Marissa Skudlarek is not afraid to say “Macbeth” as many times as she’s worried she might have to see it.
“Do we really need another Macbeth right now?” Jason Zinoman wrote in last Sunday’s New York Times. “A new revival, this one starring Ethan Hawke, opened on Nov. 21, four months after the previous Broadway production, starring Alan Cumming, closed. If you fail to see Mr. Hawke reveal what life, which as we know is full of sound and fury, signifies, not to worry: Kenneth Branagh will fill you in next spring, when he brings his production of Macbeth to New York.”
And that’s not counting Patrick Stewart’s Broadway Macbeth from 2008, or Kelsey Grammer’s from 2000, or the Macbeth film that’s currently in production starring Michael Fassbender. Or the ultra-hip, Macbeth-riffing theater piece Sleep No More. Closer to home, there were two Macbeth productions in the Presidio in September of this year (SF Shakespeare Festival and We Players). While actual statistics are hard to come by, it wouldn’t surprise me if Macbeth were Shakespeare’s most frequently-produced tragedy in the 21st century. And I’m pretty sure that it’s the Shakespeare play I’ve seen most frequently (even though it’s not actually one of my favorites).
So what accounts for the play’s massive popularity? Some people will point out that it’s Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, and therefore suited to a short-attention-span modern audience. Others will argue that any play that features witches, apparitions, madness, and a big swordfight in the last scene is bound to be popular. (But Hamlet has all of those things except witches, and it isn’t produced nearly so often.) Others will propose that Macbeth’s “timeless themes” – ambition, corruption, guilt – explain its continued renown. But are its themes really more timeless, more worth hearing, than those of Shakespeare’s other great plays?
Instead, I want to propose a clean, practical explanation. Zinoman writes that “simple old-fashioned star power” lies behind many recent Shakespeare revivals: “The great Shakespeare roles still have the most cultural cachet for actors, who get taken more seriously and, in many cases, are energized by performing the parts they read or tackled in school.”
And what are the “great Shakespeare roles”? Conventional wisdom has it that Shakespeare’s tragedies are “greater” than his comedies and that, of his dozen or so tragedies, four stand out above the rest: Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth. So let’s examine the heroes of those four tragedies, and what characteristics an actor must have to portray them.
Hamlet’s age is a matter of some debate, but he’s clearly a young man, a student at the University of Wittenberg. He must appear young enough, untried enough, for it not to seem weird that the Danes have allowed Claudius to take the throne, rather than crowning Hamlet. People often talk about the difficulty of finding the right actor for the role: by the time you have the technique to tackle such a massive part, you look too old to do it. While it is rare for a man who’s literally college-aged to play Hamlet these days, it’s still a young man’s game. My sense is that once you get to be about 35, you’re too old to play Hamlet.
Meanwhile, King Lear is an old man: a white-haired king, giving up his throne and going senile. The text specifies that Lear is over eighty (“four score and upward”) but again, it can be difficult to imagine a real eighty-year-old with the stamina to tackle this massive role, not to mention the strength to carry Cordelia’s corpse onstage in the last scene. A too-youthful Lear, though, is equally ridiculous. Let’s say that, generally speaking, the role should be played by a man who’s at least 65.
Then we come to Othello. He’s middle-aged: a powerful general who has seen much adventure and is considerably older than his young bride Desdemona, but is still in the vigorous prime of life. And – oh, yeah – he’s black. Thankfully, our theater no longer finds it acceptable for actors of other races to put on blackface to play Othello; but what this means is that only a subset of actors can put this role on their wish list.
So what do you do if you want to play a great Shakespearean tragic hero, but you’re not old, not young, and not black? You play Macbeth. And who has the most power in the Anglo-American theater? What stars tend to be the biggest box-office draws? Middle-aged white men.
Michael Fassbender is 36; Ethan Hawke is 43; Alan Cumming is 48; Kenneth Branagh is 53. Of the four “great” Shakespearean heroes, Macbeth is the only one they can play, the only one that’s open to them at this stage in their lives. The window for playing Hamlet or Lear is narrow; Macbeth could be any age from 35 to 65. Certainly, there are other excellent Shakespearean roles for men in this age range – Richard III, say, or Brutus – but those plays don’t quite have the cultural cachet, or box-office appeal, of the Hamlet-Lear-Othello-Macbeth quartet.
