Pop culture is culture. It IS literature. Every book you ever read for English class, every play and poem and short story, it once was new, and fresh, and contemporary.
Shakespeare was like the Whedon of his time (or the Kripke, or the Rowling, or the Moffat,…
Let’s be honest: a lot of Shakespeare was the WWE of his time.
It’s not just that pop culture is literature. It’s that literature is and always has been pop culture. Some of the things we’ve canonized and enshrined today was underappreciated at the time and had to be “discovered” by new critics, but most of it, the reason we know about it is that it had widespread appeal in its time, which means you’d better believe someone was turning their noses up at it and calling it the ruination and downfall of the art back in the day.
Shakespeare wrote things that people wanted to see. I’m not saying there was no artistry to it, but he didn’t put all the jokes about genitals in there because he thought it would make it into a textbook.
OK, no. Yes, pop culture IS culture, and yes, Shakespeare was very popular at all levels of society, andthat is why his work is considered to be so important and so classic. Ditto a large number of Great Writers (Dickens, for example, or Chaucer).
Genital jokes doesnotmake it the WWE, though. The WWE is actually far more niche than Shakespeare was in his own time. The WWE is bear baiting and cock fights. Shakespeare was four-quadrant blockbuster movies. The Matrix. Inception. Avengers. The Godfather. Up. (And Dickens? Stephen King. Wildly popular with virtually everyone, writing copiously to pay the bills. Good, because stuff that stays popular over the long haul has to be. And, honestly, writing things that frightened people. Not the ghost stories, the stories about the horrors of poverty and crime in his parents’ generation.)
I say this mostly because I think an accurate analogy conveys the point a lot better. WWE simply doesn’t have a wide enough appeal to actually communicate the point. Nobility and royalty saw Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe and so did any commoner who could afford it. The WWE is widely derided and looked down on as bread and circuses, something for the uneducated, not for the cultured. Which is, of course, classist as fuck, but that’s where the analogy breaks down, because while Shakespeare certainly had his critics,his company obtained a royal patent.
Chaucer was so widely popular with anyone who could read (admittedly a small sample of society at the time, but still) that his dialect of Middle English became the one that Modern English derived from, because so many people knew it so they could read Chaucer. Chaucer has genital jokes, too. Genital jokes don’t make either one the equivalent of the WWE.
I don’t disagree with your individual points, but I don’t see them adding up the same way. Shakespeare obtained a royal patent, the WWE hasn’t. The WWE is syndicated and has pay-per-view specials. Can Shakespeare lay claim to that? If there a better equivalent for high patronage in American TV than being on a major network, I honestly don’t know what it would be. I mean, maybe on an emotional level we might think a grant from the Carnegie Foundation because that’s literally patronage, but trying to figure out what’s the 21st century American equivalent of an Elizabethan institution in entertainment… we’re not comparing apples and oranges, we’re comparing ball bearings to plesiosaurs, and no, it doesn’t matter which one you make the ball bearings in this meta-analogy because I don’t have a specific point to make by choosing two different random thing. My point is that the model is completely different.
When I say that some of Shakespeare is the WWE of his day, I mean that he played to the crowd in the way that WWE does. You say “cockfights”, but cockfights don’t really have a narrative. I’m not saying his work as a whole fulfills the same niche as wrestling does, but… well, our media’s more mass, anyway. We can have a lofty highbrow theater (that’s probably performing Elizabethan plays and Italian operas that are bursting with genital-and-excrement jokes that 90% of the audience wouldn’t dream of noticing) and we have WWE and we can have movies and things that fill all kinds of strata in between. Shakespeare appealed to multiple walks of life, as you point out… and he did that by being the high-brow, and the middle-brow, and the low-brow, all at once.
Which the WWE does not do. It is not high-brow or middle-brow. The WWE also does not have the budget or backing of a big-budget movie like Avengers. But Shakespeare pretty much did have that. That’s why I think it’s a terrible analogy. There arethings in our culture that appeal to multiple walks of life, and WWE is not one of them. There were also narrative entertainments aimed solely at commoners in the Elizabethan period, by the way. Just because they didn’t have mass media doesn’t mean they didn’t have a wide variety of entertainments.
I’m not saying the WWE appealed to the other brows any more than I said that Shakespeare didn’t appeal to them - if you actually want to understand what I’m saying, think “Venn Diagram” and not “equals sign”. I feel like you’re looking for absolute equivalencies that I’m not making.
Or pretend I said “Shakespeare wasn’t above playing to the crowd in the manner of the most vulgar popular entertainment for the masses”, if you can’t get past the WWE thing in particular. He was acclaimed by the upper classes in his day, but it’s only time and distance that lets anyone make the mistake of thinking his work was inherently highbrow.
(And for that matter , I’d have made the same point about Chaucer and his bawdy commonality if that had been the example above.)