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'Shakespeare's knowledge was not all that distinguished'

During our wandering through the Cyberia and the world of the printed word, we often come across content which we believe is interesting. And which we feel compelled to share with others. This interesting content may be an article in a newspaper, an obituary, a book review or simply an excerpt from a book, as we at Newsandviews24.com are Mr Read-It-all. Here is the latest nuggest of knowledge from Shakespeare: The World As Stage, which we which we came across during our book-worming... 

He had some command of French, it would seem, and evidently quite a lot of Italian (or someone who could help him with quite a lot of Italian), for Othello and The Merchant of Venice closely followed Italian works that did not exist in English translation at the time he wrote. His vocabulary showed a more than usual interest in medicine, law, military affairs, and natural history (he mentions 180 plants and employs 200 legal terms, both large numbers), but in other respects Shakespeare's knowledge was not all that distinguished. He was routinely guilty of anatopisms-that is, getting one's geography wrong-particularly with regard to Italy, where so many of his plays were set. So in The Taming of the Shrew, he puts a sailmaker in Bergamo, approximately the most landlocked city in the whole of Italy, and in The Tempest and The Two Gentlemen of Verona he has Prospero and Valentine set sail from, respectively, Milan and Verona even though both cities were a good two days' travel from salt water. If he knew Venice had canals, he gave no hint of it in either of the plays he set there. Whatever his other virtues, Shakespeare was not conspicuously worldly.

Anachronisms likewise abound in his plays. He has ancient Egyptians playing billiards and introduces the clock to Caesar's Rome 1,400 years before the first mechanical tick was heard there. Whether by design or from ignorance, he could be breathtakingly casual with facts when it suited his purposes to be so. In Henry VI, Part 1, for example, he dispatches Lord Talbot twenty-two years early, conveniently allowing him to predecease Joan of Arc. In Coriolanus he has Lartius refer to Cato three hundred years before Cato was born.

Shakespeare's genius had to do not really with facts, but with ambition, intrigue, love, suffering-things that aren't taught in school. He had a kind of assimilative intelligence, which allowed him to pull together lots of disparate fragments of knowledge, but there is almost nothing that speaks of hard intellectual application in his plays-unlike, say, those of Ben Jonson, where learning hangs like bunting on every word. Nothing we find in Shakespeare betrays any acquaintance with Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, or others who influenced Jonson and were second nature to Francis Bacon. That is a good thing-a very good thing indeed-for he would almost certainly have been less Shakespeare and more a showoff had he been better read. As John Dryden put it in 1668: "Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learn'd."

Author: Bill Bryson

Title: Shakespeare: The World As Stage

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Pages: 7-9

Copyright 2007 by Bill Bryson

 

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During our wandering through the Cyberia and the world of the printed word, we often come across content which we find interesting and believe it would be so for others, too. And we feel compelled to share it with others. This interesting content may be an article in a newspaper, an obituary, a book review or simply an excerpt from a book, as we at Newsandviews24.com are Mr Read-It-all. The latest excerpt is from Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World authored by Dan Koeppel...

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During our wandering through the Cyberia and the world of the printed word, we often come across content which we believe is interesting. And which we feel compelled to share with others. This interesting content may be an article in a newspaper, an obituary, a book review or simply an excerpt from a book, as we at Newsandviews24.com are Mr Read-It-all. Here is the latest nuggest of knowledge from Shakespeare: The World As Stage, which we which we came across during our book-worming... 

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