I recently returned from Chicago, New York City, and Portland, Oregon after a spate of discussions, book signings, and radio interviews. The radio show in Chicago with Milt Rosenberg included Peter Holland, a British professor of Shakespeare teaching here in America at Notre Dame. When a caller asked how William Shakespeare acquired the amazing range of knowledge shown in the plays, Holland said “I believe Shakespeare was a good listener.”
I think that’s so sad. It’s sad that Shakespeareans must denigrate the breadth and depth of the knowledge of this writer merely so they don’t have to explain where he came by such a wealth of book learning including study of rhetorical devices, languages, history, mythology, medicine, the classics, etc. “A good listener.” Sheesh. That’s like saying Albert Einstein or Marie Curie did what they did by being good listeners.
How much more satisfying and inspiring it will be when we can take a close look at the education of this writer. It might help us gain a sense of how she came to do what she did; we might better comprehend how these plays developed and gain a clearer understanding of how the knowledge in them was transmuted into such art. Then we can begin to more fully understand and appreciate the brilliance of the mind that wrote them. That would be much more satisfying than pathetically believing the writer was merely “a good listener.”