And why are those considered Shakespeare’s four greatest plays, anyway? Why do we privilege tragedy over comedy? Could it be (at least in part) because tragedy is a more “masculine” genre, but Shakespeare’s greatest comedies tend to be female-dominated? Rosalind and Beatrice and Viola are amazing roles – yet we somehow consider it a far more daunting, courageous task for a young actor to play Hamlet than for a young actress to play Rosalind. People ooh and aah over Mark Rylance’s portrayal of Olivia in the all-male Twelfth Night that’s currently on Broadway; people never gush about female Olivias in the same way.
Our theater continues to privilege middle-aged white men over women and minorities; tragedy over comedy; Shakespeare over all other dramatists; familiarity over risk. That is the reason that Macbeth continues to haunt our stages. That is the play’s real curse.
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She’s still a little irritated that she didn’t get cast as Witch #2 in her high-school production of Macbeth. For more about Marissa, check out marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.
Excellent post Marissa!
Macbeth is definitely the Shakespeare show I’ve seen most often, and I think it’s become one of my favorites as a result (my heart and mind belong to King Lear). Your breakdown/analysis of the Four Great Tragedies is spot-on. Macbeth hits that sweet spot in demographics. It seems so obvious when you lay it out like that. This whole essay is blowing my mind all over the place, Marissa.
(I would like to see more Richard III‘s, though. Stop doing Macbeth and start doing Richard III all the time instead. I’ve never seen that one onstage [I curse myself for missing the Kevin Spacey version], but I love the McKellen movie.)
Muchas gracias — and thanks for tweeting the link, too!
Stuart here: I just want to say, for the record, that I played MACBETH when I was 22, and one of the things the director and I talked about a lot is that Macbeth is probably actually much younger than he’s usually played, and evidence for this abounds throughout the text. So, while it is true that middle-aged white men are frequently cast in the role, there is nothing requiring that. Which actually makes what your saying even more interesting to think about (i.e. why do middle-aged white men more or less dominate the role in the public imagination and when did that trend take hold?).
Also, while I agree with your points GENERALLY, I will say that no play by Shakespeare is as frequently performed as A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, and the comedies in general are more produced than the tragedies, if we are to factor in high school and college productions, community theaters, etc. The Big Four may get more high profile professional productions, but the comedies still have larger audiences and more collective stage time as they are just easier to do and, as you point out, have more roles for women.
That said, a number of Shakespeare’s more beloved female characters are in the tragedies and while the leads in the Big Four are all men, I would wager the ROMEO AND JULIET is actually more frequently produced than OTHELLO or LEAR and Juliet is definitely a star-making role, almost the classic “debut” role for a young actress. Though she’s nowhere near as large or well-written a role, Ophelia is certainly a highly coveted part amongst young actresses (don’t ask me why… I find her sort of dull). Lady Macbeth offers just as much appeal as Macbeth does to women looking to play a career defining role and it frequently marks an actress’s arrival amongst the “grande dames”. Though not produced as often, ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA is basically only done when you have an actress who can carry that character, and Cleo is considered the equivalent of Hamlet in this regards (i.e. the level of star power and talent required) and has certainly made a number of stars over the years, most notably Helen Mirren, who leveraged that role in the West End into a more prominent film and stage career. Seven years ago, Rebecca Hall did the same with Rosalind in a touring production of AS YOU LIKE IT (which I saw, and greatly enjoyed), so while it is true that we don’t see the actresses of the world using Shakespeare to advance careers as frequently as the men, it does, in fact, happen.
