30 Days of Balance #8: Two Levels: Shakespeare vs. The Simpsons

I have a theory that to be truly great a work of art has to hit on at least two levels – that it has to be able to excel with two separate demographics simultaneously. You cannot just draw from one source for too long or the well runs dry. I came to this conclusion while studying Shakespeare during an American Literacy course over a decade ago.

The premise is so: in the 14th and 15th centuries Shakespeare gained great notoriety for the plays performed in London, most notably at the Globe theater. The design of the Globe separated the audience into two distinct parts: the first were the wealthy, sitting in gilded chairs in front of fancy curtains. They filled most of what we would call the balcony and surrounding walls. The second part was the main floor in front of the stage, which more closely resembled a mosh pit than the orderly chair matrix we would find today. This design created a duality with regards to patronage. On any given performance, the gentry would be bumping shoulders with the commoners on their way to and fro, in line for the bathroom, etc. Back then even being within eyesight of a poor person was likely enough for a lady to faint, so you can imagine that such polar groups all shoved in together was quite a feat.

It only worked because of Shakespeare’s art. Most Shakespeare plays were brilliant in the witty repartee of the time, being inventive in their language and ushering in new terminology. They appealed to the educated in their complexity and vanity both. Most Shakespeare plays also featured baudy sexual humour, racy zingers and violent duels and deaths. They appealed to the masses who wanted a little break from the proprietary decrees of the time period. The content of the plays could be performed once and appeal to two entirely unique groups within the city. When the plays came across to America this sensation was made clear tenfold. The Americans treated them more like traveling circus shows than high art. That aspect was lost in translation (from English to English) but the Yanks loved a good dust up as much as the next state. Magic.

I realized this was mirrored in the brilliance of the modern day Shakespeare: The Simpsons (and dear reader please be mindful of the fact we were barely into the double digits with regards to which Simpsons era I was considering). Here we had a show that was clearly the most creative and hilarious thing on TV being made for an audience that mostly appreciated it when Homer fell down or was SMRT. All around the world The Simpsons became a commercial beast with smart alec Bart and dumb Homer as the lynch pins to the physical comedy, and every other aspect of the writing as the genius riding high on another plane. Harvard comedy writers knowing what would keep them on the air and keep them sane at the same time. Magic.

You might not be surprised to learn I really enjoyed MacHomer.

In fantasy I believe a good book tells a great story, but a great book tells multiple great stories to multiple types of audience. When people read Imbalance I want them to find the aspect of the work that best connects to what they seek in an escape. It could be the slower moments of introspection and manifest emotion. It could be the moments thick with desperate battle and unbridled violence. It could be the rings of history encompassing the present. It could be the depth of tragedy. It could be love. It could be the weaving of all five together.

If so, it could grow to be a novel that can hit on two levels.


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