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In this part of focus 580 we will look back to the life of a man who certainly was acknowledged to be the greatest playwright of his time and a lot of people would say as the greatest playwright of any time William Shakespeare is the man we'll be talking about this morning and we'll be concentrating on what it is we know about Shakespeare's life. We certainly know that he was a young man who came from a small provincial town that he was not wealthy. He did not have family connections to take advantage of and he did not have a university education yet in spite of all of that just a few years after he moved to London in the late 15 80s he became famous as the greatest playwright of his time and indeed as a lot of people say maybe the greatest playwright ever. And the question is how is it that he did it. How did this man William Shakespeare become Shakespeare. That is the question I would take up this morning with Stephen Green Blatt. He's professor of the Humanities at
Harvard University author editor part me of the Norton Shakespeare and he's a prize winning author of many books including Hamlet in purgatory He's the author of a recently published book titled A will in the world how Shakespeare became Shakespeare. It's published by W W Norton and was a finalist this year for the National Book Award. He's talking with us from Harvard and we want to say thanks to the folks there for making possible this high quality connection. It sounds like he's here with us but he is there in game bridge and we are here. We're glad to have you on the program as we talk. Questions are welcome 3 3 3 9 4 5 5 and toll free 800 2 2 2 9 4 5 5. Professor Green Blatt thank you very much for talking with us today. Thank you David. What I guess we begin with is that while and in some respect for a person of his time we actually know a fair amount about Shakespeare. There's an awful lot that we don't know and I guess that
that is in part because at the time the notion of biography just really didn't exist if Shakespeare was alive today. I'm sure that there would be plenty of books written about him and perhaps the books would have been written about him in his time. But at that time this simply wasn't something that was done. That's true. We don't have biographies of many of the great writers from this period or when we do have biographies as we do for fairly soon after their deaths for so Philip Sidney or for John Donne. It's not because they were great writers but because they were important public figures. Sidney a major aristocrat killed on the battlefield and Don the chief preacher of England in case of Shakespeare he flew under the radar not only flew under the radar as a writer of plays wasn't taken. All that it was popular but not taken all that seriously as a high culture enterprise. And also he was from as you've said at the beginning of from a middle class background not particularly distinguished and no one was
interested in people from that kind of background. Not enough to take down any notes about who they were like. Just to touch on something that you just mentioned in passing about the fact that in his time his work wasn't particularly thought of as high culture. Now of course we think of Shakespeare as high culture. But that's one of the things that you have to have to keep in mind that explains perhaps his enduring popularity but certainly the popularity of the time not just with the aristocracy but with those people who paid money to go in and stand and stand there on the ground in front of the stage to watch the place. Absolutely David he needed to survive. And anyone who was in this business needed to survive to bring in very large numbers of people into the playhouse they had a certain amount of very important. Political support social support from aristocrats those who protected them from being persecuted prosecuted actually as vagabonds which otherwise they would have been
but actually to make it in the economic sense they needed to appeal to a very broad spectrum of the audience Fifteen hundred people two thousand people a day in these playhouses and they were performing in the middle of the workday. They had to get people to slip away from work put down a penny which at that time was not an insignificant amount of money it would be like going to a baseball game or a football game was enough to go to a play and they had to have people do this many many times. London is a city of about 200000 people and they need to get people to go repeatedly the way we go to the movies to make it work economically. We know that Shakespeare as I mentioned and Shakespeare certainly didn't go to university but we assume that he did have schooling at least had primary schooling. We guess assume that because there was a school there that he could have gone to in the town where he lived. And because we expected that given that the class that he was born into it would be natural for him to have done. What's what sort
of guesses and indeed I guess they had they do have to be guesses. Do you make about what sort of education Shakespeare did have. He had actually by our standards quite a good education at least in what we would think of as the humanities or in any case what they thought of as the humanities he wouldn't have had a good education in our sense fully because he wouldn't have had a contemporary history wouldn't effect English literature for that matter he wouldn't have had. Certainly anything corresponding to our curriculum and serious curriculum in the sciences but he would have had actually fantastically intense training in Latin and in rhetoric and in how to persuade people at how to seem eloquent. He would have had this because that's what kids have at the time you know went to school and it's not just primary school it went up to Shakespeare probably left school around 15 or 16. So it was a full education 12 months a year six days a week. No vacations lots of beating. Dr Dr the important things into the
