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YMMV / William Shakespeare

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  • Americans Hate Tingle: This may be one of the oldest examples of this trope ever. For roughly two centuries, the French dismissed Shakespeare as a hack, and viewed the English embrace of him as one of their greatest writers as proof of England's boorish culture and lack of sophistication (and, to be sure, even by today's standards there is much in Shakespeare's plays that would generally be considered lowbrow). Voltaire, for one, spoke of "dreadful scenes in this writer’s monstrous farces, to which the name of tragedy is given," describing Hamlet as being about "drinking, singing ballads, and making humorous reflections on skulls". It was only in the 18th century when translations of Shakespeare became successful in France (the first performance of Hamlet was in 1769), and even then, it took longer for his comedies to catch on. A major part of this was Shakespeare's refusal to adhere to the Unities, a concept of playwriting (a play must take place in one location, over the course of one day, and concern one course of action) that was highly popular among French critics and scholars for centuries but has since been discredited to the point that the above sentence may well be the first time you've heard of it.
  • Common Knowledge: Many people assume Sonnet 18 (the one that begins "Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?") was written to a woman, maybe the same Dark Lady in later sonnets. It's actually one of the ones addressed to the Fair Youth.
  • Complete Monster: William Shakespeare has produced timeless works with quite the incredible and diverse output. From some of his plays have come villains who are impressive in their depravity centuries later.
    • Othello: Honest Iago is one of the most famous examples of this trope to ever appear on the English stage. A bitter Venetian officer who resents the promotion of another man over him by his commander, the Moor Othello, Iago schemes for revenge by ingratiating himself with Othello and driving him to madness with insinuations his beloved wife Desdemona is having an affair with the officer Michael Cassio. Iago undermines Othello while acting as his friend. Iago murders his accomplice Roderigo and his own wife Emilia to cover for himself, and at the end, convinces Othello to murder Desdemona. At the end, Iago displays no remorse and refuses to speak one word more in his whole life. Throughout the play, Iago has various motives proposed for his evil—racism; envy; suspicion that Othello is sleeping with Emilia—but concludes he has no reason behind his cruelties beyond the fact that he simply enjoys them.
    • Richard III is one of the most famous examples of a Historical Villain Upgrade in English drama. Richard informs us early on that he is determined to prove a villain and ruin the day for everyone else. To that end, he seduces Anne Neville, whose noble husband he himself murdered, with every intent of discarding her later. He has his brother George, Duke of Clarence, sent to the Tower of London and murdered, drives his older brother King Edward IV into an early grave and has Edward's two young sons imprisoned in the Tower of London, before having them murdered. He poisons Anne herself, and even begins having his allies killed. On the night before his battle with Henry Tudor, he is visited by the spirits of his victims, who tell him to despair and die. Richard is left alone, deserted by all, and at the end, he admits that even he has nothing but hatred for himself.
  • Fan Nickname: Several Fan Nicknames referring to his work have become widely used by Shakespeare scholars over the years, and are now generally accepted by almost everyone.
    • "The Henriad" for the History tetralogy encompassing Richard II, Henry IV parts I and II, and Henry V.
    • "The Minor Tetralogy" for the History tetralogy encompassing Henry VI parts I, II and III and Richard III (contrasting with "The Major Tetralogy", an alternate name for the tetralogy mentioned above).
    • "Two Gents" for Two Gentlemen of Verona.
    • "The Fair Youth" for the addressee of Sonnets 1 to 126.
    • "The Dark Lady" for the addressee of Sonnets 127 to 152.
    • "The Rival Poet" for the rival alluded to in Sonnets 78 to 86.
  • Growing the Beard: Believe it or not, even the Bard had to grow into his talents, and his earliest works can be very spotty. Most scholars would agree he didn't really hit his stride as a playwright till somewhere around the time he wrote Romeo and Juliet, which was something like his eleventh play! ("Something like" because, owing to the patchy nature of early-modern record-keeping, we can't be absolutely certain when Shakespeare wrote anything.)
  • Moral Event Horizon: Has its own page.
  • Older Than They Think: On account of being the most prolific and most popular playwright of his generation, and one who in succeeding centuries became the most influential writer on the English language, many audiences coming to Shakespeare credit him with far more than his already considerable achievements:
    • Contrary to Anonymous and others say, Shakespeare was not the first to write drama in blank verse. That honor goes to the obscure play Gorboduc a 1561 play by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville. The first major Elizabethan tragedy in blank verse was Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy the Trope Codifier for Elizabethan Tragedy, with its Anti-Hero protagonist, play-within-the-play, Gambit Pileup plot already containing much of the elements which prefigures the work done by Christopher Marlowe (who was seen as the greatest talent of his day) and then by Shakespeare.
    • Indeed many critics note that with the exception of two works, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest, no work by Shakespeare can claim to be original, and even those two have predecessors. Many of them were based on pre-existing sources and even Hamlet was based on an earlier lost work called Ur-Hamlet by critics. Many of his plays were popular commissions that was Pandering to the Base (For instance, Macbeth had witchcraft and sorcery that appealed to King James I's hobby-horses, as well as the line of kings descended from Banquo, since James claimed descent from the possibly legendary character in question). Likewise, since the Elizabethan stage was subject to censorship, authors who see him as pro-royalty or anti-royalty are more or less hampered by Wish Fulfilment since Shakespeare likely didn't really have a choice in the subject matter of most of his works. His history plays and subjects were already done by multiple playwrights and leading lights of the day and his Richard III was based on work done by Sir Thomas More.
  • Once Original, Now Common: This has happened to some of Shakespeare's works, since a lot of people are familiar with the works inspired by his own (or even quotes) that the plays come off as rather run of the mill.
  • Sacred Cow: Shakespeare is so widely and historically acclaimed that "doesn't like Shakespeare" is essentially a byword in the English-speaking world for a person who has no taste (or, more generously, simply doesn't understand Shakespeare due to the Bard's works being conveyed by a poor teacher).