The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0200 Tuesday, 30 January 2001
From: Diana Price <
Date: Friday, 26 Jan 2001 11:36:48 -0500
Subject: 12.0169 Re: Literacy with Editor's Note
Comment: Re: SHK 12.0169 Re: Literacy with Editor's Note
Again, I submit this for Prof. Cook's consideration.
Franklin J. Hildy wrote:
| I am sorry this debate on the level of education Shakespeare may or
| not have had will be going away. I had hoped someone would tell me why
| this is of any significance. A very large number of the greatest minds
| in literature. linguistics, business and science were self taught
| weren't they? George Bernard Shaw, as I recall, had minimal formal
| education, yet no one has argued that he could not, therefore, have
| written the plays that are now attributed to him. Both Shaw and
| Shakespeare were clearly among the most brilliant minds of their day.
| They were both very well educated -- there is just no reason to think
| they got very much of that education in a school. It seems odd to me
| that anyone should suggest that a university education is a
| to great playwriting because I can't think of any period in history
| where that has been true.
Educational documentation is usually considered part and parcel of the
genre of literary biography. Biographers don't have to speculate how
Shaw educated himself and developed as a creative writer. They have
mountains of documentary evidence with which to reconstruct Shaw's
professional progress. I am unaware of any comparable documentary
evidence that tells us how Shakespeare developed as a writer or acquired
This deficiency in Shakespeare's documentary record relates to Mr.
Kathman's responses. He wrote:
| Ms. Price's list here is heavy in the university-educated playwrights,
| for whom we understandably do have documentary evidence of education.
| She neglects to mention numerous prolific writers for whom we lack the
| type of evidence she seeks, such as John Webster, Thomas Dekker, Henry
| Chettle, Michael Drayton, and many others. And for some of the people
| on the list above, the evidence we do have is slim. For example, we
| have no documentary record of George Chapman's education, and indeed
| documentary record of him at all before he was 30 years old; but we do
| have a book that he inscribed, much later, in which he mentions that
| had spent time in his youth in the service of Sir Ralph Sadler, and I
| assume that this is what Ms. Price is thinking of for him.
The literary evidence we have for some of those writers is indeed
"slim," but it is not non-existent. Biographers cannot trace the
professional development of any of those writers as well as they can for
GB Shaw, but they have more to go on with all of them than they have for
Shakespeare. The absence of educational records is simply one category
of literary evidence for which the Shakespearean cupboard is bare. This
gap in the record is especially odd, since Shakespeare's non-literary
life is otherwise reasonably well-documented.
| In that article I discuss the radical double standard used by
| curmudgeon Charlton Ogburn on this issue. I also discuss the
| issue in less detail in "The Stratford Grammar School", available at:
I would hope that my own research and conclusions would be judged on
their merits, not on the assumption that I have adopted Mr. Ogburn's
methods or accepted his conclusions. Ogburn never did a comparative
analysis of professional evidence for Shakespeare and other writers.
That analysis takes up an entire chapter in my own book, and I can share
as much or as little of that analysis with this list as Prof. Cook
| >Although I am anti-Stratfordian, I am not an Oxfordian and I do not
| >propose any conspiracies. I am proposing that the types of
| >evidence generally used to support the genre of literary biography --
| >including records of education and training -- are missing from
| I would dispute this claim rather forcefully. The evidence for
| Shakespeare's authorship of the works generally attributed to him is
| quite ample, and is stronger than the comparable evidence for some of
| the writers Ms. Price mentioned in her first answer above.
| To brush aside all this evidence, and focus instead on the education
| issue, seems to me a rather myopic and unscholarly way of considering
| the facts.
The assertion that "evidence for Shakespeare's authorship ... is quite
ample, and is stronger than the comparable evidence for some of the
writers" is one that cannot be supported by the type of documentary
evidence we've been talking about. But you're right, rather than
confine the discussion to educational records, I would agree that
literary biographies are based on various types of documentary evidence,
such as correspondence, manuscripts, payments for plays, and so on. It
isn't hard to find such professional evidence for other Elizabethan
writers. In contrast, Shakespeare's biographers must instead rely on
conjecture, posthumous evidence, inference, impersonal allusions,
theatrical records -- anything but hard literary documentation, to
account for his literary activity and development. In that sense,
Shakespeare's literary biography is unique.
Mr. Kathman wrote:
| He certainly read a lot, but not in the way a university
| graduate would have; he read books that were freely available and used
| by many other playwrights.
There is no *documentary* evidence to support these statements. If there
were, I am sure it would have been cited by now.
At such time as Prof. Cook wishes to terminate this exchange, perhaps I
might suggest that anyone interested in hearing any more about my
research on these matters communicate with me off-list. Or, members
might wish to visit the Amazon.com website, which has posted six reviews
of my book -- negative and positive, but collectively, they describe
some of the new research and perspectives that relate to the preceding