Why writers have spent centuries attacking Shakepeare

Adam Kirsch in The New Republic:

MTE1ODA0OTcxNzgzMzkwNzMzDoes Shakespeare suck? Ira Glass, the host of the popular upper-middlebrow radio show “This American Life,” apparently thinks so; he tweeted as much after suffering through a performance of King Lear in Central Park. The backlash has been swift and severe, thus answering the question of whether there remain any literary taboos in the twenty-first century. Apparently, calling the Bard “not relatable” is still enough to get someone branded as a philistine.

I come not to praise Glass, certainly—I think he is a philistine—but also not totally to bury him. For there is always something admirable in speaking with complete honesty about one’s aesthetic reactions, even when those reactions are plainly wrong. Those who automatically praise Shakespeare because they know it is the right thing to say, or because they fear Glass-like ostracism if they say otherwise, may also be philistines—The kind that Nietzsche, in his Untimely Meditations, called the “culture-philistine,” who “fancies that he is himself a son of the muses and a man of culture,” but is actually incapable of a genuine encounter with art. The first rule of any such encounter is honesty: If you fail to find what you are looking for in a work of art, even King Lear, you must be willing to admit it. Then you can move on to the question of whether it is you or King Lear that is deficient.

The truth is that Glass could have summoned some pretty impressive names to testify in his defense. George Bernard Shaw famously hated Shakespeare, complaining that “Shakespeare’s weakness lies in his complete deficiency in the highest spheres of thought,” and offhandedly claiming “I have actually written much better [plays] than As You Like It.” Tolstoy, too, had a low opinion of Shakespeare: “Open Shakespeare … wherever you like, or wherever it may chance, you will see that you will never find ten consecutive lines which are comprehensible, unartificial, natural to the character that says them, and which produce an artistic impression.”

More here.