Genre writers often get a bad rap. We are considered less sophisticated than literary folks: our plots are too predictable, our characters too simplistic, are scenes too often implausible.
But science fiction, mystery, and horror writing folks, take heart: Shakespeare was a genre writer! In fact, he wrote in three genres: tragedies, comedies, and histories. Each one of these types of plays were as predictable in their plots as is a contemporary mystery. And not only did he often use simplistic characters, he went so far as to use stock characters. The fool. Edmund the bastard. Iago the malignant. Cordelia the pure.
It's true that Shakespeare used devices that often prevented these stock characters from falling into stereotypes. For instance, in King Lear Edmund articulates why he is so nasty. It's the result of his being treated so badly because he is a bastard. (That said, we are still not to sympathize with him. Explanation is not an excuse, at least not in this instance.) Other examples include the "barbarian pagan" Caliban in The Tempest articulating the pain of being a racial other. And the stereotyped Jewish man, Shylock, in Merchant of Venice, has an equally compelling speech about being an other.
That said, these characters are all a mere one speech away from being merely stocks and stereotypes. Most good contemporary genre writers can do this as well.
What's more, Shakespeare's plots are as expectable as are a mystery's. Take a tragedy, for instance. It begins with an assertion of the power of the main character. By about the middle of the third act (I realize Shakespeare himself did not divide his plays into acts but there is a definite logic to those later editors who chose to do so) that character will be clearly doomed because of some blindness or fault on his part. Then we watch the painful machinations of his destruction.
This is a much more prescribed plot than we see in contemporary "literary" novels. Yet who is considered the ultimate literary figure in the Western world? One of these literary folk? Or the Renaissance playwright who is closer to a genre writer than a literary one?
Adding to this conclusion is the fact that Shakespeare was treated as a lowly genre writer during his time. "Players," the Renaissance name for all involved in the theater on any level, were considered on about the same social strata as present day carnival workers. In fact, the city fathers of London allowed no theaters, other than those indoor ones controlled by the aristocracy, within the city limits. Outdoor theaters were across the Thames, beyond the city limits, sharing an area with bordellos and bear-baiting pits.
In his own day Shakespeare was considered a hack. An extraordinally successful hack who made a fortune from his vocation, but a hack nonetheless.
About a decade after Shakespeare retired and a few years after his death playwrights began to get more respect. This led the members of Shakespeare's company to finally publish his plays in a single volume (fly-by-night pamphlet printings of his plays had been in existence for decades), probably in order to cash in on Shakespeare's posthumous reputation.
All this is to say that we genre writers need not fear: The greatest of Western writers was someone much like us. Is it too much to say that he would recognize more of himself in the strictures within which genre writers work than in the writing of celebrated "realistic" novelists?