behinds of students. It was a serious education at least by the standards of their time and it's extremely likely that Shakespeare had this education even though the school records for Stratford for the period don't survive but he was the son. Of the man who was effectively the mayor of Stratford and in charge of the schools so it would have been very unlikely for this man not to have sent his eldest son to the free school that they had in Stratford quite a good school actually one of the things that you say that he might well have done in the classroom was to participate in the reading out the reading outloud of plays as a way to work on a particularly I guess their Latin. You think that that might well have been one of the things that introduced him to the idea of theatre and the idea of being an actor. He couldn't escape it. In school anyone who went to school at the time had to have some of this because it was in all of the manuals basically for what you should teach kids how you should
teach kids Latin. It was. Pleasurable for the children presumably once they get the hang of the Latin and it was actually quite that they understood at the time quite effective pedagogically not simply to sit there and be drilled over and over again in the habit of absolute as it were. But how to figure out how to make the language come alive not simply be a grammar book and they had these wonderful Roman plays they were a little worried about them because the play's a kind of sexy and transgressive but they felt they were it was worth it to have the children perform these and we have a very very good idea that Shakespeare had a dose of this because not very long after he became a professional playwright he was one of these Roman plays by the playwright plot us as the basis for his comedy The Comedy of Errors. It's very very likely that he encountered this in school and the kind of playfulness ease the fantastic wit of Shakespeare's use of the play suggests that he had loved it.
It is likely I guess people surmise that his parents that Shakespeare's parents probably were illiterate. His wife probably was illiterate. How common at the time would the ability to write and read be. Well it wasn't enormously common certainly for women was very uncommon except for women of the highest social class of course the queen was not only literate but but enormously learned. And there were many other learned women in the kingdom but the lower you got in social class once you get up got out of the upper 1 or 2 percent you were in a world of very very widespread female illiteracy. In the case of men by the time of Shakespeare's life there was a rising rate of literacy largely because of the religious reformation the Protestant interest in reading the Bible. But still it wasn't at all unusual for someone like Shakespeare's father who came from a family farming family who to sign him even though he was a civic official signed his name all his life with a mark a Glover's pair of shears he was a clever by trade so he just drew a little
scissors on the page and he never signed it with a name he may actually have known how to read a little bit. I think he probably didn't have some basic literacy because I think it would have been difficult for him to get through the account books that he would have had to deal with. But he obviously wasn't comfortable writing because he never did. And this was a for a family on the rise as Shakespeare's family was the first move to make was to have the son learn how to read that because also it was not probably not because of cultural prestige alone but because it was a litigious time. Everyone was always in and out of court. And it helped. To be able to read and write it out probably from the Shakespeare's fathers point of view was the first interest in getting a son a proper education. You know his Shakespeare's love wordplay is very obvious from the plays you can see that and certainly one of the things that we know is that to this very day that his use of language has influenced
the English language very very very very potent and very powerful. You have to wonder why this ability was this something that he was simply born with. Well you're not born with language so it couldn't have been exactly born with but I think very very shortly afterwards as soon as he started to to get some speech it's hard not to believe. And I do believe that he must have taken the weird early pleasure in language. I have three children and I see that there's a difference in how children approach language. And I know that there been more serious studies of this. But just from observation and I think Shakespeare must have had an almost uncanny interest in language early at least judging from the fact that he's almost out of control in relation to his pleasure in language that is to say if you weren't so much in control he would be completely out of control. He is almost crazy on the subject of puns. Samuel Johnson an 18th century the great
