Many people are familiar with the writer and director Joss Whedon. And most of you have (hopefully) heard of poet and playwright William Shakespeare. He is widely considered the greatest writer in history. He is certainly widely studied in schools, and generally held as the paragon of not just theatre, but all written language. However, during his time, his work was for the masses. Poor and uneducated people paid one penny to come stand next to the stage and see his works performed. Although now, because of the differences in dialect between the English of our time and that of his writings, his works are associated with a highly educated class, and are certainly not considered mainstream entertainment, this was clearly not always the case.
As I was reading King Lear, a tragedy of misplaced faith and dramatic irony, I thought about how if this was considered essentially “pop culture” then and is now studied in Universities, then surely there’s a modern counterpart. It seems weird to think like this, but imagine high schoolers in 400 years dutifully opening a copy of a work from our century. It would likely seem as strange to them as Shakespeare does to us, yet they would continue to study it because of its value which transcends time period. Based on this, it is fun to think today about what works from today might fit that category. It is tempting to consider more “literary” works of today, but remember that Shakespeare was not considered “high-class” or “inaccessible” in his time.
Based on this, I have thought about Joss Whedon as a modern-day Shakespeare.
I have been a fan of a wide variety of his works ever since I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (obviously not the movie), a television show about a girl who fought vampires and demons alongside a group of loyal friends in a quiet, tranquil town. Since then, I have watched the shows Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, as well as the movies The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods. This is a very diverse group of works, but they are united by the amazing characters in all of them (The Avengers is a bit different, as he did not create those characters. Still, they came alive under his writing.) Take the character of Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example. Xander could simultaneously act as a comedic relief, a dramatic foil for Buffy, and a serious character in his own right. How many characters can boast that? Lear’s Fool comes to mind. Xander has no special powers, even as all his friends grow up and become powerful in their own way (no spoilers). His gallows and self-deprecating humor serves as a coping mechanism for his lack of confidence. He is the least involved in combat, so he sees everything, often able to call out the other characters for their bad decisions when they are too involved to be able to see themselves clearly. At the same time, his own character is able to come through – his bitterness, his lack of belief in himself, his sense of entitlement, and his growth into an adult. He is just one example. Many characters spanning across all of Joss Whedon’s works show similar depth.
This brings me to Joss Whedon’s adaption of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. This is one of my all-time favorite movies (although admittedly the fact that it has Amy Acker and Nathan Fillion in it is enough for me to like it no matter what), and I would seriously recommend it to anyone – the Library carries it. The way that Whedon was able to blend his own style with Shakespeare’s work convinced me of the similarities between the two artists. So that is my prediction – 400 years from now, the scripts to Whedon’s works will be dissected and analyzed by henpecked high schoolers. In the meantime, I would seriously recommend anything Whedon has done, especially Angel, Firefly, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – NOT THE MOVIE. But be warned, Buffy’s first season is… rather cheesy. It gets better later on.