Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Household Words

Some time ago I was directed to the trailer for a new film soon to be released.  Its name, Anonymous, appears to tell the tired fable that Shakespeare didn't write the works of Shakespeare, but rather some apparently more worthy aristocrat.

The thesis has long ago been shown to hold little but hot air by established scholarship.  In fact, it is looked upon by the main stream in the same light as Creationism is by Paleontology.  The fact that such crackpot theories exist does not surprise me so much however as the people who hold them.

Many actors, including the otherwise perspicacious Derek Jacobi, who gives the prolog for the film, have fallen victim to this spell.  However, as actors are not the best thinkers, to take such a position should not surprise us.  They are creatures ever greedy for praise like trained dogs, and snobbery plain and simple must always be the motive for action in a soul which has no meaning outside of applause.  What does surprise me is the credence given to such ideas by no less than the likes of Mark Twain, who wrote a brief book on the topic, Is Shakespeare Dead?

At first one would think the phenomenon that was Samuel Langhorne Clemens would be the first to root for the boy from Stratford.  They both had similar backgrounds.  Both were born in the country, and never forgot it.  Both were given the barest education (in Twain's case even less).  And both are seminal figures in the literature's of their respective nations, who arose from backwater towns to great wealth and renown.

Yet, I think the motive is plain to see when one digs a bit deeper.  Like the self-hating Jew, there is a similar self-repudiation that often arises in the poor boy who does good.  So ashamed of their origin's they are quick to turn their backs upon members of their former caste, embarrassed to have ever been associated with them.  This I think is the real source for his judgment, a hidden humility.  Twain, like many who have come after, could not accept such gold arising from such dross.  Such concerns are perhaps what fed his secrecy in later years to preserve his image at least within his lifetime, and consign his true opinion's to an age that perhaps would no longer care, as witness his autobiography which was only released in the past year.

Shakespeare's contemporaries had no doubts about who wrote the plays of Shakespeare.  Few even recognized the miracle that had walked amongst them to have bothered with a coverup.  His great contemporary Ben Jonson was moved to call him "Soul of the Age", but still felt enough his better to chide him for his "small Latine, and lesse Greeke".

Perhaps there is something to be learned from both of their example's.  Genius is often not "to the manor born", and human shame and human envy are all too human things to ever die.