literary figure said that the pun was the fatal Cleopatra for which Shakespeare was willing to lose the world. He could stand there letting a pun go by and he uses it in the most unlikely moments when you least expect him the most serious moments. Some wordplay will come into his mind and he lets go. It's a fantastic effect. It would be a disaster on almost anyone else but it's amazingly good in him. Our guest in this part of focus 580 is Steven Green Blatt he is university professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is editor of the Norton Shakespeare and has written many other books and he is the author of a recently published biography of William Shakespeare this title will in the world. It's published by W W Norton and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000 and for questions are welcome and we have someone who's been waiting patiently So we will get to them. The number if you're here in Champaign-Urbana where we are 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We do also have a toll free line so that if it would be a long distance call use that
number and we'll pay for the call 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. The call are here to start us off using champagne and line number 1 0 0 0 0. Yes. What do you think is the strongest argument against the Oxfordians. The best refutation of the claim that the Course was written by Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford. Well the simplest thing to say is that Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford died in 64 and after 16 for the Measure for Measure Othello all's well that ends well timed of Athens King Lear Macbeth Antony Cleopatra. Apparently Prince of Tire Coriolanus Winter's Tale symbol een The Tempest Henry the Eighth and the two noble kinsmen all came out after 16 for now the Oxfordian say well they had the plays already in the drafts that there of Oxford written on the hand of the conspirators released those plays one by one the kind of time release system in
the decade afterwards but it seems to me at least and to most scholars why overly unlikely. And I'm motivated and to that one would add the fact that many of Shakespeare's associates knew him personally. John Hemmings Henry Kandel Ben Johnson Francis Beaumont Hugh Holland Leonard Digges others as well all celebrate Shakespeare as the author of the plays after his death. What would be the point of doing that I suppose they could all been paid off but they were intimates of his. They were in that world so they would have had to be in on this fantastic conspiracy. It has for me at least the sort of Roswell New Mexico quality that. Contradicts what seems to be a very substantial in the most cause a very substantial archival record that bears out the authorship of this fella from Stratford doesn't come from the right social class for people who want their Shakespeare to be a nobleman. He doesn't have the advantage of an Oxford or Cambridge education. If you think that having it rocks for a came to education should be essential to be a
playwright. But he's to my way of thinking certainly the author of the plays of Diana Price's recently written a book called Shakespeare is an orthodox biography and when she looks at his associates of evil in him and so forth as he says if you don't start with the assumption that this is the author of the plays the vibraphone looks a little different and in fact it's very hard to find any. Direct evidence if you don't start with an assumption that he is the author of the book. I don't believe that I know the Oxfordians do. I've tried to write a book explaining how I believe it was. It came about that this person from this background became Shakespeare there is a as you probably know because you haven't actually our interest in the subject there is a book by Erwin Mathis called Shakespeare in fact that it is a systematic detail by detail refutation of trucking Auburn's theory of the Oxfordian authorship. But I don't expect that it'll set these things to rest because the conspiracy theory is
delicious and good fun and so I imagine it'll keep going. One last crack at it. Joe's a sober and a man of strange political views has written a an interesting book about the sonnets in which he makes the point that if you take the standard account of the one that's presented in your book of Shakespeare's life it's very difficult to see anything at all autobiographical in the sonnets and one is almost reduced to saying well this is. A novel a little set of literary inventions. So I'm going to suggest that the sonnets are much closer much more closely parallel to the two Oxford's life. Why do you think that. I actually think something like the opposite. There's lots of evidence in the sonnets for a patronage relationship that went haywire. That is to say I think that the initial sonnets give sign of someone being paid to do a job for the family. In this case I
believe the Earl of Southampton to try to persuade him to marry and then in the course of this relationship something more intense and intimate comes about. The reason I say they were so happen is because as you know both Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece Shakespeare's too long narrative poems are dedicated by Shakespeare signed by Shakespeare and published by Shakespeare's Stratford friend Richard Field to the Earl of Southampton. That is to say he was involved in evidently patronage relation to the role of Southampton and I think that actually is the situation that the sonnets depict. Thanks very much you know I think if there are others are certainly welcome 3 3 3 9 4 5 5 toll free 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 just as sort of a round this out. It sounds as if you're saying that the reason that the question continues to be raised or perhaps the fundamental reason the question of authorship continues to be raised is that people look at the details of Shakespeare's life those things that we know and they just and they say given what we know about this man somehow we just can't quite believe that he was he was able to produce the plays that we have.
