So, you think you’re smarter than Shakespeare?


My long time followers know two things about me. I love listening to podcasts and am in the middle of earing my master’s in humanities, ever hopeful to teach my favorite subject Shakespeare. So when one of my favorite podcasts Strange Frequencies Radio (SFR) decided to do a show about the Shakespeare authorship debate I eagerly joined in the live chat room.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Shakespeare authorship debate let me explain.  Critics of Shakespeare as an author believe that William Shakespeare the actor did not write the plays and poems attributed to him. This idea is not widely held by most scholars, but those who do are rather vocal about their views. This was shown to be true during the live broadcast of SFR Sunday afternoon. Wow the Oxfordians in the chat room were almost shouting! FYI they call themselves Oxfordians because they believe the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere, is the true author. The “evidence” for this is comprehensive, ranging from De Vere’s aristocratic knowledge of the upper classes through to his education and the similarities between his poetry and Shakespeare’s (there isn’t any). As regards to the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, it is believed by the Oxfordians that Edward wrote these under the pseudonym of Shakespeare, both to avoid breaking a voluntary convention against aristocrats publishing poetry (there wasn’t one) and plays and to escape the consequences of the subject matter he was writing about.  It is suggested that the character of Polonius bears a striking resemblance to De Vere’s father-in-law. Anyone who has either read the play or watched it probably thinks Polonius bears a striking resemblance his or her father-in-law or at least we all have that one uncle…

Professor and humanities skeptic (I want that title!)Eve Siebert was SFR’s guest. She was on to debunk the arguments for someone else as being the author of the works of Shakespeare. No sooner had she started talking when someone in the chat room rudely typed “Wrong!” over and over again. He then rudely suggested the hosts “get a real scholar” on the show. Not only was this extremely rude and disrespectful it was obvious he could not handle his beliefs being debunked and wanted to only hear from someone whose believes were the same as his. I have to hand it to Bobby, one of the hosts of SFR, for he not only called out those in the chat room who were typing rude remarks, he dared them to call in after Professor Siebert was finished so they could tell their side. And to the doubters credit a “real Oxfordian scholar “did call in. As expected his arguments were weak; he talked about the relationship between De Vere and his father-in-law. As he rambled on his voice became angry not because anyone was arguing with him, but because the two hosts were asking follow up questions.

This post is not a case for Shakespeare, though in the future if you want I will talk about the various claims made by the Oxfordians, yet I feel compelled to talk about one. The one that all doubters of Shakespeare point to; that an uneducated actor could not have possibly written such great works. This, to me, is a disrespectful and ugly argument. It has always bothered me when those without degrees are looked upon as some how not as smart as those with degrees.

But before I do I want to share a couple of thoughts I had during the show.

  1. It is no secret that those who shout or become rude during a conversation debate always have the weaker argument and they know it. We see this all the time when listening to conspiracy theorists. What happened Sunday afternoon was no different from other conspiracy debates.
  2. There are those who feel the need to make themselves seem superior to their fellow men. In this case there are those who feel that if they could prove Shakespeare was not a great writer they would not only be intellectually superior to mainstream Shakespeare scholars, they would prove that only someone with a college education could have written the works of Shakespeare. In a way they would be proving that they are smarter than William Shakespeare. Which leads me to my intended post. Using myself as an example I’m going to show you just how easy it is for an “uneducated” person to come up with an idea and then run with it.

For years I felt inadequate because I lacked a college degree. I made up for it by being well read. I collected and read books on a wide range of subjects. I felt by reading I was making up for what I lacked in an education. Perhaps Shakespeare felt the same way. After all many playwrights of his day were college educated. Perhaps Shakespeare was also well read. After all, books come in real handy when doing any kind of research, as I am about to prove.

This last spring I wrote a paper titled What happens in the woods stays in the woods. It was a critical look at the play A midsummer night’s dream. In the paper I compared Greek mythology to the characters found in the play. I wasn’t sure what my hook would be until I did some research on centaurs. I wanted to see if I could figure out why the character of Bottom was depicted as having an ass’s head/ male body instead of the usual horse body/male head. My research paid off. I found out that Chiron, the wisest of the centaurs, is described as “having thoughts too great for man”. Does this sound familiar? It should if you have seen or read the play.

After Bottom is once again transformed into a man he declares ““I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what it was”. “ The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man that not seen, the hand of man is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart what my dream was”. It would seem Bottom also had thoughts too great for man. Bottom couldn’t even explain them with any clarity (he was an ass not an centaur after all).

