Monday, October 24, 2011
The Shakespeare Shakedown
Alternative candidates for the "real" Shakespeare have numbered the Cambridge-schooled Christopher Marlowe (who also happens to have been killed before the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays appeared) and the philosopher--statesman Francis Bacon. But the hottest candidate for some time has been the Earl of Oxford, himself a patron of dramatists, a courtier-poet of middling talent, and an adventurer who was at various times banished from the court and captured by pirates. The Oxford theory has been doing the rounds since 1920, when an English scholar, Thomas Looney (pronounced Loaney), first brought it before the world.
None of which would matter very much were there not something repellent at the heart of the theory, and that something is the toad, snobbery—the engine that drives the Oxfordian case against the son of the Stratford glover John Shakespeare. John was indeed illiterate. But his son was not, as we know incontrovertibly from no fewer than six surviving signatures in Shakespeare’s own flowing hand, the first from 1612, when he was giving evidence in a domestic lawsuit.
The Earl of Oxford was learned and, by reports, witty. But publicity -materials for Anonymous say that Shakespeare by comparison went to a mere "village school" and so could hardly have compared with the cultural richness imbibed by Oxford. The hell he couldn’t! Stratford was no "village," and the "grammar school," which means elementary education in America, was in fact a cradle of serious classical learning in Elizabethan England. By the time he was 13 or so, Shakespeare would have read (in Latin) works by Terence, Plautus, Virgil, Erasmus, Cicero, and probably Plutarch and Livy too. One of the great stories of the age was what such schooling did for boys of humble birth.