Something like that David I. I used to be more how shall we say readily comical about the satirical about the claims of other authorship whether it's at the Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon Christopher Marlowe. Because from a scholarly point of view that these are nonstarters in my view none of them work. And because there is very strong evidence that the person William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon was the writer of these plays but in the course of writing this book and indeed as the motivation for writing this book I came to terms with the fact that these it's not just snobbery on the part of the Oxfordians it's not just the desire for a to see an academic degree that drives this longing for someone else to written the plays but the sense that there really is a puzzle here. How how is it possible that someone from this relatively modest background could have done what he did. And it's precisely that question that mystery that I
undertook to grapple with and I hope to answer it well as one can ever resolve such as such sets of questions about my book and I think as as as I understand the basic argument that you're making in the book is that. Everything is maybe a slight overstatement but something like this. Everything that Shakespeare ever did saw experienced ends up in the place. So by reading the plays and working backwards and looking at what we know about Shakespeare's life and those details that we can with some level of confidence in Imagine that you can see connections between what we think his life experience would have been. And the the kind of things that are said in the plays the sorts of characters that appear and the experiences that the characters have that that there are there are ways to try to connect that with what we know and what we think we know
about his life. Yes I think that's true I mean we start obviously in the good old fashioned way by saying this was a remarkable genius. The point about will in the world about the book I've written is not to argue away Shakespeare's genius but which must have been innate. But to understand how obvious this astonishing gift could have been connected. In such a way to the world that would produce these works. And I do think that something very strange must have been in Shakespeare quality in his personality that made this possible. This would be true by the way whether he were Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon or they were of Oxford or anyone else that say anyone who wrote these plays in a lifetime would have to be a very unusual person a person who was eerily uncannily open to whatever the world gave him. And I think there's lots of evidence for this in Shakespeare I start with the fact that there is a book your intensity and number of references to the glove business
to give details of the glove trade that almost certainly come out of the time that Shakespeare put in as a young man in the Father's love business. There's lots of eerily precise references to the wool trade that must have come out must have come from the time that Shakespeare put in with his father who was an illegal dealer in wool and so forth anything that came his way he seems to have seized upon and held on to really for his whole life. It was as if he he didn't have the layer of skin that we have and it all came in upon him. In Shakespeare's time England was officially Protestant and had been since Henry the Eighth broke with Rome over his marital difficulties. Still many people remained Catholic in their hearts even if they could not be so openly. You think that was likely the case with Shakespeare and his family. Forgive me if I correct you if it was true that it was taken toward Protestantism by Henry the Eighth who had a lively interest in seizing the wealth of the
monasteries. Not much of a theological interest but it was a kind of equal opportunity persecutor of Catholics and Protestants but certainly broke with Rome having self-declared head of the church in England and took the wealth of the monasteries. But then handed the ace son. Edward pushed the was a minor when he came to the throne a very young boy why push the country or his his guardians pushed the country more in a Protestant direction doctrinally and then when he died if you 53 his sister. Mary every day started Mary was an ardent Catholic came to the throne so there was a. It is important to mention only because there was a weird history in the 16th century in which the country swings back and forth like a pendulum wildly from Catholic to Protestant to Catholic to Protestant and in each of those those moments people were were persecuted hanged burned at the stake or whatever. So they've gone through 50 years of religious torment by the time
Shakespeare comes around and which the country's gone back and forth Shakespeare's father would have seen the country swing back and forth between Catholic and Protestant on several occasions. And I do think that both the Protestant establishment in England at the time of Shakespeare but also this history of going back and forth must've been quite important in shaping Shakespeare sensibility in addition to the fact that there is evidence the evidence here is necessarily shadowy evidence that Shakespeare's family had maintained connections to the old faith which had been made illegal at this point in at least in any active practically practicing sense. Are there many examples of characters in the plays who are who somehow have dual identities or they have particular identities that they have to conceal. Have divided allegiances to those sorts of things that you would say somehow connect. There are lots of this
