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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0088  Tuesday, 16 January 2001

[1]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:38:51 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

[2]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:57:40 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

[3]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:27:46 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

[4]     From:   William Sutton <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 15:54:48 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

[5]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 19:14:31 -0800
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:38:51 -0500
Subject: 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

I have not been following this thread, having been away, but when
Stephanie Hughes writes

>Whether or not John Shakespeare or Mary Arden could read or write has
>little to do with the discussion of where WS got his extremely rich (and
>expensive) classical education. Clearly it was not from his family.

something rises up in me, alas.  As Baldwin long ago showed,
Shakespeare's "classical" education was, by the standards of his own
day, not particularly rich, and certainly not expensive, being available
from many well-run small-town grammar-schools of the period with a
regular attendance and a modicum of effort from the pupil.

Why does one have to keep saying these things?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:57:40 EST
Subject: 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

RE: << WS got his extremely rich (and
 expensive) classical education. >>

Though I am no classicist I thought this old chestnut was dead.
Stratford school surely provided a plentiful enough classical education
for the bard (see Schoenbaum's extensive examples from the 'Hornbook' to
Lily's 'Shorte Introduction of Grammar' to later school work with
Plautus, Ovid, Cato, Aesop, Vergil, Horace to name a few common in
Grammar school education) in conjunction with S's indisputed ability to
read books of his own choice (e.g., the chroniclers Holinshed and Hall
and perhaps further afield to Stow, Foxe, etc. See G. Bullough). Try
comparing S's apparent 'classical' knowledge with that of say Jonson's
evident (and largely self - monitored) classical learning or that of
Lodge / Nashe or even the braggart Greene and I think one would struggle
to find S's as wide.  I.e. Compare: - the best account you can of
Elizabethan tablebooks

[which can  amount to what seems an enormous classical learning by
modern standards (particularly to those ignorant of wider classical
reading such as myself -Francis Meres being the most obvious example of
rhetorical opposition and stylistic identity with the tablebook format)
but which in fact could have been gleaned from fairly meagre
cross-reading of the modern 'dictionary of quotations kind' (see
McKerrow on Nashe's use of such table-book learning for The Terrors of
The Night for example)]

with the kind of extensive classical learning offered us directly in the
12 books of Chapman's Homer or even Marlowe's translation of Ovid's
Elegies (not to mention Hero and Leander or his possible work on Lucan's
First book of the Civil War between Pompey and Caesar c.1593).

There is no need to seek any further afield for S's learning than his
own talent and a fairly rigorous Grammar School education.

Yours,
Marcus.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:27:46 -0600
Subject: 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

Stephanie Hughes wrote:

>>John Shakespeare . . . probably would not
>>have kept the borough's accounts, as he did for over three years, if he
>>had been unable to read sums." He also believes that Mary Arden
>>Shakespeare could read and possibly write as well.
>>
>>Jane Drake Brody
>
>Odd that Honan is ignorant of the fact that by means of a variety of
>counting and recording techniques, businessmen managed to keep track of
>accounts for millennia before reading and writing became standard. Had
>it been otherwise, illiterate tradesmen would not have been able to hold
>such offices in Stratford, or any town.
>
>Whether or not John Shakespeare or Mary Arden could read or write has
>little to do with the discussion of where WS got his extremely rich (and
>expensive) classical education. Clearly it was not from his family.

I'll set aside for the moment the issue of John Shakespeare's literacy
(which seems in danger of edging into the dreaded authorship question),
and just note the following.  While Shakespeare's classical education
may seem impressive to a modern reader, it was *not* "extremely rich" by
the standards of the day; in fact, Shakespeare displays remarkably
*less* classical learning, and makes remarkably *fewer* classical
allusions, than most of his contemporaries.  Consider the following
quotations by the classical scholar J.A.K. Thomson, from his book
*Shakespeare and the Classics* (1952):

"There are in the general body of Venus and Adonis a number, but,
considering the subject and the conventional way of treating such a
subject, a surprisingly small number, of allusions to classical tales
and persons. All these allusions are of a perfunctory character and such
as could be plucked in Elizabethan times from every hedgerow..."