It was clear the playwright had Chiron’s wisdom in mind when he created the character of Bottom. In fact the majority of the action in the play requires that all of the characters believe they are acting wisely thought the opposite is true. I found my hook within 15 minutes of doing research and did so using books I collected before I earned a degree.

So what does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, let’s say instead of writing a paper I decided to write a play and said play was to be based in ancient Athens because I just happened to love Greek mythology having studied it in grammar school. How would I go about it? Perhaps I would pick up Arthur Golding’s 1567 translation of Ovid’s The Metamorphoses and look for inspiration and find it in section Six titled, The Less Important Myths. Why this book? Because it was widely regarded during Shakespeare’s day and because this is where I found the mention of Chiron and his being wiser than men. It took my only 15 minutes, but perhaps Shakespeare had this in mind the whole time when he sat down to write. Maybe it didn’t even take him 15 minutes. The idea may have been planted in childhood.

It would not have taken a college education to write this play, just a natural talent for writing, love of Greek mythology and memories of being taught about them in grammar school.


D L Johanyak, Shakespeare’s World

Ovid, The Metamorphoses

George Puttenham ,The Arte of English Poesie

William Shakespeare, A midsummer night’s dream

If you don’t believe William Shakespeare was a writer, go ahead, give it your best shot. Show me your proof. But remember, I have reference books and am not afraid to use them!

Shout out to Podcasts Stuff you should hear

While I’m struggling with a paper on Dorthy Sayers, I thought I would update and reblog this post. With luck, I’ll be back this weekend.

I love podcasts as much as I love books. Really, it’s true! Podcasts have taught me lessons, made me laugh and made me rethink some of my views.  Podcasts can do do all the things a good book does in less time and with less effort on my part.  Podcasts will never replace my books. some are just nice complements to my nonfiction collection.
For many of my friends podcasts are a mystery. They know podcasts are out there, but have no idea where to start. You know I love lists, so why not list some of my favorites?

Podcasts you should hear!

My faithful readers know I love Medieval History.  I have well over 100 books on the subject and can be heard squealing with delight whenever I get my hands on a new title. Well the other morning I squealed a few minutes into a newly found podcast titled Europe from its origins presented by Joseph Hogarty.  This is one of the best historical based podcasts I have had the pleasure of hearing. Hogarty has a soothing tone. It’s like a smooth flowing river, turning gently at the bends and never hitting a snag. His British accent is slight, his words are easy to understand yet his pronunciations of older words reminds me that we in the U.S. do not always pronounce words correctly. His switch from English to Latin to Greek is flawless; it was a joy to hear the names of the Apostles in Greek.  There are only 17 episodes to this series which for a beginner may be the right amount. The podcast covers a wide range of subjects and is sure to be interesting to even those who do not study history. If you have never listened to a history podcast, I would recommend starting with this one.

For a more contemporary styled podcast I would have to recommend Stuff You Should Know . This is hands down my all time favorite podcast. The hosts, Chuck and Josh come across as two smart friends talking about things they find interesting.  Ever wonder how time travel might work or do you want to know what makes the sky blue? These are answered on How Stuff Works along with hundreds of other interesting subjects. Chuck and Josh pick out topics they find interesting, do fantastic research on them then twice a week get together to educate their listeners with humor and insight. I cannot say enough about these two guys. When the sound of my co-workers become too much I slip on my headphones and let Stuff you should know take me away…

Judge John Hodgman is hands down the funniest & smartest podcast out there. If the name does not sound familiar, John was the PC in the” I’m and PC & I’m a Mac” commercial. He’s also the author of the” That is all” books. In his podcasts he passes judgment on people who have written to him with a conflict. Those who are picked to be on his show call in on Skype. John always asks smart questions yet manages to make light of the situation. My favorite is the conflict between three brothers and the bats in the house they had just bought. This should be the first one you download. How one brother wanted to get rid of the bats is hysterical.

Mysterious Universe is a podcast I first started listening to just for something different. Ben and Aaron, two young Ausies, talk about paranormal and odd new articles. Both guys love the subject but don’t always believe what they read. Over the years the guys have become more skeptical on the topic, which makes listening to them all that more fun. They interview some interesting authors on weird subjects. Sometimes I just roll my eyes, but sometimes as my guilty pleasure I buy the author’s book.

Chop Bard is a wonderful podcast on Shakespeare’s plays. If there is a better Shakespeare podcast out there I have yet to find it. Ehren Ziegler breaks the plays down and explains them so that anyone can understand  and want to go out and watch them. I may have learned more about the plays from Ziegler than all of my classes combined. Podcasts like this should be a part of a high school curriculum.

If you listen to podcasts, let me know. I am always on the lookout for new material.
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