That is a question, if not the question. In academia, or just outside of it, there is a dispute. Heated debate, simmering argument. Call it like you see it, if not for what it is. Then again, condensation can be precipitous. Hot air can be a smokescreen. Depending on whom you ask, it’s everything or nothing. Everyone or no one. Advocates say it’s a myth and everybody else says it’s just mythical. I’m talking about Shakespeare, not Santa.Is he the real deal? Is he even real? Half the battle is saying you have no argument, while the other half says that argument is dumb. 50/50? The majority of scholars think otherwise. In addition, if you break down the dissent, it fractures piecemeal into pieces. Conceivable truth becomes half-truth. Of those who insist on duplicity, many have interpretations. Although you may find a number of contrarians, they think differently.Mark Twain held that Francis Bacon is Shakespeare, while others debate about contemporaries Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe. Elizabeth I is suggested. Anonymous exhibits Edward de Vere. There are many contenders, if not pretenders. All told, the last option is the most lasting. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, entertains the most support. Individuals who postulate him are known as “Oxfordians.” It is not clear who Oxford himself endorsed.What we do know is those who defend the Bard of Avon can be labelled “Stratfordians.” They assert legitimacy. Rather, Oxford was too early. A few of Shakespeare’s plays were allegedly written after de Vere died in 1604. 12. As such, any contention about dating must agree posthumously posthaste. Analysis can’t even agree to disagree. Oxfordians disagree to do so. They disagree to disagree. If they allowed it, they would be accepting a false objective.And this affair is all about objectivity. In turn, the former maintain Oxfordians are one-sided, if not one-dimensional, like the thoughts of a dead flower. Or grappling with the ghost of your late father. It’s hard to kill something that’s already gone. You have to get at the root of the problem. Chopping off limbs is just like decapitating hydras insofar as they’ll grow back. If we convince ourselves that Shakespeare didn’t exist, we can equally contend that his writing didn’t, either.Oxfordians typically aren’t opining that he isn’t as good as you think, but that it’s just as well if he was someone else. I mention Santa Claus in the sense that I’m not discussing him. What’s funny is they treat this like a Santa rumor. Not the one that he’s coming this year. Instead, like it’s time we all finally grow up or something. “Shakespeare has had 400 years to get over himself. Why can’t you?” “Get over myself?” “Shakespeare. Get over yourself.”I won’t get into the evidence against his authorship, but here we go: one argument is Shakespeare had little education. ‘Consequently, he could never have produced the immense quantity, let alone quality of work attributed to him. There just isn’t enough time in the day. It would take the son of a glove maker even longer than an equally educated aristocrat, so I’m more inclined to ascribe this to a coalition or tribe of authors.’‘Firstly, there’s 24 hours in everyone’s day, regardless of whether you are commonplace or nobility. The same laws of nature apply to Santa, even if he doesn’t abide by them. In one lifetime, he’s been pretty prolific, too. Secondly, do you think Santa attended an elite Santa school in order to get where he is today? The closest thing we have to that is trade school and who knows if Santa could even afford the tuition? To what degree?’If not, there wouldn’t have been any Santa yet to deliver himself the fee. ‘Yeah, but he has all those elves helping him.’ ‘Yeah, but Shakespeare has all those genes helping him.’ One thing to keep in mind is that there is a little, if not little consensus about the man. We are reasonably sure that a guy named “William Shakespeare” lived in the same area at the same time as the ‘alleged’ Shakespeare. He even has a grave. In Shakespeare’s hometown, no less!
“Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.”