It’s also important to point out that revivals in the musical theater are almost always about diva turns and have a similar tendency to come back again and again (GYPSY, HELLO DOLLY, THE WIZARD OF OZ, ANYTHING GOES, MAME, GIGI, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, FUNNY GIRL, SWEET CHARITY, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, etc.), always with a star at the helm when done on the professional level. The only frequently produced musicals I can think of where the definitive lead isn’t female are THE MUSIC MAN, GUYS AND DOLLS and BYE BYE BIRDIE (and the lead of the latter is technically Rosie, but no single character in that show has much cache). GREASE, which is constantly produced, has a pair of leads (like the equally popular WEST SIDE STORY), one male and one female, but the best known and loved character (and again, where they stick the star) is Rizzo. LES MISERABLES, the most successful musical of all time, has two male leads, yes, but let’s be honest: Eponine and Fantine are the show-stealing roles and the former makes stars while the later confirms them. The most frequent revivals in the classical theater world are almost also, always, female centric: MEDEA, ANTIGONE, TROJAN WOMEN, ELECTRA, LYSISTRATA, all of which have a cache that, say ION and PHILOCETES do not, and all of which have at various times either launched or cemented the star status of actresses like Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Katherine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Olympia Dukakis, Diana Rigg, Zoe Caldwell, etc. The most frequently produced play by Racine is PHAEDRA and the most frequently produced play by Ibsen is A DOLL’S HOUSE- both plays where the lead and most coveted role is female and where the cast requires more women than men to boot. The only major Moliere revival in recent memory was THE MISANTHROPE in the East Village, where the role cast with a major star (Uma Thurman) was Celemine, not Alceste. None of which is to say that there isn’t a problem with opportunities for actresses in the modern theater world, because there absolutely is, but it’s worth pointing out that in some sections of the theater world, women actually do have a leg up, and even in quarters not frequently associated with actress power, certain actresses have had triumphs or made lasting impressions on par with their male colleagues.
Thanks for your comment, Stuart. I had never considered that Macbeth might actually be younger than middle-aged — I always thought that he, like Othello, was a seasoned warrior in the prime of life, which to me implies middle age. What’s the textual evidence that you and your director found to suggest that he’s a young man?
And, agreed, the role does not “require” a middle-aged white man. I didn’t have room for this in the essay (and it also undermines my argument a bit) but many of the Macbeths I’ve seen fell outside that demographic category. I’ve seen a middle-aged black man in the role at Ashland, the 68-year-old Patrick Stewart in NYC, a 22-year-old redheaded woman in my college’s all-female MACBETH and an 18-year-old white guy in my high school production. But I do remember stuff being written at the time questioning whether Stewart was too old for the role; and of course a female Macbeth is never going to be mainstream or the “norm.” Meanwhile, Macbeth seems to have become THE role for middle-aged white men to play (even though there are lots of other terrific roles that they could essay instead, if they were willing to do lesser-known plays!)
Yes, Juliet and Cleopatra are terrific roles for actresses and they have a lot of prestige associated with them… but if we can all agree that they’re the best tragic roles Shakespeare ever wrote for women, why don’t the plays they star in get counted as as “major tragedies”? (And yeah, if we’re talking most-frequently produced tragedies in the 21st century, I’d have a hard time judging whether MACBETH or R&J actually has more productions. Two R&Js in NYC this fall, Calshakes’ production this summer, the film version that came out this year…)
And yes, totally agree with your last paragraph about how women have a leg up in certain genres that are not Shakespearean tragedy (musical comedy, Greek tragedy, Ibsen…), as well as your general sentiment of “yes, women still have it bad in a lot of ways, but let’s not go overboard and make it seem like BEING FEMALE SUCKS IN EVERY RESPECT.” But that’s outside the scope of this essay.
And I would also add FIDDLER ON THE ROOF to your short list of “frequently produced musicals where the lead character is a dude.”
The evidence for Macbeth as younger is that 1) he is “up and coming” as opposed to established, his reputation is literally just taking off as the play begins, and his personality, inability to handle that sudden attention with grace and a grain of salt, indicates a younger, less experienced person where it counts; 2) he and Lady have a very passionate, almost newly wed relationship; 3) they don’t have a family yet, and what reference is made to a child can be read as a newborn who died, implying she was recently pregnant, and more importantly that she can still get pregnant, putting more pressure on them both to try to keep the throne safe for their heirs as opposed to Banquo’s; 4) it’s implied in a number of places that MacDuff is somewhat older than Macbeth, but he still has very young children, so clearly MacDuff is not as old as Duncan, who has grown sons (at least teenage); 5) Banquo, who is probably the closest to Macbeth in age, also has a very young son, younger than MacDuff’s son based on the amount of dialogue he speaks, implying he’s probably in his late 20’s based on when men at the time would have most likely married and begun families. All this is open for interpretation, of course, but the point is, it is open, allowing wide variety in casting of Macbeth (it’s just interesting that Macbeth is so often cast one way).
