Shakespeare Crackpottery Gets Woke
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Last year, I blogged:

From the New York Times:

“Who Was Shakespeare’s Muse? A Black Woman, This Play Imagines”

“Emilia,” at Shakespeare’s Globe, features three black actresses in the role of the “Dark Lady” who inspired some of the Bard’s sonnets.

Oh, yeah? Well, in my upcoming Broadway musical, Shakespeare themself will be a black woman.

See you losers at the Tonys!

But in The Atlantic Monthly today, Emilia Bassano has been promoted from Shakespeare’s Dark Lady to Shakespeare himself herself.

Was Shakespeare a Woman?

The authorship controversy, almost as old as the works themselves, has yet to surface a compelling alternative to the man buried in Stratford. Perhaps that’s because, until recently, no one was looking in the right place. The case for Emilia Bassano.


But in The Atlantic, Emilia gets demoted from black to just being of Jewish descent, costing her substantial Wokemon Points.

This repeats the usual theory that The Stratfordian was just a crude Harvey Weinstein-like entertainment industry impresario who couldn’t have written the plays with all their learned and sensitive bits. But Hamlet, which strikes most people as Shakespeare at his Shakespeareiest as he reaches his mid-30s prime, is full of lines clearly written by a theater biz insider.

One of the funnier aspects of Hamlet is that in the same astonishing scene (II, ii) in which Shakespeare hits perhaps his all-time peak with the manic-depressive speech that first sums up the Renaissance using Renaissance prose’s love of lists of good things:

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!

And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Shakespeare, speaking through Hamlet, then goes on to indulge in some extremely topical and local satire regarding the London stage fad c. 1600 for grown-up plays performed by all-child troupes. Shakespeare, the theatrical businessman, is particularly annoyed that even top playwrights like Ben Jonson were suddenly writing for companies of child actors. This stupid sensation was taking business away from grown-up troupes like Shakespeare’s, forcing them out on the road like the poor wandering Players in Hamlet.

Hamlet — Do they [i.e., Globe players] hold the same estimation they did when I was in the city? are they so followed?

Rosencrantz — No indeed they are not.

Hamlet — How comes it? do they grow rusty?

Rosencrantz — Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but there is sir, an aery [nest] of children, little eyases [eaglets], that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for’t: these are now the fashion, and so berattle [i.e., abuse] the common stages – so they call them – that many wearing rapiers [i.e., gallants] are afraid of goose-quills [i.e., the satire of the boys’ playwrights] and dare scarce come thither [i.e., to the public playhouses].

Hamlet — What, are they children? who maintains ’em? how are they escoted [i. e., paid]? Will they pursue the quality [i. e., the profession of acting] no longer than they can sing [i. e., before their voices change]? will they not say afterwards, if they should grow to common players – as it is most like, if their means are no better – their writers do them wrong to make them exclaim against their own succession [i.e., the profession of public actor, to which they must shortly succeed].

If Shakespeare had simply been a mercenary exploiter of the literary genius of Bassano, Bacon, or Oxford, we probably wouldn’t have this digression, since it clogs up the dramatic momentum and pads out a 4-hour play. But, apparently, Shakespeare the playwright felt passionately about this business fad affecting Shakespeare the businessman’s bottom line.

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