Oh yay, Amanda Marcotte has a poke in the eye for the people who think Shakespeare was just the front guy for the Earl of Oxford or some other more aristocratic type because how could a nobody from the provinces possibly be Shakespeare?
Newsweek has a surprisingly sympathetic piece about Shakespeare truthers, republished here at Raw Story, and I just have to take some time to point out that, like with other conspiracy theories and denialist obsessions, there’s more going on here than some kind of legitimate dispute over the facts. For those who are unaware, Shakespeare truthers are people who believe that William Shakespeare was just a half-literate actor who was the cover story for some no doubt wealthy nobleman who secretly wrote the plays and didn’t want credit because, as we all know from our fairy tales, wealthy noblemen are noble, honorable creatures who have small egos and little desire for respect and adulation.*
*This is sarcasm, truthers.
Seriously. Shakespeare truthers drive me batty, because there are so many reasons not to think anyone other than Will Shakespeare, co-owner of one of the two great acting companies of Elizabethan London, colleague of Richard Burbage et al., colleague and rival of Ben Jonson et al., published author of two long poetic narratives, wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare. He was known to a shit-ton of people, and a good few of those people left written records of him.
Newsweek treats the controversy as if it were mostly one of competing camps who are arguing over facts, with only a whiff of acknowledgement of the political forces that are driving this controversy and always have. The one acknowledgement is dismissive: “Yet no matter how much the scholastic Shakespeare establishment insists that the doubters are fruit loops, flat-earthers or simply snobs, who can’t bear the idea that the world’s greatest poet was a mere grammar school boy and not a glamorous aristo, the case against Shakespeare is as vociferous today as at any time since it first gained credence in the mid-19th century.”
Of course it’s as vociferous! There are a lot more people, for one thing, and there are always a lot of people who don’t know their ass from their elbow and so are suckers for dopy conspiracy theories. So what? That doesn’t make the theories reasonable.
The implication that a theory cannot be crackpot because it persists is handily disproven by the existence of all major religions. The same political desires that drove Shakespeare trutherism back in the day have not gone away, however. It’s still fueled by an unsavory classism and hostility to bohemianism that manifests in an unwillingness to accept that someone could develop as a great poet without a formal education but merely by practicing through his work as a writer and actor.
It’s true that it’s mysterious how Shakespeare got to be Shakespeare, but you know what? It would be no less mysterious if he were Edward Vere or Elizabeth Tudor or John Dee or anyone else. He’s a one-off, and a childhood in a big house would not explain him. In fact a childhood of that kind would make him a good deal more of a puzzle, because in that case why would he have been doing something so vulgar as writing plays for the big theatres where any ruffian could enter? If an aristocrat, he should have been at most writing unpublished sonnet sequences, not plays.
The notion that being an educated or erudite person precludes being suckered by bullshit is bound up in the same knee-jerk respect for wealth and authority that gives rise to Shakespeare trutherism to begin with. Granted, Mark Twain is a bit of a surprise in there, but he wrote his anti-Shakespeare screed a year before he died, deep into his cranky old rich man years. Wealthy, educated people are just as prone as any other group of people to falling for conspiracy theories that flatter their sensibilities, and a conspiracy theory that purports to prove that great poets cannot come from the masses just so happens to be exactly what many rich, educated people want to hear.
Thought leaders. Only rich men can be thought leaders. It’s common knowledge.