needs. Yes that's interesting there are lots of characters who have two allegiances or complicated multiple commitments though they certainly doesn't represent people who are hiding a secret Catholicism This would certainly not in any sympathetic way this would be quite impossible in Shakespeare's theatre which was censored by the state and the state was very alert to sympathetic representations of the old Catholic order. But Shakespeare does for example in one of his most famous plays and Hamlet give us a evidently Protestant Prince. He went to university additon Burg which is Luther's University a Protestant Prince who was who encounters the ghost of his father and that ghost says he's come from a place where his sins are being burnt and purged away. Well the Protestants had said that purgatory was a lie a fiction a part of an elaborate Catholic Conference game to get money from believers. And here we have a
play in which evidently to be taken seriously a ghost father comes back the ghost of Hamlet's father comes back and says I'm in purgatory or at least comes close to saying I'm in purgatory as it would have been legal to say without getting Shakespeare in his company thrown in jail. And there are many many moments of his kind in Shakespeare's plays not crypto Catholicism exactly not I don't believe that Shakespeare was myself. I don't believe that Shakespeare was a pious Catholic in his adult life but I think he read he maintained a very intense interest in the relationship to the religion secret religion his upbringing of his parents other other ways in which you see again based on what we know about Shakespeare's father. Ways that you see characters in the plays that you look at and you think that somehow this this man and this character is is in some way. I don't
want to be too direct about it but that's that something about Shakespeare's father goes into this character in the play. Well I'll answer that in two different ways David one is to say if I continue for a moment in the religious theme there are there are lots of characters in Shakespeare who are hiding something or have to conceal some aspect of their identity. A striking example would be Edgar in King Lear but there are many other examples of this kind that may reach back to Shakespeare's upbringing Shakespeare's family to the experiences that he had as a young man in the 15 80s which are fantastically difficult time in England in which I. As the Spanish Armada approached the fears of the Armada and then the realisation that the Spanish were going to try to invade England and we storing the Catholicism approached there was an intensified persecution of the Catholic community lots of suspicion lots of difficulty in Shakespeare's family and Shakespeare himself would have experienced
this and it shows in multiple ways. I think in his work. But that's not the only aspect of Shakespeare's father that I think Shakespeare shows in his work. There is the father whom I believe but this is really more deeply speculative than what I've just said about Catholicism. There's a mystery of the father the father lost his wealth his social position. When William Shakespeare his eldest son was about 13. It must have been a tremendous blow to the family. The father does something that no Elizabethan ever was willing to do which was to mortgage sell off the family property property that have been brought to the family by Shakespeare's mother who brought to the wedding which takes his father considerable amount of land which makes his father mortgages. When Shakespeare is 13 and doesn't get back and that loss of family position that loss of identity at the loss of the
possibility in fact of going to university which I think Shakespeare could well have expected to do I think shows itself in lots of ways in Shakespeare's whole life which is under the sign of this lost identity and the dream of getting the identity back. That's one of the things that I was interested in hearing you talk a little bit about is how Shakespeare would have been regarded in his time by people above his station. It was after all a very class conscious society. And it would have been difficult maybe almost impossible for people to rise very much above where they were born in life and yet if for him he certainly had great fame he had connections with people who were noble. And it I guess I just I wonder how how people of that class would have thought about him for example I think about that. You know you write in the book about the fact that Shakespeare had a coat of arms made for himself and for him for his family. And it was
something that he would not have had we wouldn't have been born with because he wasn't noble born. And so there that tells you something about what it is that he's he's trying to establish for the name. I wonder too whether people who were actually born with coat of arms would have would have snickered at that and and said Well he's he's he's trying to be something that he's not. How how was he thought about in his time. Start with the fact that two percent of the population are in the category of gentry. Whether they're aristocrats or the Knights ladies. People who are in the upper echelon and the elite 98 percent of the population is not. And Shakespeare is born into that 98 percent. But the father by virtue of his civic offices in Stratford had a shot at moving from this 98 percent and into the 2 percent a legitimate shot because if you were a substantial figure in a small town like Stratford you could apply that to what they called the College of Heralds to get a coat of arms and that coat of
