Larry David, a Contemporary Shakespeare

By René Parks

        Larry David is one of the most popular and prolific comedy writers in recent times. David wrote situation comedies Seinfeld and Curb your Enthusiasm, as well as movies such as, Whatever Works, Sour Grapes, and Clear History among many others. David was one of several writers and producers of the Seinfeld show, he wrote twenty-six episodes including the series finale and wrote collaboratively on many more episodes. David has made an indelible mark on popular culture and will no doubt continue to impact society as he expands the modern lexicon and explores the boundaries of human relationships and social norms. The refining influence of David’s writing can be positively and justifiably compared to that of William Shakespeare.

        The writing of both David and Shakespeare reflects innovations in language. It is widely known that the phraseology introduced by Shakespeare through his plays has been circulated and absorbed into the lexicon and endures today. Phrases such as “as luck would have it”, “brave new world” and “forgone conclusion” and many more can be attributed to Shakespeare’ s playwriting. Similarly, David has introduced a number of phrases and differentiated meanings to modern American English. In the 1990’s, Friday morning gatherings at the office water cooler assuredly included discussions of what happened on Seinfeld the evening before. This is where phrases such as “master of my domain” and “puffy shirt” were injected into our modern lexicon. The phrase “I think it moved” took on a whole new comic meaning when the episode with George and the male masseuse aired, the meaning implied in the word “it” is generally understood. The writing in Curb your Enthusiasm has also contributed much to the modern lexicon with phrases like “verbal texting” in the LOL episode.

        Commonalities in the writing styles of David and Shakespeare are apparent. Shakespeare uses the technique of the play within the play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Taming of the Shrew. David employs the same literary device when he writes the episodes in which Jerry and George pitch an idea for a show about nothing to NBC. The show is to be based on the every day lives of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. The Seinfeld story line goes as far as casting the roles of the four central actors, which causes the original characters turmoil as they see themselves from an outside perspective. Additionally, both writers utilize a form of chorus to communicate main ideas to their audience. Shakespeare used the chorus technique at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. Seinfeld episodes open with a brief stand up comedy act introducing the show’s topic.

        Likewise, there are shared themes in the writings of David and Shakespeare. Shakespeare explores human nature and ethical behavior in plays such as The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. David explores these themes throughout his writing and David certainly impacts the mores of his audience by stating the obvious, if not taboo. The episode that centers its plot on “the contest” for example between characters Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine. The contest is to see who can go the longest without masturbating. The hilarious impact of the contest is the eventual lack of stamina by all participants as they fall one by one, victims to the contest. Further explorations of ethical behavior are evident in the Seinfeld series finale. The series finale plot hinges on the outcome of the courtroom trial of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer who are on trial for violation of the Good Samaritan law. The trial is plagued by the seemingly endless parade of character witnesses appearing to testify against the foursome.

        There is an undeniable homogeneity between the writing of Shakespeare and David. This continuity stems from the curious minds of creative men and their explorations of human nature, social norms and cultural expectations. The writing of David capitalizes on the idea that the nature of people is imperfect and selfish. John Keats once wrote that Shakespeare possessed “negative capability.” According to Keats, he was “a man who can be in the uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Shakespeare’ s writing radiates with Keats’ sentiments, and so does Larry David’s. David does not strive to make sense of human nature, but rather lovingly pokes fun at it by presenting to the audience the wry ironies that exist in life.