“Sounds like an invitation to me!” I’m not sure explicit requests for lifeless autonomy equate to the opposite of that. Just because he expired doesn’t mean his wishes did. That’s why we have a will, if not a Will. Shakespeare signed his himself, which validates it. A certain point of contention is that, while we know when he died, we’re not sure of his birth. Many identify the 23rd of April, on which he also experienced death. 1616.For some, dying on your birthday is a bit too poignant, even for Shakespeare. Others are more logical: ‘If we don’t know his birthday, maybe he just didn’t have one.’ Thinking is inconsistent elsewhere: ‘We don’t know Jesus’ exact birthday, but we still believe in him!’ And what do we know about Jesus and Claus? Little. While the amount of information about Shakespeare’s life seems paltry in accordance with our social media digitization, it’s actually decent.To be sure, if he died today, we’d know a lot more about him. Not just because there would be a lot more of him to know about. Information is more readily compiled and accessed. There is more data, but the same data also appears in many places. It is harder to achieve worldwide fame on foot. That said, you’re now one in 7 billion. Shakespeare was about one in 580 million, if not several dozen candidates.Many argue there was no Shakespeare before him and, as yet, none after. This is easy to confirm. Whoever he was, there was only one of him. If you add the people who preceded him to those who followed, he is about one in a hundred billion. The argument is that Shakespeare is timeless; not just once-in-a-lifetime, but once. Once Upon a Universe. Let’s not deify. The point is an exceptional human, no less—if not just no more.When someone is alive, it is harder to separate them from their work and vice versa. In 1600, he was very much a 36-year-old source of entertainment. As such, the people who knew Shakespeare viewed him in their time, on their own time. They didn’t look at his work with 400 years of affirmation. It wasn’t obligatory. He has taken on a life of his own, beyond the one he actually had. He’s no longer just a guy, if he ever was. Let’s be clear: he probably was.He didn’t come out of nowhere. Like evolution, his legacy has evolved. Part of scholarship is figuring out how style evokes substance. Find traces of Shakespeare in his writing. This is challenging, but among the few immediate links. In some ways, his work is a clearer representation than any facts could be. One idea is that Shakespeare was Shakespeare, but not the one we thought he was. A real person, but a stand-in.This does some of the legwork. He existed as a poetic beard of sorts, if not a bard. A number of people think it’s easy to believe educated nobles were responsible. The truth is, it’s harder to imagine the plays in the first place. If you can get past their existence, it’s easier to consider who wrote them. If it isn’t a stretch to go from Shakespeare to Edward, it’s the same distance back. It’s even less if you don’t go. Backing Oxford gives pause, if not a comma.
For conspiracists, going backwards is better than not. At least you’re moving. Somehow, it’s a bigger stretch for Shakespeare to be Shakespeare than for him to be de Vere. The idea that he existed is evidence that he didn’t. In turn, the question is not whether he was a fraud, but whether he was at all. Two guys have detailed how Shakespeare was himself, if not precisely who he was. They suggest a constellation of irrefutable data.
Generally, misunderstanding arises because of incomplete understanding. If Oxford used a pseudonym, he certainly wasn’t committed to it. In 1598, Francis Meres attributed a number of plays to Avon. “Sadly for Oxfordians, he mentions Edward Earl of Oxford as being a writer of comedy in the same paragraph as he does Shakespeare.” William Basse scribed an elegy for “Wm. Shakespeare” between 1616 and 1623. It is subtitled, “He died in April 1616.”
We know it was written at least April 1616 because he wouldn’t have known Shakespeare died before then––because he didn’t. There is little record of contemporaries because that was commonplace. People make a big deal of Shakespeare’s absence because his presence is typically relegated to the Biblical, fictional, or both. Ironically, nobody fussed about modern issues until centuries after he died. The guy who started it did so in jest.
Samuel Schmuker was “dismayed about the academic trend of using historical and biographical evidence to doubt the existence of Christ.” He noted that “the same approaches could be used to argue that Shakespeare never existed.” In 1848, enough time had passed that no one knew anyone who knew Shakespeare. It was time. These problems have only existed insofar as Shakespeare has not. The more time goes by, the less time he existed compared to the Earth.
I got into this because someone mentioned a teacher saying he shouldn’t be taught. The authorship question is ancillary, if not just adjacent. In this case, she doesn’t dispute his authorship, she impugns its quality. This is totally different because many who put all that time into debating his authenticity do so to understand. They care enough about his work to give credit to the rightful writer. They’re not saying it was a hack.
