Pardon my absence!

I have been a very poor blogger—taking more than a year off. My excuse is that I have been working very diligently on my Ph.D. Just before Christmas break, I passed my Research Component with flying colors. I’m scheduled to present my Dissertation Proposal this semester. Nonetheless, pardon my absence.


What does my research have to do with Shakespeare, you ask? Well, my degree will not be in English. Rather, it will be in English Education. There are many reasons I opted for this degree rather than a traditional English degree, but the most important one is that I wanted to learn how best to teach. To do that, I needed to understand the various theories and research in education. And yet, even here, my degree will still be focused on Shakespeare. My research is focused primarily on methods for Teaching Shakespeare; more specifically, how do we teach Shakespeare in schools, how have we taught him, and which methods are the most effective and which are the most efficient for an instructor’s goals? There is a long history of Shakespeare in American schools, and, because he is such a constant is most curriculums, focusing education research on him is not that far fetched. On top of having a very supportive advisor who is very excited about my research, I have also been lucky enough to have been taken under the wing of one of the Shakespeare professors in the English department. She’s granted me full access to her and her classes, and I’ve been studying her for a year now. Her students have also been very generous—many have granted me multiple interviews about what they feel works or doesn’t work, their experiences with and feelings on Shakespeare, among many other subjects. It has been wonderful. Studying her class has tripled my passion for teachings and especially for teaching Shakespeare. Sitting quietly and observing has been very difficult because, so often, I want to raise my hand with the exuberance of Hermione Granger and answer or asked questions.
All this is to say, I will work on a new Shakespeare blog soon—hopefully long before the Bard’s birthday. In the meantime, please take a look at this wonderful Tumblr—I’ve gotten to know the artist through emails over the last few months. She’s incredibly smart and very talented.


Thus, I leave you—for now—with one of my favorite insults from Macbeth. ““Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver’d boy.” Macbeth 5.3.14-15

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Happy Birthday, Willy!

Last year, I participated in the “Happy Birthday Shakespeare” Blog Project ( and gave a brief rundown of the view and history of birthdays in Shakespeare’s day. While that was incredibly interesting, for a Shakespeare and history nerd like me anyway, this year the project would like us to focus more on what Shakespeare has meant to us.

When I was 11, a babysitter brought over a copy of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet. Technically, I knew I was a little young to be watching something like that, but I watched it anyway—steadfastly leaving during especially violent or sexual scenes like a good girl. However, I immediately became obsessed with both the story and Shakespeare. This event was followed closely by a Jr. High play where my minute character spoke some lines from Macbeth’s “Tomorrow” speech backwards. Because of my interest, I immediate set about learning the actual speech both backwards and forwards. Then I read the play. Then I read some sonnets. By this point, my mother had noticed my interest and, in her motherly wisdom, took me to see Twelfth Night at Nashville Shakespeare’s Shakespeare in the Park. We’ve been every year since—I even drove 12 hours just to be home for Labor Day weekend this past summer as to not miss the show with her. Their production of The Tempest is still a vivid memory—I loved it so much that I memorize the epilogue for fun. To this day, it is still my favorite play.

That interest/obsession has never faded. In fact, it’s grown. My freshman year of high school, I was the only one who understood Romeo & Juliet well enough to argue with the teacher in a way that she appreciated. My senior year, I was on the edge of my seat for each day’s discussion of both Hamlet and Macbeth despite the fact that I had seen and read the plays several times. One of my favorite professors in undergrad actually barred me from writing anymore Shakespeare-themed papers because I had written so many for her.

For me, Shakespeare’s works embody everything that I love about Literature. Within his plays, he knits imagination, folk mythology, history, drama, comedy, wit, wisdom, and much more. I can spend hours breaking down scenes by line—always finding something new or interesting. His rhymes and meter fall naturally off the tongue becoming a musical background to the words and images he invokes. My favorite lines from his plays still give me goosebumps every time I read them. When I’m troubled, I can always find something in Shakespeare that speaks to what I cannot express properly myself. Personal or public tragedy? Shakespeare. A need for a good laugh? Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was one of my first “grown-up” literary loves, and he will always remain dear to my heart. He led me to my current educational path in Literature and Education. My dream is to teach students to love and appreciate him like I do. He will always be my man, Willy Shakes. Happy Birthday, Willy.

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint. Now, ’tis true,

I must be here confined by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardoned the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell,

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands.

