A reminder for today that supporting the idea that Oxford or Sir Francis Bacon or whoever wrote Shakespeare’s works is inherently classist and undermines the very essence of what makes Shakespeare great: the universality of his writing.
Shakespeare didn’t write to impress academics or to become reknown in literary circles, he wrote because he loved it and he loved acting and the theater, because he liked showing people up and he liked getting paid.
Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays where the main characters are noble, yes, but he wrote actors too — and teenage kids and poor grad students and nurses. His nobles aren’t memorable because they are grand but because anyone can relate to them, Hamlet’s not special to us because he’s a prince but because many of us can see our struggles in his thoughts and actions.
Do not let Oxfordians or Baconians take away what is special about Shakespeare: that he was an ordinary man writing plays not just for nobles or kings, for landowners or the highly educated elite but for ordinary people — for apprentices and butchers and merchant’s wives and maids. His company performed at court, but they also performed at the Globe, where you could get in for a penny if you didn’t mind standing in a crowd.
The Authorship Question isn’t really about discovering “who really wrote Shakespeare,” it’s about elitists being upset and confused and angry because the greatest works in the English language were written by the son of a well-off tradesman who never went to college.
I would also like to add that a lot of the Authorship Question also arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of early modern English culture. A lot of the records that we have for Shakespeare are business-oriented because those were the sorts of documents that were considered important. It’s not a fundamental disconnect from the solitary genius baring his soul though poetry (an idea that emerged via 19th century Romantics— before Wordsworth, sonnets were not considered to be confessional in nature). It’s just a matter of what archives were important to early modern people.
There’s not an absence of evidence, there’s an absence of archive, based on what Shakespeare’s contemporaries thought was important to preserve. We know about as much about Shakespeare’s life as we know about other Elizabethan playwrights. (This podcast offers more poof of this. The lecturer wrote for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and mentions that only seven lost years for an early modern subject was considered remarkably good going.) It’s only because Shakespeare was glommed onto as a secular Jesus in the 18th and 19th century (and the rise of biography as a genre starting with I think Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson) that knowing more about his life became an obsession, to the point where there were famous forgers and people began to think that an absence of evidence that they and their 18th/19th century contemporaries would have preserved was proof of a conspiracy.
As to the education argument— that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what English grammar schools were like during the Elizabethan era. The references and allusions in Shakespeare’s plays are perfectly consistent with the curriculum of a typical grammar school graduate. And speaking of the plays, they are fundamentally of the theater and for the theater. They flatter patrons (o hai there Banquo’s successively handsomer and kinglier descendants *cough*James I*cough), they play with what could and could not be done on a stage. They retell stories popular at the time (The Merchant of Venice is often considered to be a reaction to Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta).
Shakespeare wrote for people like him— for people like us. Not people who preserved the same things we do, or who learned the same things we do, but people who felt the same as we do.
Ann Thompson (who I discussed in my previous post "HERE’S TO THE LADY SHAKESPEARE CRITICS") hates nothing more than a “non-believer”.
(One time, she compared it to Holocaust denial. We all went silent and looked at each other for ten seconds, at which point I meekly said “um, no, that’s a very different, kind of much more serious thing” ~first time calling out a university lecturer~ and she went completely red and apologised profusely. And mentioned again at the end of the class how inappropriate her comment had been.)
ANYWAY, aside from that horrific comment - she was great. One of the foremost feminist Shakespeare scholars. She does loads of stuff with the Globe and the RSC and anyone interested in Shakespeare. In one seminar, I mentioned I’d just seen Twelfth Night and ran into Rylance having a smoke after and had EYE CONTACT with him,
"Oh yes, Mark. Brilliant actor, great. But completely wrong about everything. Makes one miss the days when actors didn’t get to have opinions, doesn’t it?"
The day she let us help her edit Cymbeline was the greatest day of my academic life. (Well, top 5.)
Guys, Shakespeare is great and all
and happy birthday to him
I’d like to take a moment to shout out to the real heroes…
The lady professors and academics who fought the boys club and marked out new ground for women to write about and engage with the Bard.
Particularly Ann Thomspon (~who was my personal tutor last year~) and
"the general editor of the Arden series, who edited the massive Arden volume of all three texts of Hamlet with Neil Taylor, and who throughout her career has broken new ground in feminist criticism of Shakespeare, especially with her 1997 anthology (with Sasha Roberts) Women Reading Shakespeare 1660–1900. Thompson has also, in her role as general editor of the Arden series, dramatically increased the number of women editors of Shakespeare’s plays. Her work and her influence are worth celebrating because even today’s statistics on the numbers of women editors and commentators of Shakespeare are as damning as the VIDA statistics."
(From: http://www.themillions.com/2014/04/450-years-of-juliets-on-women-making-shakespeare.html - shout out to Gordon and Sonia in there too. KCL pride. Mainly Sonia, that woman is a saint.)
Also, the female directors who work against the odds to make Shakespeare with ladies, starring ladies and for ladies.
Woolf wrote is her first To the Lighthouse draft that
'men have Shakespeare and women have not',
to all those in academia and the arts who strive to change that - you’re all my heroes.
follow through for once, Holly. Just this one time, actually do something you told yourself you would.