In fact, they’re saying it was someone even more qualified. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “the person who wrote all this great stuff was equally bad.” But not everyone feels that way about him, if they feel anything about him at all. English teacher Dana Dusbiber says, “I dislike Shakespeare because of my own personal disinterest in reading stories written in an early form of the English language that I cannot always easily navigate.”
Not everyone is for Shakespeare, but Shakespeare is for everyone. Allegedy. Dusbiber seems to be saying she doesn’t like him not just because she doesn’t understand, but because she can’t. ‘He makes life, if not just its portrayal, complicated.’ It is precisely the obstacle of interpreting that requires a closer look. You have to stop and think about what you read before analyzing its content, which has the effect of that analysis.
Why learn algebra when you can do mad minutes?
Why do something difficult when you can do something easy? Dusbiber also describes “a WORLD of really exciting literature out there that better speaks to the needs of my very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students.” Fair. The common core is a little dated, but it’s not like Shakespeare wrote it. Furthermore, being old is not the same as being dated. Most people would rather have a date than none at all.
Contrasting the “WORLD,” Dusbiber hints, “Shakespeare lived in a pretty small world.” First of all, the world is exactly the same size as it used to be (inflation notwithstanding). Second of all, a worldview is a perceived existence. Awareness can be dense yet limited. In other words, we may know more about ourselves, but Shakespeare knew more about what he did know. Humans are subtle, but evident. We speak for ourselves, if not on our own behalf.
Our nature is the same, but expressed variably. I doubt it has changed much, yet the complexity of our day may obscure that as it has Shakespeare. “It might now be appropriate for us to acknowledge him as chronicler of life as he saw it 450 years ago and leave it at that.” If only it were so simple. The authorship conflict wouldn’t exist. Regardless, in adhering to such descriptions, he is even more special. Not specialized.
The idea is despite the 16th century, he renders us deeply. The truth is timeless. And timelessness is always timely insofar as it’s true. I think a few people take offense to the idea that Shakespeare somehow ‘saw’ the future. That he is of present. Inflicted by this shadow, you may resent him. Perhaps the presence is labelled passé or merely past tense. His stories, including himself, are an antiquated tether. They are past being tense.
In turn, you say, Shakespeare has outstayed his welcome. In fact, his welcome has outstayed him. According to Dusbiber, “as long as we continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life as he lived it so long ago, we (perhaps unwittingly) promote the notion that other cultural perspectives are less important.” The most ironic part of this is how little we know about Shakespeare. Wanting for details, he is reduced in absentia.
‘There are no details because we don’t know them.’ In terms of history, this is an average guy. An average guy we don’t know much about, of course; he’s average. Exceptionally average. The exception is HIS LEGENDARY ART. “Wait,” Oxfordians remark, “there’s no way a person who wrote these things is average. I think we can all agree they are not average, whatever else.” Because there is no exceptional record of their author, the ‘true’ records are not true.
We do have an exceptional record of Shakespeare: his work! The very thing that led us to believe he’s exceptional in the first place! It’s contradictory to begin with the premise that ‘we have this exceptional thing and if the author isn’t correspondingly “exceptional,” in our view, we reject the author.’ Shakespeare, if he did write these things, never had a chance. In that case, however, the ‘scant’ records would indeed describe the author of the “exceptional.”
Again, I don’t want to deify; however, Jesus was pretty standard––except for the miracles. It is fair and possibly accurate to say Shakespeare was pretty standard––except for his plays (and poetry). The artistic record is typical, but we expect more from eminence. We expect any record of the Bard to be as robust as his writing. It’s not. This leaves a vacuum. We have Shakespeare as an author and Shakespeare as a man. History does not bridge the gap definitively.
We get the feeling of Shakespeare as his work, rather than its author. The plays take on an historical sentience. It’s like they designed themselves. Imagine him exclaim, ‘Who cares who wrote it? It practically wrote itself.’ No matter who, it’s human. I think there’s something disappointing about that––for dissidents. It’s required, but it’s fallible. Taken as gospel, a matter of faith. Teaching the Bible is contentious.