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardoned be,

Let your indulgence set me free. (The Tempest, 5. Epilogue).


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Multimodal Shakespeare

I know, it’s been a long time since my last update. Such is the nature of grad school I’m afraid. I will try for a real update around the Bard’s birthday this month. In the meantime, here’s a small update!

One of the major areas of interest in the program I’m in is multimodal teaching strategies. A class assignment required that I turn a poem into a video. I chose Shakespeare’s Sonnets 130 and 104. Enjoy!

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Fairy lore in Shakespeare

‘Tis the season (for magic!) While this is not a Christmas themed post, Christmas is often referred to as magical, so here is some background on the magical history of Shakespeare!

Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call’d Robin Goodfellow…
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he? (
Midsummer 2.1. 32-34, 40-42).


Basics of Fairy lore in England, Ireland, and Scotland


The origins of British/Celtic fairy lore are not clear, although many critics believe them to be left over from some older pagan religion. Because of its lost origins, fairy lore has several explanations for its existence, including:

Ghosts or Spirits of the Deceased: bean si (Irish) or bean shith (Scottish) translates as “fairy woman” and is generally described as a ghost and is either an omen from the dead for an impending tragedy or simply as an omen for death.

Fallen Angels: Several legends, based on sketchy biblical tidbits, tell that when some angels revolted, the gates of heaven were shut and those in hell became demons while those on earth became fairies.

Demons: Some beliefs held that fairies were demons, but most critics believe this to be a result of the growth of Christianity, especially Puritanism. For instance, although Puck is sometimes called “hobgoblin,” which, though originally a friendly household spirit, became an evil goblin. Many older folk beliefs similarly became demonized by church tenants, as with witchcraft and other forms of magic. Consequently, part of subsequent folklore is that fairies are scared away by church bells. However, in Midsummer, Oberon states that his people are not driven away by church bells, reaffirming their status as non-demons to Shakespeare’s audience. More on this further down.

Pagan Deities: Tales of the Tuatha De Dannan tell of a magical people coming to Ireland on black clouds, only to eventually be chased underground or to the sidhe (fairy mounds) by the ancestors of Irish folk. Most critics believe that the stories contain evidence that these beings were once considered gods and goddesses by local pagan religions. More than likely, this is the belief regarding fairies that dominates in Shakespeare’s play. Due to the increasing influence of Christianity, fairies were relegated to the realm of folk tales, not deities, but remained powerful nonetheless.


Peasants often divided fairies into two courts, the Seelie Court and Unseelie Court. The fairies of the Seelie Court were believed to be more kindly toward mortals, often helping them or giving them gifts. However, that did not keep faeries from playing cruel tricks on mortals or from showing their wrath when feeling they had been injured in some way. However, unlike the Unseelie Court, when given the choice between benevolence or malice toward mortals, they would more than likely choose benevolence. The Unseelie Court, on the other hand, while occasionally kind toward mortals, generally chose malice toward humans. Members of the Seelie Court often wore bells on the harnesses or their steeds to distinguish them from their harsher relatives, who were frightened off by the sound of bells, thus further explaining Oberon’s assurance that his people were “spirits of another sort” (Midsummer 3.2.388) when Puck reminds him that dawn is near, when “damned spirits all” (3.2.382) must flee from daybreak.


Common Traits, Tricks, and Gifts 

Fairies of Shakespeare’s time were not pictured as more modern fairies. Rather than having wings, they often appeared gnomish or elfish in appearance. The few that flew did so by magic or by harnessing birds or insects as steeds.

Brownies and hobgoblins, both types of fairies, were generally considered house or hearth fairies. They would help housewives with chores and other duties if they deemed the household worthy by its cleanliness. This is why Puck states, “I am sent with broom before, / To sweep the dust behind the door” (5.1.389-90). Puck, in his kindly persona of Robin Goodfellow, often helped around the hearth and home according to his mythos, but he could quickly change to his more impish persona if displeased. In Ben Jonson’s ballad “Robin Goodfellow” the punishments inflicted by Puck for uncleanness are described:

When house or hearth doth sluttish lie,

I pinch the maidens black and blue,

The bedclothes from the bed pull I,

And lay them naked all to view. (Dyer 19).

Brownies could be driven away by a gift of clothing; however, the clothing was to be of good quality, otherwise the giver risked incurring the wrath of the Brownie.

Fairies also could not stand the touch of iron, thus the practice of hanging an iron horseshoe above a doorway or entrance.