arms marked the fact that you had passed from the 98 percent into the 2 percent and your eldest son could expect to reap the benefits of that transition what were the benefits. Well a whole different way of being treated in the society a kind of respect that you wouldn't ordinarily give you would not ordinarily be given. People taking their hats off to you people bowing to you people treating you differently in church. If you got in trouble with the law people treating you differently in fact if you got in terrible trouble and you were executed you were executed differently you were not hanged you were your head cut off. Doesn't sound like much of a choice but actually apparently was preferable to be beheaded. In any case you passed into a whole other social order in a way we can scarcely imagine at this point. You could wear clothes that you couldn't wear if you weren't in that 98 percent certain they had in the period laws regulating what clothes you could wear if you were a gentleman and what clothes you could wear or you couldn't wear
if you were an ordinary person and that common person in that 98 percent so Shakespeare's father is poised to move. Across that huge status divide and just when Shakespeare was 12 the father applies for a coat of arms on his own behalf. That application survives but it's expensive. You can't buy it. It's not. You have to earn it by having civic office. At least you can't legally buy it but you had to pay for it and all the same. And when Shakespeare was 13 as I said the father loses his social position and is never able to follow up on that application. Twenty years later his son William has made it at that point as a playwright in London is making a lot of money is able to re institute the application for the coat of arms. Technically Naaman to be half of a father but of course this will be passed on to the son William as well. And he knows that he's going to take a certain amount of teasing. Because he's
a an actor an actor is not a civic official. It's the equivalent as I say of a vagabond. If you're not protected by a an upper class figure who will give you the cover of claiming that you were his servant. But it's as low as you can get so that Shakespeare knows that he's going to be taking a certain amount of TC. But he but it's worth it for him it's worth it and he puts in the application and he gets what he wants the coat of arms and he gets a motto which I believe he wrote. We have the application and the clerk who wrote down the motto Shakespeare apparently gave the motto in the models are all in French. Norma's son trois which means not without right. In other words slightly defensively I'm justified in getting this coat of arms not without right and the clerk when he wrote down the motto wrote no comma. Santa if you put a comma in there the motto suddenly means
no without justification. And Shakespeare must have said to him C'mon wiseguy lose the comma or words to that effect and made him write it again until he finally got it right. No without just not know without justification but not without Right no song. But then a couple of years later. Shakespeare Company or chamber as man puts on a play by Shakespeare's fellow playwright Ben Johnson. That has a particularly vulgar character called saleyard Oh. And so you are always paying for a coat of arms which he doesn't deserve. He just has a lot of money and he's given the every dickless coat of arms. And with that coat of arms he's given the motto not without mustard. Now Shakespeare had to she forgot it. Right. Wasn't that hard to get. And Shakespeare had to deal with that kind of ridicule publicly. But it was worth it to him because he moved himself and moved his family into this other category and indeed when he is at the end of his life
he signs his name William Shakespeare a gent I am a gentleman. And this is a man whose place of full of characters who lose their social standing and then recover it so that they can say the way Violet says for example in Twelfth Night I am a gentleman. It's a crucial thing to say in Shakespeare. We have about 15 minutes left in this part of focus 580. Our guest is Stephen Green Blatt is university professor professor of the Humanities at Harvard and has authored a book titled A will in the world how Shakespeare became Shakespeare and it's published by Norton. Much more then we'll be able to cover here on this program you can find in the book so if you'd like to read more you've gotten you head out to the bookstore and look for the book. Also questions are welcome. 3 3 3 9 4 5 5 toll free 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. We do have another caller. Someone listening in Urbana this morning will go there. Line 1. You know I've got Will and Will but I'm afraid I'm not going to
really talk about it with Annie. Kind of either clarity or knowledge. But I would like to go back to another wonderful book that Professor Green Blatt wrote and that of course was Hamlet in purgatory. And I had a couple of questions. It was as I said wonderful to read. But you know I think most people in England even in London probably even Shakespearean self would not actually know or seen many of the illustrations that you provide or the sources you provide I think the knowledge of purgatory even for someone who has really is widely read Shakespeare and I'm sure it was would have been I think much narrower and even perhaps closer to the fairly standard orthodox angle. Protestant
purgatory which means I think that when you look at Hamlet himself you can't really I think bring to bear the vision of purgatory that we get in the play. There's this wonderful mass of material that you provided and now I have a little purgatory that's the first part of my question but please go ahead. Well you're certainly right that the images that I use in the book to illustrate the doctrine of purgatory are not ones that Shakespeare or his contemporaries are likely to have easily seen because many of the images that were available in their culture had been whitewashed over or destroyed in the waves of just iconoclasm that Shakespeare's father himself.
