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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Literacy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0113  Friday, 19 January 2001

[1]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Jan 2001 10:03:14 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[2]     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Jan 2001 18:54:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[3]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Jan 2001 00:25:59 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Jan 2001 10:03:14 EST
Subject: 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

(Re Don's question) Regarding the 'filthy-playmaker' reference I believe
it to be more directed towards the moral integrity of the kind of person
who writes plays - namely it is lumping the writers of poetry and plays
together in the same category with rascal pamphleteers like Nashe and
the Marprelate sort...(Nashe of course also being a poet and
playwright). The other part of the quote I suppose gives the game
away...

We read of one MARLIN, a Cambridge scholler, who was a Poet, and a
filthy Play-maker, this wretch accounted that meeke seruant of God Moses
to be but a Coniurer, and our sweete Sauiour but a seducer and a
deceiuer of the people.

Probably part of the Puritan dislike of 'Poets' is a vaguely
Aristotelian mistaking of poets for liars and the secondary conflation
of character's thoughts with authorial thoughts (though others more
informed than I may like tell us where-abouts this MARLIN (Marlowe?)
fellow said that Christ was a seducer and deceiver of the people).

On the other issue - Diana Price goes on to make a few lurches in the
direction of a certain banned question when she says that:

<< The sheer number of classical (and foreign-language) texts used by
 Shakespeare raise many questions about those sources of his knowledge
 which fell outside a grammar school curriculum. John Velz's
*Shakespeare
 and the Classical Tradition (1968) and Selma Guttman's *The Foreign
 Sources of Shakespeare's Works* (1947) identify dozens of such sources.
 I do not know Latin or other foreign languages, so I am relying on such
 bibliographies.

 However, if Shakespeare was familiar with works by writers such as
 Claudianus, Lucretius, or Pliny the Elder, none of which was taught in
 grammar schools, then Shakespeare's education, including his knowledge
 of classical literature, cannot be accounted for by citing only grammar
 school training-or Baldwin's account of it.
>>>

Once again I wonder why people struggle with the idea that Shakespeare
was a well read man. Just because Jonson was slighted for being a
brick-layer and had a T from Tyburn jail on his thumb we don't imagine
he couldn't educate himself well by interest and talent alone (though of
course he did attend Westminster School). Lucretius (particularly his
Epicurian De Rerum...taken up so beautifully by Dryden) and famous 'then
and now' writers such as Pliny are known of (at least) to ignorant
moderners like me and thus why not an intelligent Elizabethan playwright
like Shakespeare? Moreover the smatterings of short Italian novellas or
ostentations in contemporary French contained in S's plays hardly count
as impossible efforts of linguistic endeavour -not to mention their
being common currency with all of S's contemporary playwrights -Peele,
Lodge, Greene, Nashe, Chapman, Chettel...etcetc  Did Shakespeare NEVER
meet his contemporaries or hear of new popular stories, poems or
pamphlets? This argument really must move on.

Cheers,
Marcus

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Jan 2001 18:54:24 -0500
Subject: 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Diana Price says, "The sheer number of classical (and foreign-language)
texts used by Shakespeare raise many questions about those sources of
his knowledge which fell outside a grammar school curriculum."  Well,
after a person has passed through a curriculum of English would we be
surprised if they read ever more widely in that literature?  Should we
be surprised that Shakespeare, having learned Latin and some Greek,
should decide to read things not in the curriculum?  In other words, why
are we surprised by Shakespeare doing what we would hope most of our
students would do after we have taught them?

William Proctor Williams

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Jan 2001 00:25:59 -0600
Subject: 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0098 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Diana Price wrote:

>David Kathman wrote:
>
>| 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..."
>
>Not everyone agrees with Thomson. Consider another specialist in the
>classics, Frederick S. Boas (*Queen Elizabeth in Drama and Related
>Studies,* 1950). He wrote that Shakespeare's classical knowledge,
>"though secondhand, was not second-rate and should not be branded as
>superficial."  Boas's own description of Shakespeare's classical
>knowledge was "subliminal":   "It had seeped into his subconscious self,
>and thence, as he wrote, it welled forth at any moment on to his
>manuscript."

It's true that there is some disagreement about the exact extent of
Shakespeare's classical knowledge. Thomson's book, which I quoted above,
was basically a response to Baldwin's book, which I cited below. Thomson
believed that Shakespeare had less knowledge of classical literature in
Latin than Baldwin gave him credit for, but both scholars agreed that
Shakespeare's classical knowledge was unremarkable among his
contemporaries, and was nothing he could not have gotten from a good
Elizabethan grammar school education.