Often, the good graces of fairies were entreated with bribes or fresh cream and honey, a particular favorite.

It was particularly important not to impede the pathways of fairies, thus front and back doors of houses were often built in alignment so that they could be left open and night, allowing the fairies to pass through.

It was also bad luck to step into a fairy ring, as the fairies might still be dancing within it. If they were, you would be sucked into their dance, unable to get out until they let you go. You could be missing for a few minutes or for decades.

Puck’s favorite game of leading travelers astray was called will o’the wisp. It could be avoided by not following the light or sound that attempted to lead travelers astray, often to their death in the marshes or swamps.

According to Scottish tradition, Millers were thought to be friends of the fairies thanks to their ability to control the forces of nature. Often, they were believed to grind grain for the fairies at night or allow the fairies use of their machinery. This belief was no doubt encouraged by millers to keep thieves away.

An infant who was not baptized was in danger of being stolen by the fairies and replaced with a changeling or fairy-child. Changelings were often believed to be sickly, dying soon after birth. This belief probably arose out of the high rate of infant mortality among the poor. Older people could also be taken and would be unable to leave if they ate fairy-food. This belief was probably due to the late influence of Greek and Roman mythology (Persephone anyone?).

It was also bad luck to reveal the kindness of fairies to others. If a fairy chose to favor you that favor could quickly turn to malice if you shared the knowledge of your gift and their favoritism to you.


Shakespeare’s Influence on Fairy lore

While it was a common belief that fairies had a courtly system similar to human royalty, the specifics changed by region. Shakespeare gives the name Oberon to his fairy king, which was a common mythology passed on from German or Nordic myths of fairies or elves. Puck too can be found throughout fairy mythology, as well as his counter-personality, Robin Goodfellow. Puck was often seen as the trickster while Robin was highly benevolent to humans, helping them with chores or giving them gifts around the house. However, Shakespeare’s queen, Titania, is of his own naming. While in fairy tradition, there is often a queen with Oberon, she remains either unnamed or called Queen Mab (as she is in Mercutio’s speech in Rome and Juliet). However, even her name Mab was not traditional in Shakespeare’s time.Usually, she just remained unnamed. However, due to Shakespeare’s influence, the name of Titania is commonly seen in literature and theatre after Shakespeare. (The poet William Blake also had a great deal of influence on modern fairy lore, but that is for another day!)

What’s unique in all this is Shakespeare’s mixture of peasant folklore of fairies, on the one hand, with the mythology of the Greeks and Romans that would have been part of upper-class education, on the other. Just as the royalty and upper class mixed with the lower class in the theatre (although they were still separated, they were nonetheless in the same building and area), so too are the mythoi of the lower and upper classes mixed onstage in Midsummer Night’s Dream. “It is described by Mr. Knightley as an attempt to blend the elves of the village with the fays of romance” (Dyer 2). That is not to say that those of the upper class were unaware of fairy mythology or the lower class unaware of some of the major Greek and Roman myths. Rather, both were particularly popular at this time, much to the consternation of the clergy and much to the entertainment of Shakespeare’s audience.

Works Cited and Consulted

Buccola, Regina. Fairies, Fractious Women and the Old Faith: Fairy Lore in Early

Modern British Drama and Culture. Cranbury: Susquehanna University Press,


Bush, Douglas. Mythology & the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry. New York:

W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. , 1963.

Dyer, Rev. T.F. Thiselton. “Fairies.” Folk-lore of Shakespeare. New York: Harper &
Bro., 1884. p. 1-24.

Oatley, Keith. “Simulation of Substance and Shadow: Inner Emotions and Outer Behavior in Shakespeare’s Psychology of Character”.
College Literature, 33:1. Winter 2006: 15-33.

Rogers, L.W.. The Ghosts in Shakespeare. Wheaton: The Theosophical Press, 1925.

Shakespeare, William. The Arden Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Stephens, James. Irish Fairy Tales. New York: Abaris Books, Inc., 1978.

Wall, Wendy. “Why Does Puck Sweep?: Fairy-lore, Merry Wives, and Social Struggle”.

Shakespeare Quarterly 52- 1 Spring 2001: 67-106.

Illustrations by Arthur Rackham


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Give Sorrow Words

This is not really an update. There’s a new post in the works soon. No, this is for those affected by the horrible tragedy at the elementary school in CT today.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” Macbeth Act IV, Scene III, 209-210.

May the Lord bless and keep all of you

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Happy Birthday Willy Shakes!