"Of The Rape of Lucrece the general character is the same...  There are
casual references to Narcissus, to Orpheus before Pluto, to Philomel-the
commonplaces of Renaissance poetry, and all, as it happens, to be found
in the Metamorphoses, whence comes nine-tenths of Shakespeare's
classical mythology.  Of classical *learning* there is no trace..."

"Ovid's own poetry is loaded in every rift with mythological allusion,
and his Renaissance imitators, both in Latin and in their mother
tongues, had followed him in this. But anyone who reads the Poems of
Shakespeare with an eye solely to their matter will be astonished to
find how meagre and perfunctory is the element of classical allusion.
We, who think little of such allusions and rarely find them in
contemporary verse...  do not notice this characteristic of Venus and
Adonis. But it was noticed in Shakespeare's own day."

T.W. Baldwin's massive two-volume study *William Shakspere's Small Latin
and Less Greek* shows pretty exhaustively that the bulk of Shakespeare's
classical allusions come from the Latin texts that were standards in the
curricula of Elizabethan grammar schools, of which the school at
Stratford (which Shakespeare would have been entitled to attend for free
as the son of an alderman) is a good example.  For a more recent and
concise description of these issues, let me highly recomment Robert
Miola's book *Shakespeare's Reading*, published last year in the "Oxford
Shakespeare Topics" series.  Miola gives an excellent overview of how
Elizabethan reading conventions differed from today's (they would often
skim from book to book looking for analogues, much like a web surfer
today), and covers Shakespeare's use of sources in a very readable way.

Dave Kathman

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[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Sutton <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Jan 2001 15:54:48 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

Okay Stephanie,

>Whether or not John Shakespeare or Mary Arden could
>read or write has
>little to do with the discussion of where WS got his
>extremely rich (and
>expensive) classical education. Clearly it was not
>from his family.
>
> Stephanie Hughes

I'm confused now. Is Shakespeare's literary tradition only connected to
his classical education? What's with the extremely rich and expensive?
Says who? I thought an education at a grammar school fed the majority of
classical allusions Shakespeare used. (re: Baldwin)

Why also couldn't John Shakespeare have had a lively aural knowledge?
What about knowledge of natural history: seasons, flora and fauna? What
about myth and fable? None of these require a classical education
however rich and expensive, and are used widely in Shakespeare's
imagery.

I still maintain the Holinshed connection is significant. A steward of a
thriving estate working in the neighbourhood of a young Shakespeare
whose father undoubtably had connections that far afield?! (I'm thinking
shepherds, wool, skins, gloves for falconers, a hoarder and usurer). Yes
I know it's speculation.  Was Hotson so far off the mark with his
speculative theories that such information defies investigation?

True, whether or not his parents could read or write has little to do
with the discussion but there is no evidence to the contrary. Could his
parents have been partial role models contributing to their son's
eventual occupation seems to be the issue. So basically Stephanie I
disagree with your conclusion as too narrow in its human scope. We do
all agree that its Shakespeare's humanity that is so all-encompassing?

As in the sonnets, fair, kind and true are all his argument. Surely
these ethical and moral imperatives are equally important to
Shakespeare's literacy. The author of the plays shows great acumen
concerning his emotional intelligence. That speaks to me across the
centuries far more than his intelligence quotient.  That he could have
had from his family.

In defence of Will's ma and pa,
William S.

PS Are there any basic tenets of Orthodoxy besides he of Stratford and
boy we know so little except the dry, uninteresting records?

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Jan 2001 19:14:31 -0800
Subject: 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy
Comment:        Fw: SHK 12.0069 Re: John Shakespeare and Literacy

Peter Thomson (_Shakespeare's Professional Career_. Cambridge UP, 1992:
13ff) that Shakespeare's grammar-school education was much more
"classical" than we might assume. The Stratford  schoolmaster was paid
"uncommonly well" (his principle teacher's salary at Stratford was
doubled when he came there from Warwick), the five teachers at his
school were all Oxford graduates, and Shakespeare would have studied
there the works of Cicero and Ovid (his favorite, perhaps) in Latin, and
probably read Terence and Plautus in Latin as well. What he perhaps
lacked was much Greek literature (at least in his school days); of
course, this is all conjecture since we have no hard evidence of
Shakespeare's boyhood. It seems unlikely, however, that he needed an
"expensive" education. Does anyone have more information?

Paul E. Doniger
 

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