When we discover at age six or seven that it isn’t really Santa who provides the toys under the tree, but our parents, questions that were becoming ever sharper to our developing sense of reality––How can he get in when we keep all the doors locked? Why do they say he comes down the chimney when we’ve got no chimney? How can he possibly take care of all the children in the world in a single night? How come his reindeer can fly?––are suddenly resolved. A world that was becoming ever more mysterious in problematic ways returns to making sense. And so it is with one myth after another throughout life. And so it must be, eventually, with the Stratford biography.
Just as no fat man in a red suit could get himself down a million chimneys in a single night, no son of an impoverished, illiterate yeoman from a beer swilling market town two days ride from London could possibly have revolutionized English letters at a time when 90 percent of the population was illiterate. And just as Santa’s miracle is created by parents sneaking downstairs when the kids are asleep, so the English Literary Renaissance was (mostly) created by educated courtiers and their patrons working silently behind the scenes to provide a depressed nation with a replacement for the mummings and disguisings, the Church Ales and parades so harshly condemned by the Reformation.
The Renaissance, the rebirth of interest in Art and Science that began in Italy in the 14th century with the rediscovery of ancient texts and artifacts from the ancient civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean, was delayed in reaching the northern and western areas of Europe by physical and cultural barriers. When it finally reached England in the late 16th century, it only did so because a politically weak monarch who desperately needed some inexpensive glamour to hide the fact that she had no wealth to speak of, was persuaded by some of her councillors to allow it to burst into life, first at Court, then in the public arena.
The English Literary Renaissance was not, uniquely, created by clever members of the working class any more than Christmas mornings are created by Santa’s elves. It was created by the same social group that created it in most of the southern nations of Europe, members of the Courts of kings, queens, and princes. In Spain, where a long connection with Islamic culture separated it from the rest of Europe, the “Golden Age” was largely created by men of a class much closer to that of William of Stratford, but this is an exception that can only prove the rule, for, unlike William (or Greene, or Nashe, or Watson, or, or, or), the two greatest Spanish writers of the period, the novelist Cervantes (born two years before Oxford) and the incredibly prolific genius Lope de Vega (born two years after Bacon) both show trustworthy and substantial paper trails that fit well with the dates and themes of their works and de Vega at least was assisted and supported by courtiers.
It’s been a year now since I began outlining this scenario, and although I’m still nowhere near getting even short versions of all the information that needs sorting out, a start has been made. Now that we are embarked on the great holiday season of the year, the one that started “Shakespeare” on his career, may you all find peace and relaxation in whatever form of “merry-making” brings you pleasure.