So, traditionally Shakespeare’s birthday is celebrated on April 23. This date is probably not accurate, but let’s face it, it is certainly convenient since he also died on April 23. For Shakespeare to have lived exactly 52 years just seems serendipitous. And it is certainly one less date to memorize. His actual birthday is unknown. Birth certificates were not issued during that time, but the parish register records Shakespeare’s christening on April 26 with a simple entry, “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere,” or William, son of John Shakespeare. He was more than likely born in April, although the idea that children were baptized three days after birth is not precise.

April 23 has anther enticing draw. It is also St. George’s day, the patron saint of England, as well as a major saint in Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions. Surprisingly, he is also known and respected in many Muslim traditions, a true rarity among religious figures. What better imagery to associate with Shakespeare—England’s national poet, the Bard of Avon, the crosser of traditions, time, and borders—than the venerated saint that also crosses time and cultures? Shakespeare may not have slain a dragon, but he explored and conquered almost every aspect of the human psyche within his plays and poems. Quite a feat for the son of a glover in little Stratford.

Some authors and scholars, like Professor Dennis Kay, propose that there may have been another reason for associating Shakespeare with the 23rd and Saint George. Kay suggests,

If Shakespeare was indeed born on Sunday, April 23, the next feast day would have been St. Mark’s Day on Tuesday the twenty-fifth…St. Mark’s Day was still held to be unlucky, as it had been before the Reformation, when altars and crucifixes used to be draped in black cloth, and when some claimed to see in the churchyard the spirits of those doomed to die that year. (Shakespeare 54)

But what of birthdays in Shakespeare’s time? In early Christian traditions, the idea of celebrating one’s actual day of birth was reviled, due mostly to the extraordinary extravagance and self-indulgence associated with birthdays in pagan Roman traditions. (On a side note, the idea of raucous parties and noisy toys on birthdays is a vestige of pagan tradition born of the belief that evil spirits would visit on the anniversary of birth. The noise and crowds would scare them away.) In place of these celebrations, Christians instead celebrated “name days,” that is, the feast day associated with the saint whose day falls closest to one’s birthday. In fact, in some strict Orthodox traditions, name days are still preferred.

During the English Renaissance, when religious traditions were still in upheaval, thanks mostly due to the in-fighting between Anglican, Puritan, and Catholic powers, many common folk still embraced the idea of the traditional “name day.” For one thing, it certainly made naming one’s child easier as many children were simply named for the saint whose feast day fell closest to their birth. It also made remembering such dates much easier. And hey, celebrations were built in! However, celebrating birthdays or christening days became extremely popular with the noble classes during the Renaissance in England, especially among royalty. In fact, Chaucer makes note of King Cambuskan’s birthday celebration in “The Squire’s Tale” in his famous Canterbury Tales.

Shakespeare, if he celebrated his birth at all, would probably have been more prone to the tradition of the “name day.” Though he was baptized by a Protestant, his mother was from a long line of Roman Catholics, and his older sister, Joan, was baptized in the same parish by a Catholic priest. Again, religion was a constant source of upheaval and danger throughout England for those on all sides. More than likely, Shakespeare wouldn’t have given a hoot for his birthday, especially since he seems to have been a shrewd businessman and would have cared more for his investments in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men, as well as Blackfriars Theatre and the Globe.

Yet, Shakespeare fanatics like me truly enjoy celebrating his birthday simply because we love him. We have readings, throw theme parties, have dress parades, bake traditional Renaissance sweets or even modern goodies, anything to celebrate the Bard and his glory. Somehow, I don’t think Shakespeare would mind the hoopla. After all, if any author ever had a sense of humor, it was Shakespeare. His mind invented not only some of the greatest tragedies in the English language, but some of the most riotous and side-aching comedies, not to mention the character of Falstaff, who speaks for himself: “To the latter end of a fray, and the beginning of a feast, / Fits a dull fighter, and a keen guest” (King Henry IV Part 1 4.2.78-79).

If you enjoy Shakespeare and his birthday, or just Shakespeare alone, please join in the celebration

Happy 448, Willy!


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Anonymous, or, a Fool’s Rewrite of History.