Shakespeare is neither God nor Jesus; his plays are not the Bible. In other words, in other words. He is opposed in the same way. It’s the inclination to reject religious studies. Dusbiber is saying, “I don’t believe in that.” Shakespeare has been mythologized. As such, witness the argument that he is fake, if not just a fraud. A central discord is social justice. I understand the difficulty promoting a guy who existed an eternity prior to a lot of civil rights and legislation.
A lot has happened in 400 years; a lot happened in the preceding 199,600. If Shakespeare himself is not problematic, however, it’s the absence of the problematical that is. Bigotry is controversial on paper, whether it’s actually written there. ‘If he doesn’t speak about issues, he can’t speak to them. He’s a bad example of his day or any day because he isn’t overtly sexist or racist. If you think he wasn’t, however, that’s just you putting him on a pedestal.’
What about Shylock? The Venetians aren’t especially keen on him. ‘If you portray anti-Semitism in fiction, you must yourself be anti-Semitic.’ It is suspect to impute labels to him even if his characters are suspect. A post alludes to the difference between art and artist. Note the comparable difference between label and libel. Attributing white privilege and prejudice is more involved than saying ‘he was white and lived in 1600.’ ‘Is it?’
Dusbiber does herself a disservice in slight inspection of the catalog, though it is a refreshingly honest way of disqualifying it. Most who teach him are probably not bold enough to say they neither get him nor care to. Alternatively, many who claim the opposite don’t. It is pretentious to say anyone can understand him. It’s also pretentious to say you can’t. In the number who are forced to read him or will be, however, it’s fair to say plenty have yet to.
Some say he’s inscrutable, others say he’s an open book. ‘Shakespeare doesn’t understand Shakespeare.’ Or, ‘Shakespeare doesn’t even know who Shakespeare is.’ It isn’t that he’s too good for you or vice versa. He’s worthy of being read and you’re worthy of reading him. Love or hate, bad or good––you decide. Be indifferent. But being indifferent to that indifference is premature. Earn disinterest. “I don’t understand” is not “I do not compute.”
You have to ask yourself who is more qualified to say he sucks. Is it people who ‘get’ him or the few, the proud who don’t? There is an integrity about disliking Shakespeare such that you don’t read thoroughly. ‘I couldn’t even get through it I was so repulsed.’ On the other hand, those who say he’s inferior yet deciphered The Complete Works must not have disliked him too much; otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to stand it.
Dusbiber suggests, “we need to find the time to let them choose their own literature.” Yes; let’s let students recommend books to themselves they haven’t read. This may not be a bad idea if you have a teacher like Dusbiber who already dismisses the Bard. Students may end up liking him anyway. On the other hand, the entire point of the curriculum is to capitalize on the educator’s expertise. Let them design their curriculum, expect The Deathly Hallows.
“Let them eat cake.”
The “need to find the time” is necessary because they will take theirs reducing homework to its lowest common denominator. Dusbiber asks, “why not teach the oral tradition out of Africa, which includes an equally relevant commentary on human behavior? Why not teach translations of early writings or oral storytelling from Latin America or Southeast Asia [or] other parts of the world?” Relevant, no doubt. Ethnical and racial issues subsist in existential ones.
Cultural and existential insight aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re inextricable. We’re in humanity and a universe. Community is our mode of being. The issue is not whether complexity can be demonstrated, but how well it has been demonstrated. We study Shakespeare in layers. It’s important to understand historical context. If we only read him to learn about 1600, however, he’d be a lot more quaint. He’d be history.
Dusbiber refers to Shakespeare as if this is the case. ‘He’s history.’ She’s saying we’ve already looked into Western Europe so long, it’s time for somebody else to get a shot. ‘The only reason Shakespeare is held in such regard is because he’s gotten so much attention, like Donald Trump. If we study these other things for 400 years, we’ll realize they’re just as good. History favors itself and is filtered through the lens of Western civilization.’
No one is saying he writes excellent Chinese literature. They’re not even saying he writes terrible Chinese literature. In fact, a considerable readership might assert he’s not literary. The plays were meant to be performed. They are theatrical, if not just dramatic. That said, they were also printed. The First Folio in 1623. His work existed in quartos prior to 1600. ‘If he’s to be performed, it’s theater. Put him in drama class.’ Why not both?
