Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Shakespeare: Oh I Think Not

We've Found Shakespeare's Dictionary!--We got it on Ebay!  So goes the headline (lightly paraphrased).  Well you never say never, but my guess is no.  Not that I've done anything like actually review the evidence, but the very idea seems to fall foul of my favorite first principle of Shakespeare scholarship: it misunderstands who Shakespeare was, and what he did.

Repeat after me, children: Shakespeare was first and last a working hoofer, intent on making money by pleasing the crowd.   From the start he seemed to know the stuff of stagecraft: how to make a scene, how to get a character on and off stage. From early on, he seemed to show a knack for poetry and the craft of dramatic writing--he got much better at it as he got older.   He seems to have had a natural ear and there is no doubt he was a great responder: to his sources (Holinshead, North, Montaigne) but also to his ragged, raucous but enthusiastic audience.

In short, the last guy you'd expect to find hanging around the library.  He didn't bother with the things he didn't bother with.  Had he been a "university wit" (as the misunderstanders said he must have been), he would have been a more disciplined, fastidious and duller writer (I read this somewhere--Jonathan Bate?).

In short, the last guy in the world to sit around annotating a dictionary.  Shakespeare was, in short, not a consumer of dictionaries but a generator of them.  He certainly sopped up words but more than that he improvised and created them.   Had he constrained himself to run off to the authorities in time of trouble, he would have missed out on the electric urgency that gives him so much of his appeal.

I see the folks at Folger share my skepticism.  Good on them, and tell them Buce said so.

Afterthought:  My goodbuddy Carlton reminds me that there was a stir a while back about Shakespeare's Bible.  No, wait, Edward DeVere's Bible--he being, of course, the true author of the plays that the bumpkin never could have composed on his own (snark)  Haven't heard much of that one lately, I'd say. 

Fn:  Happy 350th 450th (heh!), Will.  It's tomorrow, isn't it? Oh, you say we don't know that one either?

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