The Good, the Bard & the Ugly: Sifting Sense from Nonsense in the Study of Shakespeare
by Joseph Pearce
One of the worst crimes committed by the modern academy is what might be called Shakespeare abuse. It takes many forms. There are those who say that Shakespeare was a cynic who sneered at religion, or those who claim that he was a homosexual, or those who claim that Shakespeare was not really Shakespeare but was really someone else. It is, therefore, necessary to learn to sift the sense from the nonsense in the study of Shakespeare. With this in mind, I was intrigued to see an article in the Washington Post by a young academic, Ari Friedlander, entitled “Five Myths about William Shakespeare.” (*)
The article begins unpromisingly with Friedlander proclaiming that “[m]ythmaking about William Shakespeare is so common that it even has a name, ‘Bardolatry.’” Clearly bardolatry is not the name for those who make up myths about Shakespeare but is the name applied to those who idolize the Bard. Such looseness in the use and abuse of words bodes ill for an article which claims to spread light on those who have misunderstood Shakespeare and his work.
Nonetheless, and this initial unpromising faux pas aside, Friedlander addresses the very real danger that “[b]ecause we so highly value our estimations of Shakespeare’s talents, we tend to make up myths about his life and work to justify them”:
Yet dispelling these myths, as the more historically minded scholarship of the past 35 years has tried to do, does not mean diminishing Shakespeare and our appreciation of him. Rather, it opens new ways to understand his works and their relationship to the culture that gave rise to them.
(*) Read here: www.washingtonpost.com/five-myths-about-william-shakespeare