I went to see the Play that Goes Wrong last night, which was brilliant, but got me to thinking about how much it owed to the long tradition of theatre. So much of its humour relies upon its audience knowing what should happen, so that we would find it funny when things didn’t go as expected.
And this is a completely different situation from the one in which Shakespeare found himself. Although there had been some tradition of dramatics (the Mystery Plays were certainly around in the 1300s), the first theatre was only built in London in 1576 – less than 20 years before Shakespeare started writing. His work was basically cutting-edge.
And how different the world would have been, if Shakespeare had been born a hundred years earlier, or a hundred years later. Would there have been someone else to carve out his place as the national poet “not of an age, but for all time”?