Shakespeare invented over 1700 words. English without him would be like Latin without 1700 Latin words––not to mention their declensions. Dusbiber is resolved to “leave Shakespeare out of the English curriculum entirely.” Does she want to give words back? Should we disavow words like “jaded,” “equivocal,” and discontent?” These words help her contention; they help her speak English, in general. Dismissing Shakespeare is, vaguely, dismissing herself.
Dusbiber asks of African oral tradition or translations of early Latin American or Southeast Asia or other parts of the world. She complains about the difficulty and complexity of Old English, but wants to impart translations of other languages. English is still the mother tongue of the United States, although the skill with which it is spoken varies. What’s closer to English? Old English or Swahili? Nuance is, at times, lost in translation.
You can find Shakespeare in Swahili or Chinese and, at least thematically, he’s probably still all right. Shakespeare has been translated into 80 languages, if not just 80 times. He’s performed in almost every continent. Many have been exposed to his plays. Appropriately, he intended them for mass consumption. He was not an academic, but an entertainer. ‘Let students read him on their own time, as intended,’ Dusbiber might say. Maybe just cancel work for the day.
‘Romance languages romanticize themselves. English is better equipped to appreciate English than other languages.’ In time, we’d see this. Indeed, if we spend more time not reading Shakespeare, we’d think less, if not just read less of him. Dusbiber inquires as to whether a lack of parity is scheduled: “if time is the issue in our classrooms, perhaps we no longer have the time to study the Western canon that so many of us know and hold dear.”
Does it have to be one or the other? Contrast. What is it about or not about Shakespeare that is in need of the complementary? You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially if there’s no bathwater. ‘None of the books I’d like would ever complement Shakespeare. On anything.’ She’d “let Shakespeare rest in peace.” In turn, this is less about teaching a Shakespeare lesson and more about teaching Shakespeare one.
Aim a cannon at the canon. Shots fired. They should entitle her post, “Bored of the Bard.” It sounds like someone who doesn’t want to assign the reading, let alone do it. Then again, it’s hard to expect everyone to read 37 plays. Some people don’t even know about the number 37. I haven’t read The Complete Works. This makes me qualified to vet my own ignorance. I can glimpse it elsewhere because I know it intimately.
Who better to refute or prefute, if you Will, than me? I see inconsistencies in that I have a few. In education, I have viewed no more than 15. You don’t have to read an entire play to appreciate a fraction of it. Even the SparkNotes are good. Just look up Shakespeare quotes and you’ll find some gems. They’re out of context, but diamonds aren’t much to anyone while they’re still in the mines. Like them, some want to dig up, if not just dig up some dirt on Shakespeare.
His presence is such that you almost expect to find him chilling in the dirt, perfectly alive. What’s the point? We could definitively conclude he’s dead or, if not, investigate. Ask him whether he was, in fact, who he still is. How great would it be to dig up his bones like Yorick and have someone recite Hamlet? There’s an assignment. Immersive education. “Class, I want you to dig up his grave. Does he smell like he wrote those plays?”
We might be able to find out why he died, if not just that he did so. This is valuable knowledge in the event that he’s still alive and we can prevent his death. Get some of that diversity by injecting forensic pathology into English class. Dusbiber is all for unconventional learning: “Mostly, I do not believe I should do something in the classroom just because it has ‘always been done that way.’” Innovation is essential to innovation.
That said, you shouldn’t do something in the classroom just because it hasn’t “always been done that way.” If he hasn’t already, you can literally––if not literarily––get him to roll over in his grave. Dusbiber has been a secondary teacher for 25 years. She has another 12 before she’ll even have had the chance to teach all 37. By that point, we may even uncover Cardenio. In any case, Dusbiber can add variety by teaching plays she hasn’t.
I mistrust the grounds for dismissing Shakespeare. The dismissal itself is less absurd. Earth has produced many excellent stories. Suggesting others is valid. That he should be dismissed because he is not them is insane. Estimating him in terms of an unremarkable origin misses him. Dusbiber’s avowal is more troubling than her disavowal. She discredits herself more than Shakespeare. The argument is a distortion.
