In our asinine social media Internet troll phase of US American culture, 2016-20, the character Parolles would have been the hero of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Bertram would’ve been an influencer, hype beast, even though he’s almost as smart as a bag of muddy rocks. It was a bleak but necessary phase of growth, our terrible twos of a digitally connected world. We celebrated snitches, nerds, and creeps.
Not anymore. Not since Joe Rogan got his Spotify deal.
Ultimately, Trump will have been less influential than Rogan, and that is just something you are going to have to consider if you want to be taken seriously as a thinker. Influence is influence.
Shakespeare is the strongest brand in English Literature. He’s the Disney of the stage. Nobody even comes close. That’s one reason why studying Shakespeare makes so much sense right now. We are slowly globalizing as a culture and that means a cultural transformation that will change things in a way that feels threatening to some and promising to others. Superhero movies have dominated this period for this reason. We need a common language to speak, a mythical language.
We have evolved from a culture best defined by Disney, to one described in spirit by comic book characters. Can you see how young we are as a culture? The next logical step, as happens with any 9th grader in this country I believe, is to start reading Shakespeare. That’s the next level above comic books for us, for some reason. It’s not so much a hierarchy, however, as much as a process of maturation that entails the development of certain strengths or capabilities.
When we are young, we require the entertaining quality of cartoons. When we get a little older, we can read books with pictures. Eventually, we can read sophisticated plays and derive value and meaning from the text. Does that mean that reading Shakespeare is better than watching Looney Tunes? Not exactly. It just indicates a more mature and sophisticated ability to consume culture. It’s still just consuming culture.
The most important part of consuming culture is the dialogue that it provokes. Reading Shakespeare can lead to more relevant and interesting conversations about things that matter to today’s context without directly discussing topical news.
Bertram is a bro. He’s too young to be noble. He’s suffering from testosterone poisoning and that is no excuse for his rapist mentality, his narcissistic abandoning of family and country. It’s just an explanation for why he is such a kook. He probably would never become someone cool, but surely, he could not remain this stupid forever. Once he realizes that his own sexual appetite is less important than being good to the people in his life, then he might simmer down a little bit. Not in the play, though. He’s cool as a grease fire. He’s suffering from mental illness, a combination of grief for his father’s death, of a repulsion of being controlled, and of a manic desire to kill enemies in battle and to have sex with virgins as a reward. Bertram is a head case.
He’s also a loser. Despite all the actions he takes, he still ends up a victim of fate, made to do what other people tell him to do. Bertram is a submissive male. Bertram is beta. His aggression on the battlefield and in the bedroom derive from his knowledge that he has no control over his own life. Thankfully, Bertram is so stupid that he never really hurts anyone. The virgin he is trying to sleep with tricks him into having sex with his own wife. His best friend betrays him. Slowly, Bertram realizes how stupid he has been, what poor judgment he has shown.
This is a painful awakening during a comedy.
Reading Shakespeare, listening to the characters, and thinking about how their plots relate to our lives today is a good way to engage in debate without devolving into fighting. At least, I hope it could. Who knows, though. It might end up as a shouting match between Team Helena and Team Bertram.