I’ve gotten many questions about the new Shakespeare-oriented movie Anonymous from my students, and while I’ve tried to avoid the topic as a blog entry, it simply won’t go away. Let me preface this blog by admitting I have not seen the film, nor do I plan to. As movies now cost ten bucks or more a pop, I try to limit the ones I see to those I know I will enjoy. And I know I would merely sit in the theatre and fume during this one. Therefore, this blog will not be about the film, but the conspiracy theory on which it is based because, in all fairness, I don’t want to write about things I know little about

Now, I like conspiracy theories as much as the next person. Truly, I do. They’re entertaining, like science fiction, anchored in fact and dosed heavily with vigorous imagination. I find them intriguing, largely because the good ones are so fanciful. However, the problem with movies woven from the threads of conspiracy theories is that the majority of movie-goers have neither the interest nor the tools to research the proffered fabric of idea and history behind them. Instead, they merely take the offered threads as the whole cloth of truth and wear it, and therein lies the rub. Admittedly, this is the issue with any movie loosely based on historical proposition. But I am not nearly so concerned in this blog with the unwillingness of the average movie-goer to demand truth when it comes to movies toying with history as I am to disparage Hollywood’s willingness to spoon-feed a gullible public with a lame conspiracy theory and advertise it, however so subtly, as real history. What I mean to say is that I am merely concerned with Shakespeare’s legacy.

The biggest problem inherent in the conspiracy of Anonymous is that it is based on the weakest of the theories that Shakespeare of Stratford did not write “Shakespeare.” This particular theory is that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, was actually the author of Shakespeare’s works, while the Shakespeare we know today was merely a front. The most glaring problem with this theory is that Edward de Vere died in 1604, while Shakespeare continued to write and produce plays until 1613, some of which were known to be collaborations with other authors of the day. The Oxfordian’s answer to this seemingly insurmountable problem is that the Shakespeare’s plays were written much earlier than they were produced, and that the later plays were “unfinished”, thus explaining some of the incongruities with known works by the Earl of Oxford. They also insist that the current accepted timeline of the plays is incorrect, developed by Stratfordians to fit their own theories. It should be noted here that famed Shakespearean Dr. Stanley Wells and Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson proposed the following in their new e-book, “Shakespeare Bites Back”:

We should use the term ‘anti-Shakespearian’ to describe those who propagate this particular conspiracy theory. In the past they have more usually been referred to as ‘anti-Stratfordians’, which allows the work attributed to Shakespeare to be separated from the social and cultural context of its author. We wish to insist that no artists should be divorced from the work they have produced. To deny Shakespeare of Stratford’s connection to the work attributed to him is to deny the essence of what made that work possible. Michelangelo cannot be separated from Florence and Rome; Charles Dickens wouldn’t be Charles Dickens without London. Shakespeare was formed by both Stratford-upon-Avon and London. The phrases ‘the Stratford man’, ‘actor from Stratford’, and even ‘anti-Stratfordian’ itself perpetuate the kind of divide with which we are here taking issue. These terms concede that such a division between an artist and his or her background and cultural context is possible. ‘Anti-Shakespearian’ reminds us that in attempting to separate Shakespeare from his place of origin you are in effect vandalizing the works themselves and the world’s appreciation of them. We call upon anyone involved in this discussion who is speaking up for Shakespeare to call those who are attacking him ‘anti-Shakespearian’. (Wells & Edmonson 32).

At this point, it should be indicated that the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays was never questioned until the mid-19th century, which saw an upsurge in popularity of the plays. At this point in history, the general consensus was that only truly “educated” men could truly be geniuses of pen to paper. This view was later rejected by many of the more extreme Romantics, who sought to lift the “common man” into the light, though that is another debate all together.

But let us look at Shakespeare of Stratford’s education. Shakespeare, as the son of a member of the local gentry, would have been entitled to a free education at the King’s New School, which was less than a mile from John Shakespeare’s home. Few records survive from the school at this time, so there is no clear and stated record that Shakespeare attended. However, given that the chance at real education was still rather rare at that time, it is easy to suppose that John Shakespeare would have jumped at the chance for his son to attend school, especially since John himself was illiterate. Yes, this school was considered a “public” school, but let’s not confuse the current reputation of public schools with modern standards of public schools. The fact is that in Elizabethan and later England, “public school” meant what we today, in modern United Sates, mean as “private school.“ The curriculum for such schools was regulated by law, and Shakespeare would’ve been exposed to the classics of Latin and Greek culture, including but not limited to, Plautus, Ovid, Aristotle, Virgil, Plato, and to others whose influence can easily be seen in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare would have also learned to read and write in Latin. In fact, he would have been totally immersed in it, a chance that every man in England would have envied. After all, according to Elizabeth I’s tutor, Roger Ascham, “all men covet their children to speak Latin” (Greenblatt 24), yet another indication that John Shakespeare would have certainly sent young Will off to his lessons. On top of that, we know from separate sources that Richard Fiel, the famed printer, was also educated at the King’s New School at Stratford, thus proving that education there was extensive enough to produce a more-than-competent professional. Incidentally, Field was closely associated with the troupe known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s theatre company, and printed many of Shakespeare’s plays.

