Spiderman is like Shakespeare? Someone really said that?

Mensa candidate Andrew Garfield had this to say upon being cast as Spiderman in the latest example of how Hollywood can’t seem to get a movie right:

“I think the material is elevated, and it’s just as meaningful and just as important as Shakespeare.”

I appreciate the desire to give comics some credibility, and arguably they are a part of modern culture (though if we’re going to talk about cultural archetypes I’d lean more towards Superman than Spiderman). But Shakespeare? Really? When you’re doing little more than starring in a movie about Facebook, and now moving on to a reboot of a movie that’s only, what, less than 10 years old?

3 thoughts on “Spiderman is like Shakespeare? Someone really said that?

  1. Oh Duane, I think you're being a little disingenuous here. Take Romeo and Juliet for instance; starts off as Brooke's Romeus and Juliet in 1562, along comes Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1582, then ten years later, Will's writing his version. We know he almost certainly set out to please crowds and make money, with thoughts of creating high art presumably a distant third. So I'm with Garfield here. The only problem I have with what he's saying is the implication that Shakespeare is elevated above all other artforms ever. Sure, he's amazing, but can we guarantee he wouldn't be equivalent to Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams if he were around today?

  2. Garfield didn't say that Spiderman was like Shakespeare because Shakespeare rebooted other people's stories. That, I couldn't really argue against. He said elevated, meaningful and just as important as Shakespeare. And he wasn't speaking of Shakespeare as a new playwright back on the 1590's scene, he was speaking about how we consider Shakespeare today. Rebooting an 8 year old movie about a comic book hero is just as important as King Lear. I still don't buy it.

  3. It's hard to judge without knowing the exact context of the quotation, but I'd like to offer a qualified defense of Garfield's comment.

    Spider-Man, like some of the other Marvel heroes created by Stan Lee in the Silver Age, was a new breed of superhero. For the first time, a comic book hero was portrayed with human challenges and foibles. Spider-Man's day-to-day struggles and fantastic powers made stories about him both relatable and exciting. He became an iconic character who captured the imagination of generations of readers and profoundly influenced the comics industry (and then, the movie industry).

    It may be hyperbolic to compare Spider-Man stories to Shakespeare, but I think we can agree that characters from both have entered the pantheon of popular culture. Thanks to the previous movie series, "Spider-Man" and "Uncle Ben" are instantly recognizable allusions, like "Hamlet" and "The Ghost of Hamlet's Father." So much as each production of a Shakespeare play has to grapple with famous production choices of the past, a re-booted Spider-Man franchise will need to be aware of how it's reception will be influenced by the original cinematic adaptations.

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