Chapter 12 - Shakespeare and School
Now for chapter 12 for the Stratfordian book, this chapter purports to demonstrate that William received such a fine education at the town’s grammar school that he would have been equipped to read any modern English and furthermore, like fellow Stratfordian Richard Field, be comfortable with French, Italian, Spanish, and Welsh. In fact, it’s been said that he’d be better educated than the average modern college graduate.
Well, Stratfordians make a lot of claims that don’t stand up too well when we actually look at the evidence and judgment of others who aren’t interested in such hyperbole. One such Shakespeare Scholar was James Halliwell-Phillipps [1820-1889] who spent some 30 years looking into the records of Stratford and vicinity. Regarding the town’s availability of books he wrote there were “exclusive of bibles, psalters and educational manuals, at no more than two or three dozen, if so many.” The now famous grammar school there had one room for both the petty and upper classes. It held about two dozen pupils. Does the school reflect in any way the town that built it? Helliwell-Phillipps wrote that “its fetid ditches, dung-hills, pigsties, mud walls and thatched barns must have presented [in Shakspere’s time] an extremely squalid appearance”. But might he have been biased, even though even he didn’t question William’s authorship? David Garrick [1717-1779], actor, manager, producer, who began promoting the town as the birthplace of the great playwright, described the town (more than 100 years after Shakespeare’s time) as “the most dirty, unseemly, ill-paved and wretched-looking in all Britain.” Quite a change from the beautiful town of modern times.
This is not to say that the town back then couldn’t have provided a good education for a child, only that it’s not nearly as likely as for those growing up in London in houses with large libraries and with tutors and easy university access. Still, let’s pretend that none of that matters. The claim is made that the school would have had taught Lily’s Latin Grammar as well as many of the classics and that the children would develop prodigious memories of all they read. But remember that’s only a claim. In reality, the curricula was only prescribed by the school charter or was proposed by educationalists. What book or books were actually available we don’t know. They are very unlikely to have been freely available to any student at any time. They were too expensive and valuable to risk as was paper. There is a record for the town’s purchase of a chain bought for the school to secure a book to a desk, suggesting its limited access. Pupils left school at age 14. William at that age may have been under pressure to help his father more. Nicholas Rowe thought so from the heresay he gathered, as he wrote that William’s father’s circumstances “forced him to withdraw” from school.
But let’s pretend it was a great school with lots of learning of Latin Grammar and the classics. Is that satisfactory for becoming the greatest English writer in history? How did this schooling compare to that of others in more favorable circumstances? In addition to what might have been learned in the “ideal” grammar school, the students who attended a university or, better yet, also had family tutors for many years, would also have studied English history, English literature, modern languages, travel, and geography. Many of them, such as Bacon and Oxford, would have studied Astronomy, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, etc. Poetry, playwriting, and acting were very popular in some of the universities. In F.S. Boas’ Shakespere and the Universities (1923) he wrote “There was hardly a tutor whose desk did not contain a play he had written”. In The English People on the Eve of Colonisation (1954) Notestein wrote “As always there were, especially at Cambridge, young men of literary ambitions, who discussed poetry and plays, and were trying their hands at writing them.”
Was it common for pupils at age 14 to leave the Stratford grammar school with literary ambitions? Halliwell-Phillipps didn’t seem to think so. In his Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare (1881) he wrote: “I have the impression that the extent of the poet’s school acquirements has been greatly exaggerated.” And Shakespeare biographer Marchette Chute added: “Apart from teaching him Latin, Stratford Grammar School taught Shakespeare nothing at all”. And though Richard Field, as a printer, worked with type in different languages, does this imply that he had learned anything about them at the grammar school? Did he acquire any of the advanced legal knowledge or sophisticated literary skills by age 28 as the author Shake-Speare did?
It appears that even under the best of grammar school circumstances, that when he would have left school, young William still wouldn’t have been equipped to learn several foreign languages (Ben Jonson didn’t), become somewhat of an authority on medicine, the French court, seamanship, and law, etc. etc. And to have become so as well as being a sophisticated writer at the beginning of his career.
The presented evidence for William’s supposedly sufficient education to be Shake-Speare is insufficient. There are far too many unknowns for it to count for anything in his favor.
By the way, there are two new excellent reviews of the first Shakespeare Beyond Doubt book.
The first if by “Macduff”:
And the other is by Diana Price:
And after someone reads the doubter version Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? edited by Shahan and Waugh, there may not be any more debates. The essays in the second book strip away every single piece of evidence for the Stratfordian theory. You’ll find in it that there’s little or no value in the evidence based on Ben Jonson, John Heminges, Henry Condell, the mention of Stratford and the ‘moniment’ in the First Folio. Nor is the name of William Shakespeare going to be of help. Actually the name is shown to count against Stratfordian theory. Nor is any other documentation of William’s life useful to their cause, certainly NOT his Will.
Proponents of the Stratfordian theory seem to recognize this since there has not come hardly a word to challenge anything in the doubter book. Not a word from Ian Wilson “Shakespeare the Evidence, Scott McCrea “The Case for Shakespeare”, Bill Bryson “Shakespeare: The World as Stage”, Irvin Matus “The Case for Shakespeare”, or others. What appears more likely is an avoidance of any more talk of evidence and instead a doubling down on demagoguery.
There was one Stratfordian review at least of the doubter book. This is by Prof. Stanley Wells. He was upset that many professionals in the anti-Stratfordian ranks are still bothered at being slandered. And his refutation of the doubter book so far is that William ‘might’ have travelled in Italy—in essence conceding to the doubters that William could not have learned all about Shake-Speare’s Italy by reading books or talking to travelers. And if not Italy, then also not Law or Medicine or many similar extensively learned knowledge areas. He took the doubter book cover as a kind of mockery of the Stratfordian book. But that was not their intent. Rather because it was a response to the Stratfordian book they wanted to tie their book very closely to it since they represent the two sides to the debate. They should both be read and examined in tandem. Anyway, Prof. Well’s response for those who haven’t read it is here.