Emotions around the current, revived debate about the Shakespeare authorship are raging. Shakespeare scholars are ‘infuriated,’ ‘outraged,’ ‘angry’ about the implications of the film Anonymous, that de Vere wrote the plays and that Shakespeare was just a country bumpkin, turned actor, used as a cover by de Vere.
If I were capable of any emotions about the Shakespeare authorship I would also be angry because, not only were the plays the work of one author, but de Vere could not possibly have had much of the knowledge required for the writing of the plays.
One of the main issues seems to be that Shakespeare was not an educated man. That is ridiculous. Education is not a matter of school and university attendance: it’s a process by which one makes sense of the world as a result of living in the world. If a child rejects school learning and a curriculum imposed on him or her, and prefers to read everything possible about pop culture and the doings of celebrities, and immerses herself in popular music can one say that she is uneducated? Of course not: she will probably be more educated in those areas than any university professor. She will pick up reading and writing, and calculating, and perhaps foreign languages as she explores the area of her choice, particularly if she had a high intelligence.
It must be clear to any serious student of Shakespeare’s plays that the poetry that’s created out of the specific Warwickshire countryside could not have been written by anyone other than a country boy growing up there. That’s just one clinching argument for the pro Shakespeare argument.
I will not review the question of Shakespeare’s formal education except to say that one of the things we know about the young Will Shakespeare is that he attended school until he had to leave because the privilege that took him there was removed by his father’s fall from grace as a Stratford alderman. When he was at school he would have been mercilessly drilled in the classics, history, mathematics, astronomy, music, gymnastics and a great number of other activities, so even in that sense he was educated.
Shakespeare’s formal education was far greater than Mozart’s or Beethoven’s. Yet I have never heard of anyone suggesting that either of those geniuses could not have composed their music. Nor have I heard anyone suggest that Einstein could not have come up with the Theory of Relativity because he consistently failed mathematics at school. Einstein’s comment on formal education was: ‘Great spirits have always been violently oppressed by mediocre minds.’
The quality of genius that we find in the likes of Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven or Einstein are beyond the comprehension of the likes of you and me. All we know is that there are giants in science, music, art and literature, whose work seems to come from somewhere else, and we don’t understand how that works. But a Mozart opera or a Beethoven symphony or a Shakespeare play shows that these phenomena happen. Lesser minds, like those insisting on Shakespeare’s plays having been written by someone else – anyone else, Marlowe, Bacon, de Vere – anyone but Shakespeare, simply cannot accept that this thing that we don’t understand, can happen in writing plays as well as in composing music or explaining the working of the universe.
Thomas Edison had no ‘education’ if one wants to define education as a formal, imposed process, but how much do we owe to his creative mind? Like Shakespeare, too, he was a good businessman who linked his creations to the accumulation of wealth.
History is littered with such men and women. Jane Austen never attended school and her background was humble, and yet I have never heard anyone suggest that she was uneducated. Michael Faraday, one of the most influential scientists of all time, a man who revolutionised our understanding of all matters electrical, inventor of the electric motor, the Bunsen burner, the electric generator and electrolysis and electroplating, suffered from severe dyslexia and had to leave school at a very young age. He couldn’t read and had to break everything down into separate images and then reconstruct them in a different way. He also couldn’t get his head around numbers.
The monk, Gregor Mendel, was a peasant – a gardener in a monastery – but he had a mind that had the qualities of an Einstein or a Faraday and is now
regarded as the father of modern genetics. Srinivasa Ramanujan, the most influential of modern mathematicians, came from an Indian slum. A maths textbook came into his hands at the age of eleven, he read it and started developing the ideas he found there. As a result of the work he did in mathematics he was eventually admitted to a university but had to leave after a few months because he was unable to cope with it, but he continued with hiswork, and look at his reputation now. Quentin Tarantino dropped out of school in Grade 9 but his films have set the tone of modern film making.
Where does Shakespeare feature in all this? He is no more and no less than one of those ‘freaks’ like Beethoven, Einstein, Faraday, Ramanujan and Darwin, whose formal education had little to do with what he went on to achieve.