The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0536 Tuesday, 6 June 2006
Date: Tuesday, 6 Jun 2006 09:32:35 -0500
Subject: 17.0531 Shakespeare's "Small Latin and Less Greek"
Comment: RE: SHK 17.0531 Shakespeare's "Small Latin and Less Greek"
With all the talk about Shakespeare's Latin, I think the most important
matter has been left to the side: how much Latin and Greek Ben Jonson knew.
My impression, left over, I confess, from graduate school many years
ago, is that Jonson was highly sensitive on the subject of his knowledge
of the classical languages. This defensiveness arose from his having
been removed from Westminster and apprenticed to his stepfather, a
bricklayer, closing out his classical education at an early level and
preventing his attending a university.
Subsequently, he worked hard at compensating for this blight and, in
fact, made himself a pretty fair scholar (doesn't that lie in the
background of "Inviting a Friend to Supper"?). Thus, implicit in the
remark, is not that Shakespeare knew NO Latin but that he had not kept
it up, as a proper man of letters should. And, of course, he would
(presumably) be totally ignorant of Greek.
A somewhat catty remark, I suppose, but not (I think) inaccurate.
To review: we have strong presumptive reasons, but no direct evidence,
to assume that Shakespeare attended the Stratford grammar school where
he would have gotten a solid grounding in basic Latin; he did not
(apparently) attend a fancier school or a university, where this
knowledge would have been extended, and basic Greek appended to it; he
did not (apparently) care much about Latin and was happy to let it all
go (as Jonson was not); Jonson saw that laziness as a fault and, as a
classicist should, mentioned it among many pieces of reverential praise.
If this impression is now out of date, I invite correction.
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