I’m currently taking a class called Shakespeare Muse on Fire and this week we are discussing A Midsummer’s Night Dream. I say discussing, because we do more than just listen to lectures, we talk about what Shakespeare means to us, oour thoughts that come up from our reading and what the stories mean to us. I was really shocked yesterday when one of my classmates compared Shakespeare to reality TV or as he calls it “trashy TV”. My classmate compared the plot of the play to an episode of the Kardashians. Now, I admit both have females who have way too much drama in their lives, but is it fair to compare Hermia and Helena to Kim and her annoying sister? What’s next, Hamlet vs. Honey Boo Boo? Give me a break!
For those of you who are not familiar with the play let me give you a brief rundown; Hermia is in love with Lysander and Helena is in love with Demetrius. Demetrius is in love with Hermia. Hermia’s dad won’t let her marry Lysander, he wants her to marry Demetrius. Poor Helena is left out in the cold and she spends most of her time in the play running around after Demetrius declaring her undying love for him. A spell is accidentally put on Lysander; one that makes him fall out of love with Hermia and in love with Helena. Then, trying to fix this mistake, a spell is put on Demetrius so he too falls for Helena. Helena has two men after her and she doesn’t believe either one of them. In the end the spells are removed and the four lovers pair up so that Lysander and Hermia, Demetrius and Helena end up together. This is not high art, but it is not supposed to be. It is a play about the capricious nature of love and its magical powers it has over human nature.
Shakespeare is adept at showing us the human condition. His plays are a mirror into our souls and psyche. Hamlet wouldn’t be Hamlet without his melancholic nature and his inability to do what’s right when it comes to revenging his father’s murder. Macbeth wouldn’t be Macbeth if Shakespeare didn’t show us what happens when power corrupts absolutely. Shakespeare demands that we think and look at ourselves in a cold hard mirror. He gave us great heroes and villains that we can relate to, even if we dare not admit it. There is a little Macbeth in all of us. I heard a great question today that went like this: if you could have world peace or Bill Gates’ money, what color would you Lamborghini be? Shakespeare would ask the same question.
Reality TV, or trashy TV on the other hand doesn’t ask such questions. It doesn’t look into the human condition, it makes up its own human condition; one of envy. It says, oh look you can never have a Lamborghini but watch as these people drive around in one. Reality TV is anything but. The drama is not real; the situations are staged to exaggerate the problems of the people we are watching. Oh we may wish we had the Kardashians’ fame and fortune, but do we learn anything about ourselves from watching them? Could you call Honey Boo Boo a look into the universal human condition? I don’t think so. Hardly anyone wants to be redneckognized.
Shakespeare may, at times be bawdy and brash. And yes it would be fun to see Kim Kardashian play lovesick Helena, but we should never compare his work to Reality TV and its absurd notion of the human condition.