Love Island: Trash, or 21st century Shakespeare?

It’s like putting the Bard in a bikini

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Love Island gets a lot of hate. A lot. The majority of it from crusty middle-aged men who are frankly bitter that they don’t look like the guys and can’t pull the girls.

The type of person to needlessly and repeatedly shit on Love Island is usually pompous, elitist – a self-proclaimed ‘intellectual’ who sees themselves as above the petty matters of reality television. There are those that just don’t like it, simple as, of course. And fair enough.

But there are those who stick their noses up, turning positively Victorian at the mere thought of two young people "cracking on" on the telly. Those who titter and shake their heads and say vague things like "what has the world come to", and "this country’s gone to the dogs", as if it is impossible to believe that a nation which produced The Beatles, Chaucer, and Shakespeare has degenerated into churning out thinly veiled soft porn which, somehow, is the very pinnacle of our artistic and cultural efforts. Love Island, like it or not, is emblematic of our current zeitgeist.

But English culture hasn’t reached its nadir quite yet. Love Island isn’t really the shallow fuck-fest it’s made out to be. Though they’re on telly and don’t seem quite real, distanced by a screen and heavy editing, we cheer for our beloved characters when they succeed in joining the "Do Bits Society", and boo whenever someone gets "mugged off’ or "pied". Or maybe we laugh. Or even cry. The point is – it’s human nature held up for scrutiny, and it’s entertaining and moving in equal parts.

Sound familiar? Because with barrier-breaking language, characters that we love to hate and a constant struggle towards a happy ending, Love Island isn’t all too different from a Shakespeare play.

We have antiheroes that we learn to understand in characters such as Adam. We have an oddball, Caliban-esque character in Alex (seriously, what was he doing there? Is he even human to reject Alexandra?) We witness a classic cuckold figure in Wes (briefly) or a woman scorned in Georgia. And as her meltdown at the beach club, purposeful mispronunciation of Kaz’s name, and frankly comical and passive-aggressive catchphrase (“I’m loyal babes”) proves, hell really hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Megan presents us with a sort of temptress figure – beautiful and sly, but in true Shakespearean fashion, she becomes so much more than that. Think Lady Macbeth kitted out in Missguided garb. And just as we booed when she wooed Wes away from Laura, in Laura we found a hopeful sub-plot as she found her dashing prince third time lucky. Her rollercoaster journey drew in Ofcom complaints – not exactly an issue for the Bard – but we were still on the edges of our seats to see how things panned out for her. A bit like Helena finally getting Demetrius. It’s cathartic to watch when it goes right.

We even found a comedic band of merry men in New Jack, Wes, and Josh. Think jesters, clowns, tricksters. Feste. Puck. Trinculo. Whether they were starring in a Yorkshire soap of their own making, or sitting slumped on bean bags for a DBS meeting – these lighter moments of comic relief provided a welcome break from some of the more jarring, intense moments of the series. Not unlike Shakespeare’s meticulous plot structures, breaking up the drama with mirth and vice versa.

Then we get our longed-for happy ending. There’s your virginal (literally – Dani and Jack remained staunch non-members of the Do Bits Society) bride in Dani and your dashing hero in Jack. Offscreen and omniscient, Danny Dyer becomes a sort of helpless Prospero figure as he watches his daughter fall in love, quite out of his control.

It’s not just about the characters in which we get massively emotionally invested. Love Island’s location on a remote, glamorous island – somewhere markedly NOT England – mirrors Shakespeare’s exotic settings. Their language mimics the Bard’s playfulness in making up words when English failed him. The engineered ‘coincidences’ – such as Jack’s ex rocking up in Casa Amor – are plot catalysts just like Romeo happening upon a party at Juliet’s house. The similarities are stark, once you look for them.

Perhaps it’s no surprise Love Island is so polarising, divisive, and controversial. Shakespeare was too. And why? One thing the reality show and the Bard have in common is that they hold up mirrors for society and ourselves – and the truth is, sometimes we don’t like the ugly reflection staring back at us.