Signed off on when he was a Stratford civic official. So that's true enough. And it's also true that Shakespeare was not a theologian and was not likely to have even if he had had an Oxford or Cambridge education he might not have that plunged into that particular aspect of the ology. But I think it's quite possible that Shakespeare and his contemporaries had something that we can't reproduce ourselves because we don't live in that world. They had a different kind of tacit knowledge. We have to make it up by the kind of things that I use in my book by citing this source and that source from theology or from our history. But they had the knowledge that went with people I believe who were holding on some of whom at least were holding onto this. Now outlawed belief without such a knowledge. It's hard for me to understand how Shakespeare took what he
did from his sources. For Hamlet and added to them something that wasn't in any of your sources as far as we know. Yeah I am by Father Spirit right. The ghost says doomed for a certain term to walk the night and for the day confined to fast in fires till the fall crimes done in my days of nature are burned and purged away. Right you don't write those lines if you don't know something about truth the doctrine of purgatory. But if you go to other sources Shakespeare did not well period. Well I think Jane you are right that our Lavater you get a very different you know I think what of the rail which at least is what the. Think to himself right to her credit. Those passages were wrong suggesting it was absolutely ideal and that I
don't have any temptation. I don't disagree maybe we should say to the listeners out there that what your caller and I are talking about is the fact that the Protestants Catholics had a very sharp disagreement about the interpretation of ghosts right Catholics said that ghosts could be they weren't always but they could be the spirits of the dead coming from purgatory and asking for help for prayers because I promised my dad what if I may interrupt you and I hesitate to interrupt you. Truly what the ghost asked for are not prayer. Prison cell to be pretty purgatory for witches. Yes very very different. And what that's absolutely true and what what people said they're not universally but most people said is that that ghost in purgatory could only ask for Pius X charity for example that the poor were
masses said for the soul they couldn't ask for such things as vengeance because Vengeance is mine saith the Lord. Right and so the Protestant said in general that any ghosts that you saw were either hallucinations of a troubled mind or they were demons coming to tempt you to do sin right. And after all that is precisely what Hamlet says may be happening here that the spirit I've seen may be the devil. Right he says and that's why he goes through this very elaborate process of trying to test the ghost and he concludes that the ghost is as he puts it an honest ghost that is wrong. Ghost in Purgatory perhaps privately. Well perhaps wrongly this is that these are matters of interpretation that people have argued about for about 400 years. Yes but I'm just suggesting. There are other ways of seeing the way in which Shakespeare handles purgatory and other ways and I guess ways closer at least. I think closer to the ways in which ordinary
contemporary audiences might have missed it. Yes no doubt you're right and I want to say again for the listeners that in my view Shakespeare was not trying to get the theology right. We're trying to stake a position that would be coherent in relation to contemporary arguments of religious arguments. I think that Shakespeare was interested in making an astonishingly powerful play. And I think that what he did was to reach down and tap into these extraordinary materials that his culture had allowed him to use. He had to be careful he couldn't say anything you wanted about them. But I don't think that he is trying to take a Catholic or Protestant position. I think he is trying to write a powerful tragedy and he does it with the materials that he has at hand and those materials included this extraordinary doctrine of purgatory about which there had been such fierce debates. I must jump in I hope the gall of will get me because we're getting short on time and I have another caller that like to try to
include over in Indiana let's go there this is our toll free line line for Hello. Yeah I have a question. The writer statement and I hope that I am correct in that I understood that my best was written to flatter King James who traced his in tree from Banquo in his from Twain and it seems to be the two or the eventual kings of England after the Restoration and all that. Worse do it by the sand someway. And so therefore I told my classes for over 30 years to teach and play the Queen Elizabeth descended from Flint. I hope the Lute is going to some correct in the past so I've retired by this time so I don't have to apologize to anybody.