As for Romeo and Juliet… well… academics don’t consider it one of the Big Four because it’s obviously an earlier play, has some structural issues (the final act in particular) and is just in general a less refined work than the other four… but the public would probably rank Romeo and Juliet higher than King Lear or Othello… certainly it has more name recognition. So I sort of throw back at you that what qualifies the “major tragedies” has a lot more to do with the writing, plot structure, character arcs, etc. than it does with whether or not there are prominent roles for women- though it should be pointed out that all four of the Major Tragedies DO have excellent women’s roles, the are just aren’t the leads, but I would never knock Gertrude, Emillia, Desdemona, Regina and Lady M. These are killer parts. ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA is often awarded a kind of special place/honorable mention in the canon, like LOVE’S LABORS LOST, and I have seen many writers make a case for A & C to be included the Major Tragedies (Harold Bloom does in his book). I think it’s also worth noting that several of Shakespeare’s most complex leading women- Portia, Helena and Isabella- show up in “problem” plays, all three of which (MERCHANT OF VENICE, ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, MEASURE FOR MEASURE) have had a massive revival of interest in the last fifty years. Will productions of them ever rival the number of productions of the Major Tragedies? Probably not, but it does broaden the number of opportunities for women in classical theater if those plays catch on. And CYMBELINE, featuring the wonderful role of Imogen, is about to be released as a film.
And while it is somewhat outside the scope of the essay to point out that women dominate musical comedy and Greek tragedy (to name a few), I do think it’s important when talking about theater as a whole to include these genres, especially musical theater, which accounts for so much of today’s live theater scene on stages big and small. It creates a bigger picture and broader context for your central point, which I still think remains valid. As you and I recently discussed, one of the things I found rather irritating about PETER AND THE STAR CATCHER was the limited roles (3) for women, two of whom were played by a man in drag though none of the male roles would similarly cross-cast. Mainstream theater, outside of musical theater, is still definitely a boy’s club.
And I totally forgot FIDDLER cause I hate that show. Technically, we should throw JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in there too, but I’d come back and say the new musicals that everyone seems to be doing these days are NEXT TO NORMAL, LEGALLY BLONDE, CARRIE and HAIRSPRAY, all of which are heavy on the female leads (though in the last case, one of those is played by a man- rather unfortunately, in my opinion).
Wow! Great post!
Interestingly, the situation is acutely different in operatic treatments of Shakespeare’s tragedies. In Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet (1868) Ophelia’s mad scene is the great showpiece and requires one hell of a talented soprano to pull it off. Here’s Natalie Dessay in spectacular form:
Aribert Reiman’s adaptation of Lear (1978) was performed by the San Francisco Opera and got a very mixed reception. Here are Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Lear) and Julia Varady (Cordelia) in the production created by the Bavarian State Opera
Verdi’s Otello (1887) is one of the most difficult roles in the tenor repertoire and is usually performed in blackface.
Verdi’s Macbeth (1847) often presents greater difficulty in the casting of Lady Macbeth because of the vocal demands on the soprano. Here are two excerpts:
http://youtu.be/npeBP7CPmZA (With Mara ZampierI)
http://youtu.be/tP59Ox8MdQ4 (with Sylvia Sass)
And let’s not forget that Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet onstage in London in 1899. Here’s footage from that production.
I LOVE Natalie Dessay! Thank you!
Thanks for the post, Marissa! A few random thoughts:
Regarding the age of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, I recommend Roman Polanski’s film version as a great illustration of how well the story works with younger actors in those parts (Jon Finch and Francesca Annis were in their 20’s).
Regarding the question of why we privilege tragedy (or drama in general) over comedy; as a former stand up comic and current sketch comedy writer, I can attest that many Americans simply do not consider the comedy genre as legitimate “Art”. Could it be because of our country’s Purtanical roots, which makes us feel guilty for any art that is actually enjoyable, and not just “good for you”? (If you want stats, the last time a comedy film won the Best Picture oscar was way back in 1977, and this is just one of many examples).
