The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s show had an interesting premise: take all 30-something of Shakespeare’s plays and showcase them in 90 minutes. The show focused primarily on Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, two of the bard’s most famous works. All of the other plays were blended together into a comic swirl of cooking shows, football matches, and visits to Scotland. Designed to be comic, the show incorporated many of the sensationalized elements of Shakespeare’s works: sex, gore, and edgy jokes. The show was adapted somewhat for our time with a Donald Trump joke or two and #metoo reference thrown in.
One of the interesting things about the play is how accessible it felt. A friend said to me afterwards that if she had watched the show prior to reading Shakespeare she would have found it much more interesting. This was a theme throughout the production. Many jokes were made about the low intelects of people today and how little true appreciation for Shakespeare there is.
Accessibility led me to thinking about intellectualism, and what we consider to be high culture. Many people would not consider this show sophisticated––one of the original plays, however, despite containing many of the same jokes, gore, and raunchy references, would be considered high art. The correlation between that “high culture” and its general appeal is interesting. It’s true that very often what we consider to be academic or sophisticated has a very limited audience, and is often old and white. Whatever is “popular” is considered a lower art form. Why do we create this hierarchy of culture and how does it connect to limiting our definitions of what it means to have reason or to be fully human?