So is that corrected Queen Elizabeth by virtue of the Stuart is distant. Simply I can't answer the question unfortunately this is because it would be so many generations back this isn't the kind of geneological. Speculation. I mean certainly the case that James claimed descent from France. I mean it was it was an issue as far as I know Elizabeth never claimed descent from flee and so it's conceivable I've looked at those credible Elizabethan geological trees. I've never noticed it's there but they go all the way back to Noah and Adam They're amazing. But it's entirely possible that you're right. What is the case is that and is that for James for in 16 0 6 when Shakespeare and his company put on Macbeth. That claimed that Banquo is a good man not as the source had it someone actually who was conspiring with Macbeth but a good man killed by Macbeth. That
claim was very important for Stuart royal propaganda. The only thing I want to add to that is that you're right of course that the play is in some sense a way of reaching an even flattering King James. And why not. The company was called the King's Men. But there's another sense in which the play is extremely strange if you're trying to flatter the king. King James was someone who was famously nervous when there were loud noises he jumped. He was tremendously anxious about conspiracies. With good reason his mother and father had both been killed and putting on a play about an assassination of a ruler was a fantastically daring thing to do. In relation to this King it was a decision on Shakespeare's company's part that they could reach the king at by addressing his deepest fears as well as by flattery his logical claims were coming to the very close to the end. And certainly there's a lot of things here will get a chance to talk about but I am interested in having a talk about
the relationship between Shakespeare and his wife because there is so much in Shakespeare that has to do with with courtship love and marriage and how it goes well and how it sometimes goes badly. And it is the case that Shakespeare married women when he was rather young even for the time I guess he would have been young he was 18. His wife was 26. There's we have every reason to believe that she was pregnant when they got married. Add to that. That was why they got married. They did have several children and lived for a time in Stratford and then Shakespeare goes off to London for a long time a long period of their marriage they live apart. And you you it seems irresistible to look at the various kinds of relationships that exist in the place and try to draw clues about what his relationship with Anne Hathaway was like. And again look for some answers to this question why is it that he so abruptly
left and spent so much time away from his wife during his life. Yes in the history of people's work lives often husbands live far apart from their wives. Sicilians moved to Milan and visit Palermo once a year at most. So for the song when the world is full of people who have these very long term. And most academics now live in different cities if they are married to another academic and so forth. But in Shakespeare's time it was unusual. If you had been successful as Shakespeare was not to bring your wife and children to London with you there have been other playwrights wills that have been studied and people who made it tended to live with their families. So that must have been a deliberate act of leaving the family behind. And to that we have a compelling bit of evidence which is the tone and tenor of the last will and testament that Shakespeare wrote in which he left to be his wife. Thirty four
years a grand total of nothing in the first draft of the last will and testament and then when someone perhaps is daughter Susanna said Come on you have to leave my mother something he wrote in that he was leaving her his second best bed. If that isn't an insult I don't know what is. And I speculate on the relationship between that. That kind of evidence for an alienated marriage. And Shakespeare's peculiar unwillingness or inability. He who could represent anything he wanted he whose mind and imagination seem to be able to conjure up any form of life a deep marital intimacy is something that he clearly shies away from. You have marvelous he's the great poet of erotic courtship of tremendous longing. Romeo and Juliet at Cleopatra but the representation of a couple living together
in marriage is something intimate. Marriage is something that he finds either difficult to do or disagreeable to do and there are two great exceptions to this but the exceptions I think prove the rule. The great exceptions are Gertrude and Claudius the villain. Of Hamlet and Macbeth and her charming husband in that play so that we get two examples of marital intimacy being the most terrifying couples in Shakespeare. And that seems to me a very telling phenomenon for this particular playwright. We are going to have to stop. And I'm sorry we could. I'm sure we could continue but stop we must because we're at the end of the program and of course people who are listening if you'd like to read more. Look for this book it's titled will in the world how Shakespeare became Shakespeare published by WW Norton was a finalist for the National Book Awards this year by our guest Stephen Green Blatt is university professor of the Humanities at Harvard
Focus 580
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
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Stephen Greenblatt, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, editor of The Norton Shakespeare and finalist in the National Book Award 2004
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Chicago: “Focus 580; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,” 2004-11-10, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022,
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