Even though All Things Shakespeare are safely considered Art, it should be no surprise that within our culture his comedies would be relegated to a second class citizen status within his canon. Another reason Shakespeare’s comedies may not be performed as often is that lay people have more of a challenge following the stories due to the language. As a rule, the tragedies have their dialogue supplemented with more action that acts as visual clues (no matter how complicated the language is, once a sword is drawn, the whole audience knows who is pissed off!). This theory of mine is supported by Stuart’s observation that Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably the most produced of Shakespeare’s plays; I’d say it is also his most visual.
Stuart Here: Christian, thanks for bringing up the Polanski film! It’s true, he goes with a younger Lord and Lady MacBeth too!
However, I will take issue with some of what you’re saying, namely that the Shakespeare comedies are less performed than the tragedies- on the contrary they are performed FAR MORE OFTEN, for exactly what you say: the language is usually easier. MIDSUMMER is as high comedy as the comedies get, and I’d wager that MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR and TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA are probably all in the top ten plays by Shakespeare produced every year.
As for Puritanical roots being the reason we don’t think of comedy as art, I take issue with that statement for a variety of reasons. The first is that the Puritans were pretty much against the dramatic arts period- comedy or tragedy. They had no love for KING LEAR any more than MIDSUMMER, and this had more to do with the belief that play-acting, pretending and impersonating other people were all ways to invite the devil in. Acting was a sin, like dancing, and it didn’t matter if the story you were acting in was moral or not, funny or sad. It was all bad. Additionally, the tradition of tragedy having more artistic cred is as old as Ancient Greece, where tragedy was considered the more refined and challenging form to master, and was believed to evoke a deeper catharsis from the audience. That said, both comedy and tragedy had their own muse, so the Greek certainly took both seriously, as have most cultures in the west, but I would suggest that high comedy is actually harder to do than high tragedy, and as a result when we talk comedy we’re usually talking “low” comedy of the slapstic variety (as opposed to farce, absurdism, satire), usually played to the widest audience possible, but often at the sacrifice of artistic value, and thus usually overlooked as an artform in much the same way melodrama, which is essentially low tragedy, has traditionally been overlooked. Not saying either doesn’t have their own value, they do, but that it’s not as simple as society believing that what’s enjoyable can’t also be good- especially as many people (including me) greatly enjoy tragedy.
Also, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE won Best Picture in recent memory, and I’d call that a comedy. 🙂
Stuart, apparently, some things I didn’t explain well, and on others I flat out got the facts wrong…
Regarding the Oscars: Oops! You are right, Stuart. I totally missed Sharespeare In Love, which is clearly a comedy! However despite my error, it is worth noting that your correction brings the grand total of Best Picture comedies since the 70’s up to… two.(And yes, I realize American Beauty is a dark comedy, but I feel it blurrs the genre lines enough to not be relevant to this discussion). So if I am not mistaken, in the whole history of the Oscars, less than ten comedies have won Best Picture; still seems pretty dismal.
Regarding my claim that Shakespeare’s tragedies are produced more often than his comedies in the USA, when in fact the reverse is true… another Oops! I admit I didn’t really research that. I was basing my theory on anecdotal evidence; most casual theatergoers I’ve spoken to seem to prefer the tragedies to the comedies because, as one friend put it, “you can understand what’s going on”.
As to my loaded use of “puritanical” as an adjective, I stand behind it. I realize that the actual historical Puritans with the funny hats and frowns were against art (or anything else that caused laughter, erections, etc.). I agree that they made no distinction between comedy and drama. However, I feel that there is a general cultural residue left over from them in this country (just as State-sanctioned slavery, though now extinct, has left a residue of racism). This is especially noticeable in the way we view art (and our school systems reinforce this). Basically, the Puritans felt that anything of genuine value came only from hard work and, preferably, suffering. This has resulted in Americans only taking art seriously that is difficult to understand, much less enjoy. In our youth, we all had at least one soulless teacher who just told us novels and plays were “good for us”, without trying to inspire us with how much fun they can be. Doris Lessing complained that, while British publishers praised her succinct writing style, their American counterparts often told her that if her books were longer, they would be more difficult to get through, and therefore American readers “would take them more seriously”. The Marx Brothers were labeled as crass escapism in their native land as the Europeans praised them as genuine American artists. I know we no longer put people in stockades for sneaking a peak at any book besides the Bible. But I feel that every time a college writing instructor apologizes for using a script sample from a popular mainstream Hollywood movie, or your coworker sheepishly apologizes for watching that “brain-dead” TV show, there’s the ghost of a Puritan floating in the corner, nodding in approval.
