Emily and I went to see Shakespeare on the Commons last week. Every year, folks can see the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company perform on the Commons free of charge. This year, they performed one of Shakespeare’s comedies, “All’s Well That Ends Well”. I didn’t know the first thing about it before we went, but, after a quick Google search, it turns out no-one else is either.
There were the usual shenanigans; people in disguise, puns and innuendo in huge dollops. The performers were great and it was a show I would have happily paid for. After a while, I realized I was laughing at jokes that were hundreds of years old and that there’s something incredible about that.
Getting people to laugh is one of the more difficult things a writer can do. Trying to hit those notes for a broad audience is tricky and it’s always hard to translate humor into different mediums. And humor doesn’t even travel across decades that well. Styles change, subject matter changes, what’s appropriate changes; dozens of different things that can affect how a joke lands.
And yet, here’s a guy who wrote jokes four hundred years ago and people can still get them and still laugh at them. To me, that’s far more impressive than his dramas and tragedies still working on a visceral level. It’s easy to make people cry; a murder, a lost love, a couple of deaths sprinkled into the ending. But it takes a hell of a lot more to get them to laugh and to keep them laughing for a couple of centuries.