Prove me right or prove me wrong

Among the great spear-shakers of history, Shakespeare inhabits a realm shared by few others, where the loss of his human identity has left him floating in a void, seemingly divorced from our pantheon of cultural heroes and even from the cultish level achieved by his plays, up there in the charmed circle, the champagne and chandelier-lit halls where people pay a fortune to be seen watching the Russian Ballet and Grand Opera. 

Of God it has been said “tis He who hath made us, and not we ourselves.” Flesh and bone perhaps, but for those who speak English, more even than his near contemporaries, the authors of the King James Bible, it’s Shakespeare who’s given us the words, and beyond the words, the ideas we’ve lived by ever since he rose to his present level in the nineteenth century. From his Stage to the first peeps of a free Press to the centuries of newspapers to radio, film, television, and the internet, it’s Shakespeare, more than any other single individual, whose public stage and the plays he created for it, gave the English their first experience with what today we call the Media. 

This act of defiance in the face of the growing tyranny of free market capitalism, a force unchecked by either policy or religion––the creation of the first stand alone commercially successful public theater in modern history––standing, right from the start, cheek by jowl with the central machinery of government, Whitehall and Parliament, was too much of a threat to those in power to allow the truth about its creation, or its creator, to get out. Today, freed by new forms of the Media provided by a new century, it’s time to let the genie out of the bottle, and tell the world who he was, what he did, and why he did it. 

The key, as always, is publication. Wikipedia, social media, access to the ODNB for a small fee, are accessible to freelance historians in ways that until now have been locked within the ivy-covered walls of Academe. Shakespeare lovers all over the world are ready to hear the story of his creation of the Media, the fourth estate of government, the vox populi. In a few books I cannot begin to provide all the evidence for any particular point, but the evidence is there, if only we’ll look for it, are wise enough to know it when we see it, and bold enough to take advantage of this brave new world of instant communication. 

Join the fray. Prove me right or prove me wrong, but let’s have the truth, wherever it may lead

3 thoughts on “Prove me right or prove me wrong

  1. So, if I get this correctly, Shake-Speare was a proto-leftist fighting against the enslaving forces of 16th century free market capitalism? And it has been free market capitalism which has enslaved and murdered millions throughout the intervening centuries of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.?

    While I support your call to arms in the utilization of 21st Century media to break through the SAQ inertia in academia, I am rather tired of constantly being told that the future lies with Marxism. After 4 months of riots in U.S. streets, I need no more sanctimonious reminders about the evil of capitalism and the utopia of socialism. Such condescension from the left has been creeping into the SOF lately and now, sadly, my beloved iconoclast The Politic Worm feels the need to establish some leftist credentials. Perhaps I have mis-read this or am over-reacting, for which I apologize in advance. But why isn’t the development and expansion of printing and the theater an example of nascent free market capitalism which helped marshal in the idea of freedom of speech and religion? And why does a matter of historical fact [i.e., who was Shake-Speare] have to drag in Left-Right politics?

    I am a big fan, Miss Hughes, but I flinch whenever someone drags Marx v. Adam Smith into an argument as the moral compass.

    1. Yes, and the Robert Redford vehicle ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976), extolled above (Long story short, Feb 10) is no cinematic acme, nor is the Hollywood sort of progressivism particularly healthy for America; and neither were the Washington Post and New York Times which made it their mission to destroy Richard Nixon ever any beacons of truth.

      That said, De Vere is certainly the largest piece of the Shake-speare puzzle. One day soon he will one day receive full credit and all honour, and for this happiness we have Politicworm and its brethren to thank.

  2. Hah! Looks like I managed to stir the pot!––that came out “stir the poet,” but to the point––Things were getting a little dull around here, a little too stuck in a pedantic groove, so it seems this modest glance in a post-Marxist direction has brought forth a refreshing blast from somewhere along the left-right political spectrum.

    Injecting modernism into 16th-century English literary history is a little like arguing whether Shakespeare was a protestant or a Catholic (and whether or not to capitalize Protestant) when what he turned out to be, if he was anything but an angry poet, using the only weapon he had, was a Platonist. And then of course you have to know what it meant to be a platonist then. Or any time.

    Oxford created the Media. That’s the point, if there is one. And the Media is neither good nor bad, it simply is. If All the President’s Men isn’t a great movie, it certainly is an example of what the Media can do when an immensely complex situation has to be packed into a brief two-hours, something that Shakespeare got quite good at as he went along, and which will be super fun if and when the authorship community gets around to connecting the plays with History, rather than the other way round.

    Before Shakespeare and the London Stage there was no Media. It did not exist. Not only was there no film, no TV, no radio, there wasn’t any print Media, no cheap books, no newspapers, nothing that reached the public. Why? Because the public couldn’t read! The only way Oxford could reach them was through the stage, which had to be a cheap public stage, not the private indoor rooms of the wealthy, so he found a way to build one.

    That’s where the story lies, the creation of the first public stage in northern Europe (if you know of an earlier one, let me know; I’ve been looking for years). He did it to escape the bondage of a culture that threatened to take all the joy out of life, and in so doing he let the genie of public discourse out of the bottle, which is why the Calvinists (evangelicals) gave him such a hard time then, and have ever since. He created the means for creating and molding public opinion that reached far beyond their depressing, condemning sermons.

    He didn’t do it to battle free market capitalism, in fact, in terms of economics, the creation of the public stage was as much an act of free market capitalism as it was anything else, in that it created an industry that brought gainful employment and profitable enterprise to an entire community of actors, musicians, theater owners, stage managers, and so forth, previously regarded as little more than bands of thieves and vagabonds.

    I have great respect for Marx, not so much for his theories as for the fact that he created Sociology (capitalized? not capitalized?), which is, basically, history rooted in data. Of course before Marx there just wasn’t enough data to make a difference, but if anything has taken us closer to the truth about Shakespeare over the past twenty years, it’s been sociology.

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