So, why are there no records of Shakespeare’s attendance at this school? The answer is actually quite simple. The King’s New School did not keep a running record of its students at this early time in its history. Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, wrote that John Shakespeare had placed William “for some time in a free school.” Because the King’s New School was so close to John Shakespeare’s home and because of John’s role in the community, his sons would likely have been granted a tuition waiver. In sum, it seems thoroughly plausible that Shakespeare attended this school. 

Of course, we have contemporary references to Shakespeare that testify to his authorship. Robert Greene, an already established playwright of the day wrote “an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.” The tiger’s heart reference points to Shakespeare’s own Henry VI Part 3, and the “Shake-scene in a country” is a play on Shakespeare’s name and country-bumpkin origin.

There are other objections to the Oxfordian theory. Oxfordians claim that a playwright who had never ventured out of England could not have written the detailed scenes of foreign lands; yet, if one looks closely at Shakespeare’s descriptions, they are often wrong: for instance, coast lines where there are none, among other issues. More than likely, Shakespeare heard of these places by word of mouth and allowed his imagination to do the rest, an idea that seems foreign to many modern authors, since they are taught to “write what they know”. However, that theory is a fairly modern one, whereas authors of Shakespeare’s era allowed their imaginations to abound. If you don’t believe me, simply read a few fairytales, or better, A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest. They are centered around images of the mind, and even Theseus tells us as much:

More strange than true: I never may believe
These antic fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination, That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear! (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 5.1.2-22).

Therefore, we may assume that Shakespeare, a poet, knew himself capable of such imaginations and images without any reasonable and concrete seed.

Moreover, one of the more popular forms of literature in Elizabethan England was travel literature. Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations was extremely popular, along with the memoirs of author/explorers like Raleigh, Gilbert, Drake, Cavendish, or Frobisher. Of course, we mustn’t forget that John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, published his A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Happened in Virginia in 1608, leading many modern critics to speculate on Caliban’s origins in the Native American barbarian. However, that is another argument all together. Nonetheless, the point here is that foreign lands and their descriptions were the talk of Shakespeare’s day, much as tales of the barbarian Gauls and Celts would have abounded in ancient Rome.

Yet, all these issues aside, does the true authorship of Shakespeare matter? On some level, yes. Obviously, historians and literary scholars have a vested interest in the authorship question. However, on another level, a man of Shakespeare’s humble origin not only rising to reclaim his father’s pride but also rising to such fame that his name is synonymous with greatness is an inspiration for those who do not have access to the great halls of classical education. Shakespeare of Stratford gives them hope that with the will and a seed of talent, they too might make their mark on the world, despite the odds against them. Furthermore, it spits in the eye of those that insist an expensive education is the only way to produce anything of value or genius in the world.

Nevertheless, on many other levels, the authorship question is unimportant. Whether Shakespeare of Stratford or some other Shakespeare wrote these great works is a miniscule matter compared to the great and enduring legacy of the works and words themselves. Shakespeare’s characters have grown to have a life of their own. Hamlet is no longer Shakespeare’s, but a man and persona in his own right. The same is true for Macbeth, Lady M, Othello, Iago, Lear, Cordelia, and so on. All have a life and being of their own, greater than any author or actor that touches them. The identity of whoever gave these characters life is a concern far smaller than the life of these characters themselves. Indeed, scholars, critics, actors, and directors speak of these characters as people and friends of the flesh, not mere personas of the stage and page. In this way, the authorship is irrelevant. It is the words that are essential.

* If you are interested in an even more in depth look at the history of Shakespearean authorship issues, the pitfalls of such anti-Shakespearean theories, or the known background of the man himself, I would recommend 60 Minutes with Shakespeare or the recent free e-book mentioned here, “Shakespeare Bites Back” by Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson & Prof. Stanley Wells, CBE, which is also available for download on the Blogging Shakespeare website. I would also highly recommend Dr. Greenblatt’s amazing biography of Willy Shakes Will in the World.

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