The anarchist and the playwright (& thme)


Not two hours after posting this, some anti-Shakes conspiracy theorist tracked down my email and sent me his manifesto. Naturally, it proposes some aristocrat as the actual author. So I thought I'd talk a hair more about why their theories are dumb.

But just a hair. These people spend enough time on themselves, they do not need ours.

First, as Graeber points out, those with wealth and power don't need to imagine the lives of those without either. Their world is secure! What do they care what the poor do?

However, those without must constantly imagine the minds and desires of those with—because, if they (we) misunderstand the powerful’s minds or desires, we (they) may end up bankrupt, in prison, fired, executed, or otherwise unpleasantly situated. You have to know what the powerful care about in order to avoid their ire. Don’t think this is a long-ago problem.

Ergo! It is much more believable that the fancy characters were written by nonfancy people than vice versa.


If you agree to adopt this logic but you still need an aristocrat to write Shakespeare’s plays, the idea that it was a woman does make some sense. Women, that is, having less power than men, must know how men think—but this is less true of men regarding women:

Therefore, Shakespeare, being a man, could not possibly have written Rosalind.

(Queen Elizabeth, one assumes, messed up this dynamic for many men. Although this means, of course, that she of all people writing the plays is most absurd of all.)

End aside.

Incidentally, one might argue that the truly poor don't feature that prominently in Shakespeare's plays, but to that I shrug. Shakespeare wasn't born a beggar either, and if few people waste time imagining downward, why should Shakespeare be more virtuous? But also, not even the poor want to see plays about the poor (cf Sullivan's Travels). So even if he could, would the audience have cared?

In the end, all these conspiracy theories are based on the idea that great art cannot come from humble sources. It's worth nothing that no one in Shakespeare’s time thought he was a fraud. It was only after the whole of England accepted his plays as great and worthy—over 200 years later!—that the aristocratic theories began. These imaginers would rather deny creativity and imagination (not to mention genius) than to see them in a glovemaker’s son. And so they string together coincidences. That’s not history. It’s merely collecting trivia. To “support” a snobbish worldview.

(Do not email me your stupid theory in response.)


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