Dusbiber limits his cultural heritage to 1616. He’s certainly of his time insofar as he existed in it. Culturally, however, Shakespeare is embedded. He’s less 400 years old than 400 years new. The Complete Works are with us because they illustrate something about us that hasn’t changed. Shakespeare evolves in our perception. You don’t have to be able to see the future to predict it. Some things never change.
Dusbiber looks at his consistency as an inconsistency. Stagnant, if rigid. She identifies him with a narrow view. It is precisely limitation that impresses. Worldly ideas are at your fingertips. Humanity is expressed in a bigger mean. Civilization is more complex; in some ways, that complexity is more obvious. He was dealing with a smaller sample size. Inadequate understanding and information lead to undermining.
Dusbiber, in turn, uses the most general terms to describe him: “a long-dead, British guy.” If someone asked to hear about Shakespeare, you’d allude to plays. Dusbiber picks the absolute least distinctive features. He’s “ONE (white) MAN.” These are apt. Accurate. They neglect the big picture. We have little information and she has little appreciation, if understanding (presumptuous). Therefore, it is possible to stereotype him egregiously.
How many people can be described as “one long-dead white British guy?” Many. How about Shakespeare? The writer? One. I’m okay with that part of her analysis. Only one guy wrote his plays, though conspiracists would have you think otherwise. I think that’s what bothers me about the authorship question—if it’s up in the air, his plays are too. We don’t have specifics, so he is connected to characteristics we know: dead, white, British.
Of course, that’s not all he was. If it’s hard to believe in Shakespeare, it’s harder to believe in Dusbiber. Plenty share her opinion. I’m not sure whether that’s tragic or comic. The inability to discern is apropos. It’s only natural that his legacy should, on some level, be tragicomic. If The Complete Works are dated in age, the same is said of any story. All books will be 400 years old. There won’t be books, but stories persist.
Progressivism is nice. You always have something to look forward to, if not back. In extremes, however, you get it for its own sake. At that point, progress can be backwards as long as it changes. And change is for the better, kids, if not specifically. ‘Shakespeare’s time is over.’ No kidding, he’s been dead for 400 years. If people realize that he is a staple of our time, but not of our time, he’s better for it. He’s not omniscient, yet he’s more than a loud echo.
In writing on Shakespeare, it’s tough to find your voice. Not that I lost it, but that it gets lost in his. I’m tempted to take him on, if not just his tone. That wouldn’t be consistent with him. No one told him he had to be Shakespeare. He was himself. If you want to be like Shakespeare was, be yourself. The pressure of being him is 400 years old. Or, 400 years dead. Someone already had to be Shakespeare and did it such that none of us have to. He spared us the silence.
I experience the shadow of Shakespeare. But what if he was just a shadow? That’s the question asked. Bacon is baloney. If it’s impossible to believe Shakespeare had the time to achieve, it’s impossible to conceive a guy had time to do somebody else’s work. His life was in plays; Bacon had scientific method, de Vere had nobility. Neither had a need. This isn’t saying much for those who have a lot to say about it. They don’t need to be convinced: they are already.
You could write a play about all this, if not an essay. In Anonymous, you think you could make a movie; I’m dubious. It recovered half a $30 million budget. Is anyone surprised by his integrity in some kind of theater? Conspiracy is useful if you implode. If all else fails and it’s de Vere, you can tell yourself, “I told you so. I know something about Shakespeare he doesn’t himself.” Unfortunately, he’s dead. You won’t be able to tell him he wasn’t who he was.
I wasn’t sure how to write. Early in life, before I could. Decades fell. I wasn’t sure how to write the article. It took me longer to start than write. And it took me months to write. I’d leave, come back. I’m in close proximity insofar as it’s on the laptop. So it was really closing windows and reopening them. Am I going to have to write this in iambic pentameter? I’m not about to wax poetic. Quoting? The beginning is no end in sight. My essay is a soliloquy.
All’s well that ends…well?