Greetings and welcome again to another Shakespeare Saturday! It’s our day to celebrate the Bard in any manner we may wish, whether that be adroit analysis or sex puns…much like the Bard himself, really. Seriously…he had a lot of sex puns. Have I mentioned I think it’s silly that people think he couldn’t have written his own plays? That’s just intellectual elitism right there. As if being able to understand the human condition and write plays about universal subjects is something that takes an Oxford education or an Oxford-related title of some kind. You know who else never received a formal education, learned via experience and immersion, and is considered one of the great writers of all time? Charles Dickens. And no one questions whether he wrote any of his stuff, now do they? (They don’t.)
I…was not planning on writing this today, but whatever. And, of course, since I bring up my points every time I write a Shakespeare Saturday, I probably won’t need to do much. It’ll just be a round-up of Why Nerd Cactus Thinks Derek Jacobi Is Dumb (he’s famous for being one of those ‘Shakespeare’s plays were too good for this uneducated actor to have written them’ types). I’ve already delved into how Shakespeare’s plays improved over time (remember Titus Andronicus?), which is reflective of someone honing their craft through experience and practice. A lot of people regard Jane Austen’s final book (Persuasion) as her best, at least with regard to the crafting that went into it. It was, at the very least, Austen at her most Austen. And just now I mentioned that he was certainly not the only example of a writer without formal education who was able to write on the human condition in lasting and timeless ways. I’ve also mentioned how popular his plays were among all the social classes of his era, including those people who couldn’t even read and write, so he wasn’t always considered impossible to understand.
Simply put, the reason Shakespeare is a genius–the reason we love his work so much and revere him so–is not predicated upon his being rich, formally educated (though he most likely did attend a local Grammar School as a child) , or even particularly book smart. Was there an intelligence there? Of course. He was able to recognize what made people tick and write with wit and beauty upon those subjects. He was able to recognize the wealth of experience and genius he had around him; after all, who would know a great speech better than an actor? He understood what the audience wanted (his subject and style changed and developed as he wrote, not just reflecting a careful honing of voice but also what was à la mode), and was able to deliver. And he also straight up copied stuff, too. Which all the best artists do. Seriously, listen to pretty much any John Williams soundtrack and then find Gustav Holst’s The Planets; you’ll note the similarities, particularly with Star Wars. Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery. Shakespeare was great. His plays continue to be great. But none of that greatness is predicated upon being a Lord, or another playwright writing under a pseudonym, or any of the other ridiculous theories posited for Why Shakespeare Didn’t Write His Plays.
Occam’s Razor argues that the simplest answer is often the one that is correct. And, in this case, I have to agree. The evidence we have would argue that there was a man, his name was Willy, and he wrote some really awesome plays. People loved them, and he was ridiculously popular. He fell out of fashion for a bit, especially during the Enlightenment, but then the Romantics resurrected him and collectively decided he was THE GREATEST ENGLISH PLAYWRIGHT EVAR. Since then, we’ve decided that every little nuance and moment of genius was carefully planned, plotted, and carved by a man of such immense and unusual talent that we shall never see another like him in all of time and space. And you know what? I’m sure he did plan a lot of it. I’m sure he planned every sex joke, every penis reference and ‘yo momma’. I’m sure every dig at Richard III was intentional. But I don’t think he stared at the final draft of Hamlet and went, “They’re going to be performing this for centuries! See how I have delved into the notions of grief and vengeance!” I’m pretty much convinced it was probably something more like, “Crap, this is good! Steve (the guy playing Hamlet) is gonna love this! Ale’s on me tonight, boys!” Basically, we decided his stuff was so great that the man who wrote that stuff must be equally great. But…think about Van Gogh. That man was a nutter. Think about Dickens, the Shakespeare of the Victorian era. He wrote what he saw and listened to his audience.
And to say that we’ll never have another as good as Shakespeare again? C’mon, Shakespeare buffs…don’t sell the writers of the world short. And seriously…sometimes, the curtains are blue, the ducks on the pond are just ducks, and the Emerald City doesn’t represent the fraudulent world of the greenback standard. Just because we see allusions and can attribute meaning does not mean the writer intended them. Why not just read the plays, take what meaning from them we can, and enjoy listening to actors recite some of the best written speeches the English language has to offer?
Let’s not steal Shakespeare’s thunder, shall we?
ps- Just because I prefer to keep this lighthearted, here’s the Royal Shakespeare Society’s Biography of Shakespeare.