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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0087  Tuesday, 16 January 2001

[1]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:12:30 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0038 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 11:05:17 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0078 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Paul Swanson <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 16:51:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0078 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:12:30 -0500
Subject: 12.0038 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0038 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

In his 1999 "TheSpirit of Britain" a survey history written for the
general public, the historian of Elizabethan art Roy Strong describes
the state of literacy in England as follows:

"Literacy was confined to a narrow band, by 1600 about 20% of men and 5%
of women.  Even then that represented a considerable increase.
Protestantism, with its stress on the word, was to be a keen driving
force, not to mention the ever-escalating demands of trade and
commerce.  Many could read, even if they could not write.  A large
percentage of north country gentry could certainly read but when it came
to a signature all they could do was make their mark.  Literacy was far
more widespread in the south-east so it is hardly surprising that it was
to be English as it was written and spoken there which was to become
standard."

If one accepts Strong's judgment-he is an art historian primarily and
may therefore be challenged or his bibliography impugned-the supposed
correspondence between literacy and the ability to sign one's name
disappears, as do any generalizations about literacy that do not apply
to Shakespeare's home county of Warwickshire, or his business world in
London (setting aside any consideration of his regular visits to Italy,
France, and Boston).  One might also surmise from Shakespeare's literary
proficiency that his own father was one of those who respected literary
accomplishment generally and therefore more likely than not to have been
among the 20% who did read.  His leadership position in the community
would rather strengthen this view than weaken it.  And, if the
proportion of readers was higher in London than elsewhere, the
proportion among those who attended Shakespeare's plays and enjoyed his
rhetorical sophistication and frequent recourse to classical and
historical literary sources, or to legal conundrums, technical terms,
and the like,  was higher still than the norm for the rest of the city.

Further, the demand for cheap quartos of his plays (enough to create a
market for printed stol'n and surreptitious copies) certainly encourages
the inference that his own admirers were among the reading population.
And last, the strong influence of the university wits in the theater at
large points to a close early connection with pretty high levels of
educational attainment among theater patrons.   I suspect Shakespeare
appealed to a pretty well-read crowd, even within the play-going
population.

Tony B

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Jan 2001 11:05:17 -0800
Subject: 12.0078 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0078 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Thanks to Marcus Dahl for quoting "a poet and a filthy play-maker"
(1618), especially as I happened to be looking for it this morning.  I
would like to add, though, that the professions were inverted by Thomas
Beard in 1597, describing Marlowe as "by profession a play-maker and a
poet of scurrility".

Cheers, and thanks again,
Se

 

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