Friday, October 28, 2011
why are people so keen to believe shakespeare didn't write shakespeare's plays?
note: posts will be sporadic and succinct till my arm is better. which could be a while.
Seriously, who'd rather believe in a nasty conspiracy than the possibility that an ordinary person could be very talented?
It strikes me as Tall Poppyish - he's so good, there must be some trickery somewhere!
That's my theory. What's yours?
My thought when I heard another friend complaining about the movie Anonymous was, they're saying only people of privilege can create Great Art. Not that Shakespeare didn't have privilege, of course, but de Vere had all the same privilege and more.
Said friend assures me that that's the basis of every argument that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare.
It's noticeable that the first principal proponent of the Bacon theory had the surname Bacon.
I think that some of it is certainly the privilege thesis (though not taken quite that nakedly), but a lot more is the same thinking that's behind many conspiracy theories: the possibility of proving Them (authority, received wisdom) wrong. Yes, you silly sheep all believe what you're told, but we know better! We're open-minded!
Judging by what clips and reviews I've seen of the film, someone involved has just discovered this theory, thinks it's being unjustly neglected and nobody else has heard of it before, and wants to tell the world about it. Much like a teenager who's just read Atlas Shrugged.
Mostly snobbery with a large side dose of "everyone's entitled to their own facts." After all, there's a lot of that going around lately.
Stephen Marche, a Shakespearian scholar, writes in the NY Times:
First they came for the Kennedy scholars, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Kennedy scholar. Then they came for Opus Dei, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Catholic scholar. Now they have come for me...It’s the best of both worlds for Emmerich: he gets to question hundreds of years of legitimate scholarship without any need to be consistent with basic chronology, because, after all, it’s just a movie.
I hope your arm is getting better, as quickly as may be.
Amaryllis - I was thinking of exactly the same NYTimes article. I thought it hit a lot of the really good points.
I think that is mixed in with people's stereotypes about "peasants" and "nobility." And even (this is a stretch) it is a resistance to the idea of universal education. The type of grammar school that Shakespeare went to were played a fundamental role in the eventual rise of the middle class. Nobles had private education. And quite possibly didn't learn as much because it mattered less to them (they didn't have to make a certain grade to become an Earl.)
And, this is a point I don't seen made much at all -- most of the really hoity toity upperclass were writing in Latin -- Latin was the sign that you were a truly educated person. Shakespeare wrote in the vernacular for ordinary people
Amaryllis said... Mostly snobbery with a large side dose of "everyone's entitled to their own facts." Only too true, I'm afraid, and for Americans especially (I'm one). Another (rather silly) reason is that in America "grammar school" means "elementary school," a school for children ages 5 to 11. Tell them that the kind of "grammar school" Shakespeare went to was rather more rigorous and advanced than the typical American junior college and they think you're nuts.
And mmy: your point about Latin is good too. That was part of Robert Greene's anti-Shakespeare screed, that he wasn't really "educated."
I remember reading somewhere that one of the reasons not to buy into this nonsense is that Shakespeare's plays show exactly the kind of mistakes about history, geography, etc. that you'd expect from a 16th-century non-university student. Alas I don't recall where I saw this. However, my favorite idea about Shakespeare actually comes from a delightful children's book by Marchette Chute, The Wonderful Winter. Chute wrote a best-selling adult biography, Shakespeare of London, which is very good, but as a character in the children's book, he describes himself as a man who remembers the words of every ballad he's ever heard. To my mind, that is the most perceptive insight into Shakespeare that I've ever seen in a lifetime of reading about him.
too, i spose, the fallacy that it's not enough for the work to be exciting, the artist must have exciting back-story. with, again, the anti-art implication that exciting stuff must have a real life origin, cos nobody cld, like, just make stuff up.
arm driving me round bend.
Kit, it is similar to the anti-art implication of the presumption that everyone in a book has to be based on someone the author knows in "real life" and that every plot/action has its inspiration in something that the artist saw or read.
It is deeply, deeply anti-artist but not surprising I think in a portion of the acting/direction community that has fallen victim to the conceit of "method" acting.
This used to bug me so much in school, because the usual "Shakespeare alternatives" were frequently highly unsuited for the guesswork (most of them died before later plays were written), but by god they had NOBILITY so let the hoop-jumping commence.
@mmy, ooooh, and method acting has a really scary TV Trope page for "enforced" method acting. Supposedly the "Black Swan" director tried to make the two main actresses dislike each other because that way their scenes would be more "genuine". That stuff creeps me out in the extreme -- 'controlling jerkface' does not equal 'great artist'.