I don't have the Boas book you cite handy, but I know from other sources
that he did not believe that Shakespeare had any kind of unusual
classical knowledge; in fact, he thought that Shakespeare barely knew
any Latin and got most of his classical knowledge from English
translations, as Thomson also believed.  In *Shakespeare and the
Classical Tradition* (which ironically you cite later in this post),
John Velz writes (p.33) that "Boas clings tenaciously to what has come
to be identified as the British view of Shakespeare as a semiliterate"
(i.e. in Latin).  I also have Boas's *University Drama in the Tudor Age*
on my shelf, and from that book it's clear that Boas did not believe
that Shakespeare had or needed a university education.  Someone reading
your quotes out of context might think that Boas believed that
Shakespeare's classical knowledge was unusual for the age, which is
simply a gross misrepresentation.  Again, let me recommend Robert
Miola's recent (2000) book *Shakespeare's Reading*, which covers all of
this in admirably concise detail.  Here's a quote from p. 3:

"The emphasis on memory in Elizabethan grammar schools also conditioned
readers and writers.  Students memorized hundreds, perhaps thousands, of
Latin lines and constructions. The extensive cultivation of memory
created a literary culture of quotation and allusion, wherein the
classics and the Bible served as a common repository of significant
reference.  Niobe stood as an example of grief, Hercules as a type of
courage and strength.... Later, differnently trained readers
misunderstood this culture and Shakespeare's references.  Such learning,
they concluded, signalled a university education and, hence, an author
for the plays other than the man from Stratford, William Shakespeare.
In 1944 T. W. Baldwin demolished such arguments by demonstrating (in two
thick volumes numbering 1,525 pages) that the great majority of
Shakespeare's quotations, allusions, and references derive from the
standard books and curriculum of an Elizabethan grammar school."

It seems to me that Boas' description of Shakespeare's classical
knowledge as "subliminal" is just another way of saying what Miola says
in the passage above.  *Every* literate Elizabethan treated classical
allusions this way, because the classics had been drilled into their
heads in grammar school.  But the level of classical knowledge displayed
by Shakespeare in particular was quite unremarkable for those days, as
Thomson, Baldwin, Boas, and Miola (himself an outstanding classical
scholar) all agree.  The only way you can imply otherwise is by taking
their words out of context and relying on your readers' ignorance of the
literary culture of the time.

>David Kathman also wrote:
>
>| 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.
>
>The sheer number of classical (and foreign-language) texts used by
>Shakespeare raise many questions about those sources of his knowledge
>which fell outside a grammar school curriculum.

As I've pointed out many times before, both on this group and in any
essay on my web site (http://www.clark.net/tross/ws/field.html),
Shakespeare had a ready source of classical and foreign language texts
in his fellow townsman Richard Field, who was two and a half years older
than Shakespeare and had grown up a few hundred yards down the road in
Stratford.  Field had taken over Thomas Vautrollier's printing business,
which included an exclusive patent to print Ovid and several other Latin
authors.  One of Field's first independent publications was a 1589 Latin
edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses.  Field owned the copyright to North's
translation of Plutarch's Lives, one of Shakespeare's most important
narrative sources, and during the last year of his apprenticeship he had
worked on the printing of the 1587 edition of Holinshed's Chronicles,
Shakespeare's other major narrative source, and probably had it in his
library.  Field was also the leading London printer of foreign-language
manuals, some of which (such as John Eliot's French manual *Ortho-epia
Gallica*) Shakespeare demonstrably read.  Field also printed and/or
published many other minor sources used by Shakespeare, such as
Harington's translation of *Orlando Furioso* and Greene's *Pandosto*.

As for the "sheer" number of sources used by Shakespeare, classical or
otherwise, let me refer you again to Miola, who writes (p.4):

"Like readers today who surf the internet, clicking on hot links,
superimposing image on image, Elizabethans moved rapidly, eclectically,
and associatively from text to text looking for connections, following
impulses, working and playing... Elizabethan readers generally valued
abundance, or copia, over accuracy, individual texts and pieces of texts
over contexts, multiplicity over coherence.  They read analogically,
i.e. across texts, as well as logically."

This describes not just Shakespeare, but all his contemporaries.
Shakespeare's borrowings and echoes have just been better documented
because so many people have scrutinized his works so thoroughly.

>John Velz's *Shakespeare
>and the Classical Tradition (1968) and Selma Guttman's *The Foreign
>Sources of Shakespeare's Works* (1947) identify dozens of such sources.
>I do not know Latin or other foreign languages, so I am relying on such
>bibliographies.

See above for comments on Velz.  And by the way, John Velz has privately
expressed to me his displeasure with the way anti-Stratfordians and
others misuse and misrepresent his work to argue that Shakespeare must
have had a great classical education.  He does not believe this at all.

>However, if Shakespeare was familiar with works by writers such as
>Claudianus, Lucretius, or Pliny the Elder, none of which was taught in
>grammar schools, then Shakespeare's education, including his knowledge
>of classical literature, cannot be accounted for by citing only grammar
>school training-or Baldwin's account of it.

Neither I nor Baldwin ever said that *all* of Shakespeare's classical
knowledge came from grammar school training, just the bulk of it.  That
training would have given him the ability to read other classical Latin
works, which were freely available for sale.

Dave Kathman

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