Stuart, thanks for the textual evidence supporting a younger Macbeth, and Christian, thanks for the movie recommendation. I still don’t think “Macbeth” suffers when the title role is played by a guy in his mid-40s rather than his early 30s (in fact I like it when Macbeth and Macduff appear to be about the same age in the climactic swordfight) but you’ve convinced me that the play can also work when Macbeth is not played by a “middle-aged” actor. There’s also the question of whether we should cast the play to reflect the actual circumstances of medieval Scotland (in which people married younger and died younger than we do now) or to reflect modern circumstances and lifespans.
Re: recent comedies that have won the Best Picture Oscar, I agree that SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE counts (despite its poignant ending), and would also mention CHICAGO and THE ARTIST. Sure, CHICAGO is a dark and cynical comedy rather than a lighthearted one; and THE ARTIST blends comedy with melodrama (like the silent Charlie Chaplin comedies it pays tribute to). But they are both very far from being dramas. What’s interesting, though, is that all three of these winners are set in the past, are very stylized, and are explicitly “about” showbiz. Which suggests that we are still reluctant to award or recognize comedies that don’t have some kind of “hook” or “reason” for being funny. ANNIE HALL seems to be the only contemporary, non-historic, non-showbiz comedy to have won Best Picture in a very long time.
I would also dispute the idea that American Puritanism is 100% of the reason for our distrust of comedy, just because privileging tragedy over comedy seems inherent to most societies that have a theater-going tradition, not just America. Even in Japan, the tragic Noh theater is seen as more refined and privileged than the looser and more comic Kabuki.
Marissa, you bring up a lot of interesting issues regarding the definition of the comedy genre. For my money, I would not count CHICAGO, THE ARTIST, or (as I noted before) AMERICAN BEAUTY as comedies.
To me, if you have to debate whether or not a film is a comedy, it ain’t a frigging comedy. You and I can go back and forth debating whether or not CHICAGO or THE ARTIST are comedies… but we cannot do that with ANNIE HALL, because that would look idiotic. We might as well have a heated debate over whether or not The Three Stodges’ A PLUMBING WE WILL GO was a comedy.
What do The Three Stodges’ film and the Woody Allen film have in common? The primary goal of both movies is to make people laugh. Yes, the primary goal of A PLUMBING WE WILL GO is also its only goal; and yes, ANNIE HALL has a lot more going for it than just yucks. But no audience member who has ever watched ANNIE HALL would doubt it’s a comedy; the ones who don’t like it would simply label it a “bad comedy”.
The thing is, almost all dramas make use of comedy, dark or otherwise. As you observed, Marissa, the historical SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, the musical CHICAGO and retro-silent film THE ARTIST all have “hooks” that make them more arty and self-aware. But although they all use humor quite extensively, only the former focusses on comedy as its driving force, its reason for existing. And I don’t see how you consider the latter two films “both very far from being dramas”… I will only concede that they are reasonably far from traditional hand-wringing Oscar-winning dramas. (If you want to see what I consider the difference between a drama filled with dark comedy and a comedy filled with dark comedy, I would suggest a Netflix double-bill of CHICAGO and DR. STRANGELOVE).
I guess you could argue a lot of this is subjective. After all, as the couch potato at the LA party in ANNIE HALL wisely observed, GRAND ILLUSION is a great comedy… if you’re high.
Also Marissa, I did not mean to suggest that our Puritan roots were “100% percent” responsible for Americans’ collective disrespect for comedy, just a key factor (though in hindsight I admit that my poor phrasing may have implied that). And your observations of Japanese theater is but one example that lends strong support to the premise that us yanks are not alone in considering comedy a “lesser art”!