare's canon. My favorite play, The Merchant of Venice, is a very bawdy farce, and which makes a mockery of the court life of Elizabeth, who is caricatured in the role of Portia, whose name really means "pig."

While in Jon Stewart's one-on-one interviews he rarely skewers the person across his desk, the segments (with him, or John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, etc.) on his show are rooted in the same kind of character assassination that Shakespeare would probably appreciate.

Both Shakespeare and Stewart are quite brave in their political targets.

Shakespeare made fun of Queen Elizabeth, who probably had a very good sense of humor, and a thick skin.

But he also targeted men like William Cecil and his son Robert, who were two of the most powerful men during her reign. 

The character Polonius, as a doddering but dangerous old fool, is a caricature of William. 

The character Richard III, a hunchbacked power-hungry madman, is a caricature of Robert Cecil, who was hunchbacked and did accumulate a very disproportionate amount of power. 

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, it was Robert Cecil more than anyone else who put King James on the throne.

Jon Stewart has been known land some hard-hitting punches, even on his own guests. I recall the grilling he gave Kathleen Sebelius over the Obamacare roll-out. Ouch. 

I remember reading somewhere that Stewart, as a comedian who does the news, is better at real newsworthy interviews than journalists themselves.

Shakespeare was masterful at speaking truth to power, and it is probably in this sense that Stewart is the closest in spirit to the Bard. 

What don't they have in common?

I can not think of any play of Shakespeare's that promoted power, the might of the monarchy, and were at all very flattering to the royal courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James. Probably the closest is the Henriad, with the evolution of the character of Prince Hal, later King Henry V.

Prince Hal was a rowdy, bawdy, hard-drinking, hard-partying prince who cleaned up and became King Henry V, and led his country in battle and to a great victory.

So, while Shakespeare wants you to root for Hal and later King Henry, he also shows you how callous he becomes, especially when he "throws" his best friend, and Shakespeare's greatest clown, Falstaff "under the bus."

What does this say about Shakespeare?

Probably the simplest way I can put it is that Shakespeare was very aware of the fact that, as Lord Acton observed: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Shakespeare showed kings and queen at their worst, and hardly ever at their best. His characters, high- and low-born, were always mortals, with human faults and sins.

What little I know about Jon Stewart, he believes in government to a degree that Shakespeare never did.

Stewart is perhaps an idealist, and still believes that there are great men today. Shakespeare may have been idealistic, but it appears that his idealism -- about love, boys and girls, men and women -- never extended to politics.

Shakespeare saw how court politics worked from the inside. For example, Queen Elizabeth's "favourite" courtier, the Earl of Essex, was Shakespeare's artistic patron. Later, King James made Shakespeare the official royal court playwright.

If Shakespeare had any illusions about how power works, they were definitely dispelled by the time he entered the court.

As far as I know, Stewart has never held office, and has not worked in politics. If he spent his days working inside a real White House, as an official presidential performer perhaps, it would probably dispel any illusions he has.

As funny as his barbs may be, Stewart could learn a thing or two from Shakespeare. It would be worth his time to follow in Shakespeare's footsteps, especially since there doesn't seem to be anyone else right now who is even trying.

What do you think?


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