Saturday, August 14, 2010

But if it can’t be said exactly how Shakespeare happened, there are contexts that help to throw light. I want to glance at two of them here. Sixteenth-century Europe was changed by two movements: Shakespeare was the product of both Renaissance and Reformation. If his extraordinary generation of writers was not mute and inglorious, some of the credit has to go to the heroic humanist educators, headed by Erasmus and More. The New Learning, reaching back to classical literary and linguistic resources, and taught in grammar schools and universities, brought into Tudor life a formal principle of reasoning intelligence, mediated through language. In the course of the century, literacy in England rose sharply and hugely. In its immense effectiveness, this educational change could even be said to have exceeded its ends: first in the rhetorical and stylistic games of patterning that took over the writing of the time, and second in the fact that many graduates could find no employment. The 1590s, plague-struck and famine-ridden, saw university-trained men moving faute de mieux into the new London theatres, underpaid but not (most of them) actually starving.
Barbara Everett on Shakespeare at the LRB

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