Who Are the Snobs?
February 29, 2000
dont mind when the academic Shakespeare
experts insist, in the teeth of the evidence for the 17th
Earl of Oxford, that the legendary Stratford man wrote the Shakespeare
plays. But I do get annoyed when they repeat their pet canard: namely, that
all the authorship heretics usually called anti-
Stratfordians are snobs.
In his book The Genius of
Shakespeare, for example, Jonathan Bate (University of Liverpool)
writes sweepingly that the anti-Stratfordians cannot abide the
thought of Shakespeare resembling an untutored Romantic genius of low
origins ... They require something more glamorous ... The anti-Stratfordian
aristocratic principle is a matter of prejudice, not argument ... They
regard blue blood as the prerequisite for genius. Nonsense, and
But the myth
persists. Barbara A.
Mowat and Paul Werstine (The New Folger Library) assert that the heretics
want the works to have been written by an aristocrat, a university
graduate, or an important person. Sylvan Barnet
(Tufts University) writes just as flatly: The impulse behind all
[sic] anti-Stratfordian movements is the scarcely concealed snobbish
opinion that the man from Stratfordsimply could not have
written the plays because he was a country fellow without a university
education and without access to high society. Stephen Greenblatt
(University of California, Berkeley), editor of The Norton
Shakespeare, writes: The anti-Stratfordians ... almost
always propose as the real author someone who came from a higher social
class and received a more prestigious education.
Stephen Orgel (Stanford University)
repeats the old refrain: The Baconians, the Oxfordians, and
supporters of other candidates have one trait in common they are
snobs.... [They believe that] only a learned genius like Bacon or an
aristocrat like Oxford could have written such fine plays.
Never mind that one of the most
famous anti-Stratfordians, Ignatius Donnelly, was a fiercely populist
congressman from Minnesota. The trouble with arguing that
all the heretics can be explained away by a single
disreputable motive is that a single exception destroys the argument.
After all, one anti-Stratfordian school favors the candidacy of
Christopher Marlowe, son of a cobbler.
Note that these experts
assume that their reckless ad hominem generalizations are compelling
arguments. They dont know enough about basic logic to realize that
even if such charges were true even if all
anti-Stratfordians were indeed snobs it would
prove nothing about the merits of the case. Such are the abysmal
intellectual standards that prevail in academic Shakespeare studies.
Nowadays, theres no snobbery like academic snobbery the
habit of pulling rank with reflexive contempt for those who lack academic
credentials. The heretics are all snobs, you see. All the Best People at all
the Best Universities say so.
To which Professor Orgel adds that
the Earl of Oxford, currently the leading candidate among the heretics,
was not particularly well educated whereas
Shakespeare received in the Stratford grammar school a formal
education that would daunt many college graduates today. This is
truly audacious mendacity.
In the first place, we dont
know that the man from Stratford ever spent a day in
school. As for Oxford, he was raised as a ward of Lord Burghley at the
court of Elizabeth I, where his tutors would have included the great
classicist Arthur Golding (Oxfords uncle, who later dedicated two
books to him); by the age of 13 he could write elegantly in French. At 14
he entered Cambridge University. The assumption that William of
Stratford got a better education at a grammar school is the sort of thing
only a full professor could believe. Its amusing to speculate on
what some full professors are full of.
At 17 Oxford began to study law at
Grays Inn; the legal vocabulary he acquired there shows up
abundantly in the hundreds of legal terms in the Shakespeare works.
Hamlets complaint about the laws delay
echoes Oxfords exasperation with the delay of the
law. The gravediggers comically mangled phrase se
offendendo plays on the verdict of se defendendo in
an inquest that cleared Oxford of a murder charge.
Yes, the Shakespeare plays reflect
Oxfords privileged education. To say so isnt snobbery;
its realism. It recognizes that, for better or worse, Elizabethan
England wasnt an equal-opportunity society.
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