Supposedly the "Black Swan" director tried to make the two main actresses dislike each other because that way their scenes would be more "genuine". That stuff creeps me out in the extreme -- 'controlling jerkface' does not equal 'great artist'.
As Laurence Olivier once said, 'Why don't you try acting? It's so much easier.'
Fritz Leiber's "Four Ghosts in Hamlet" had a great perspective on Shakespeare: Someone who'd gone through three or four incarnations just quietly listening to people, then it all comes out.
Another story I read a couple of years back (I forget where) suggests it's just that a great target invites takedown: The protagonist goes back in time and kills Shakespeare and discovers that in the new timeline the buzz is "Francis Bacon wrote Christopher Marlowe's plays!"
While I find the "art is all real life" thing as absurd as prior posters, I suspect at least part of it is because it's an easy way to dramatize the creative process (the mockumentary Sir Norbert Smythe: A Life does a brilliant parody of this cliche by the way).
i'm pro-method writing if it involves asking yrself how you'd feel n thinking back over yr own experience.
living a comet-like life of self-destruction, on the other hand, just mean you die sooner and there's less art left behind.
re black swan - the pr people also tried to convince public that portman did almost all the dancing. o course she didn't, because no one could unless they were a full-on ballerina, which she isn't. the dancer who doubled her came out and objected, very graciously: she said she thought portman did deserve an oscar because she was a great actress, but she also revered ballet n felt it demeaned it to pretend that anyone could learn to be a ballet dancer in the 18 months portman had. she seemed very nice, really, and it was an excellent point.
i like it when we all respect each others' abilities. :-)
Most folks today who buy the argument (in the USA, at least), don't care who wrote Shakespeare's plays and poetry but are deeply invested in 'knowing' that the 'authorities' always try to keep the 'truth' hidden. I have ostensibly well-educated friends assure me that they know of a conspiracy among English Lit departments to prevent investigation of this question. And when I say that it's analogous to the conspiracy among geology departments to keep flat-Earth investigations from getting funding, I am accused of being part of the problem.
Also, of course, if Shakespeare was a fake there's no obligation for them to have to study those works, so old and boring and difficult and out of date as they are....
Most folks today who buy the argument (in the USA, at least), don't care who wrote Shakespeare's plays and poetry but are deeply invested in 'knowing' that the 'authorities' always try to keep the 'truth' hidden.
how does that square with wanting to believe the plays were written by an aristocrat rather than a middle-class working man? it's pretty much saying that only the authorities can produce art.
Also, of course, if Shakespeare was a fake there's no obligation for them to have to study those works
how does that work? the plays are still the plays whoever wrote them.
how does that square with wanting to believe the plays were written by an aristocrat rather than a middle-class working man?
Well, they aren't much aware of the class implications of the argument. (Really, don't underestimate the wilfull ignorance USians can have about class systems, starting with our own. That's why the Occupy Wall Street protesters are just dirty hippies who are too lazy to work.)
the plays are still the plays whoever wrote them.
But their teachers made them read Shakespeare, and they didn't like having to do that, so this gets back at the teachers. It proves the teachers were lying to them, and shows that the authority by which the teachers forced them to read something they didn't want to, and possibly even give them grades they didn't like, was illegitimate. And elitist.
how does that work? the plays are still the plays whoever wrote them
Ah, you haven't had to deal with students who are throw this at you.
It starts with the presumption that no one reads Shakespeare (or Austen, or Elliot or fill in the blank) because they are good and have written things worth writing. People will tell you that professors are making them study particular people/works simply because they are "in the canon." Hence, (by their logic) if the play is not be Shakespeare then it wouldn't be worth reading.
As for the aristocrat / commoner thing I read it (in the US) as in part a fight-back against the idea that the humanities require hard work and they (the students) could themselves turn in better material if they did their due diligence as students. The idea that someone writes exciting plays because they have had an exciting life excuses the students from needing to actually work hard, learn how to write competently and respect people who have worked harder and have greater talent.
As for the "method acting" thing -- I spent years and years around actors/directors (at the college level) who had to magnify each and every tiny ache, pain and setback in their own lives because they believed so deeply in method. If you are acting the role of someone whose entire family was wiped out in ethnic cleansing and you grew up in a privileged enclave in wealthy America then you have to argue that pain of losing your pet hamster is equal to the pain of seeing your entire community slaughtered. The pain of not getting a new computer at Christmas is equal to the pain having all your family's possessions confiscated.
For me, the key point the conspiracy theorists are ignoring is this: Shakespeare was an ACTOR. He spent twenty years appearing in these plays. How could he fool every person in every company he worked with over those two decades into believing that he was the author when he wasn't?Post a Comment
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