(Ari Friedlander’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 9/4.)
Mythmaking about William Shakespeare is so common that it even has a name, “Bardolatry.” And it has been that way for centuries: The actor David Garrick’s 1769 “Shakespeare Jubilee” laid the foundation for the modern notion that Shakespeare was the greatest English writer of any age. In his own day, however, Shakespeare was simply considered one of the greatest writers of his generation. Because 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.
Ari Friedlander is an assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi. He is writing a book, "Rogue Sexuality: The Erotics of Social Status in Early Modern England," about sex, crime and class in Shakespeare’s era.
1. William Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare’s plays.
Roland Emmerich’s 2011 film “Anonymous,” which dramatizes the theory that the Earl of Oxford (Edward de Vere) was the author of Shakespeare’s works, has given fresh life to this stubborn myth. Even celebrated Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi has fallen prey to it: “I believe the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, known as Shakespeare,” Jacobi has said, “became the frontman for . . . the 17th Earl of Oxford.”
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