In Defense of "Bill"

In-Defense-of-BillBy John Pellegrini

There is a famous story, which was recently recycled on chain e-mails, about a young “sailor” named “Bill.” He goes to sea and is shipwrecked and drowned. Another man, a Prince, needs an alter ego. You see, he’s a member of Royalty, and the Royal types aren’t supposed to engage in “commoner’s” work. But this Prince loves the theater and loves to write poetry, so he finds Bill’s name in a graveyard at his church and uses that for his pen name. There are other variations on this same story about the Prince, usually claimed to be the Earl of Oxford, but all of them end the same way, with the smarter-than-thou author stating, “now you know the Truth about William Shakespeare.” Except that the Truth of this story is a BIG FAT LIE.

Intellectual Bigots (my term for them) have, for over two centuries, tried to dispute that William Shakespeare could have written his own plays and sonnets. Their reasons are that the real “Bill” never went to University (by the way, my fellow Americans, it is perfectly acceptable to not use prefixes such as “a” or “the” before the word University, as our international readers know, owing to the word’s Latin origins), and was therefore an obvious “commoner” with little or no education, which means he could have never written anything as well as the plays and sonnets attributed to him. Their most favorite candidates as the real “Shakespeare” are, Sir Francis Bacon; Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford; and Christopher Marlowe (who was killed in a bar-room brawl 12 years before Shakespeare wrote his final 3 plays, but what does real time have to do with anything). All of these men, of course, were titled and educated. All of them went to University. They, if you believe the Intellectual Bigots, were far finer men than that “commoner” Bill Shakespeare.

This is a sore spot with me. Not that I’m a hugely well-read fan of William Shakespeare. Honestly, I don’t care to read his works. I prefer to see them performed. Which, when you think about it, is the only way he should be appreciated, since his works were plays that were meant to be performed. His sonnets, of course, are meant to be read. I digress, however. I just get annoyed whenever I hear of or meet these intellectual snobs who claim that you cannot possibly have any sort of creativity or ability unless you go to University.

Why? Because I didn’t, that’s why. I never went to University, nor did I feel compelled to even consider college of any sort. My reasoning was based on careful research, though. I checked with all of the University of Wisconsin campuses, and discovered that, at least back then, only graduate students were allowed into the campus radio stations. Which meant that I’d have to take at least 3 years of classes, the majority of which were wholly unrelated to radio or media, before I could ever get behind a microphone. “To heck with that,” I exclaimed, or words of a much harsher tone. The only other alternative in Southeastern Wisconsin in those days was The Institute of Broadcast Arts, a fly-by-night “teach you everything you need to know about radio in 6 months” unaccredited school. They didn’t teach me anything about radio I didn’t already know, but it was enough to get me into my first job. After that, I figured I’d get paid to learn on the job. Yes, this is the famous school that was closed down shortly after I graduated by the Sate of Wisconsin for faulty practices. I believe I may be the only person who graduated from that school and not only got a job in radio, but stayed with it for years. Again, I digress.

The point is, at no time did I ever, nor do I today, believe that a College Education would have furthered my career. Ask me 20 years from now, and I’ll still maintain that a College Education would not have helped me in any way. I was writing scripts and phony commercials when I was in 4th grade. At that same time, I was playing with my Dad’s recorder, which used cheap, flimsy vinyl records about the size of a 45, because they hadn’t invented the cassette tape yet. Then, when my Dad got a cassette recorder, I practically wore it out recording myself. I loved making up stuff like a radio broadcast. You might think I had a natural talent, but I’d say it was more like an overwhelming interest that I was able to develop into a talent over many years. But, when I found out that I would have to waste time in classes that had nothing to do with radio or broadcasting, and that I could go to the “quickie disk jockey” school instead and get a job at a small town station and learn everything while being paid, there was no debate.

So, this is why I get upset and greatly annoyed with these snobs, these Intellectual Bigots, who claim Shakespeare could have never written so well because he didn’t go to University. They claim that this “William Shakespeare” was nothing but a hoax to cover the true identity of the genius and give credit for his works to others, whom they consider to be “superior” people. However, their reasoning behind this “hoax” totally overlooks the known facts about William Shakespeare’s life, as anyone who looks in the Encyclopedia Britannica can learn; to wit:

I. William Shakespeares’ father, John Shakespeare, was the appointed Alderman (a kind of early Mayor) of their hometown, Strattford-upon-Avon. His mother was the daughter of a wealthy landowner, which means that “Bill” wasn’t quite the commoner the Intellectual Bigots insist he was.

II. Strattford was home to what was well recognized as one of the finest Free Grammar Schools in all of England. It is absurd to suggest that the son of the Mayor did not attend this school. In Grammar school, young “Bill” would have studied Latin, the Classics, the great Moralist Essays, and Poetry. University education during Shakespeare’s time consisted mainly of the study of Logic, Rhetoric, and the known sciences. A University education wouldn’t have done much for “Bill’s” writing ability.

III. “Bill’s” early successes in the theater began somewhere around 1585. Eleven years later, in 1596, his father, John, was awarded, by Royal Decree, a Family Coat Of Arms, partly for his service as Mayor, but primarily due to his son’s fame as a playwright (as a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, under Elizabeth I, and the Kings Men, under James I, William Shakespeare was well known to the Royal court). Coats Of Arms, due to their prestige, were never given to hoaxes, no matter how well connected the perpetrator might be.

IV. There are well-documented encounters between the real William Shakespeare and at least 50 of his famous contemporaries, including his critic and friend, Ben Johnson.

V. There is much more hard and factual evidence, beyond this, that the real Shakespeare did exist, which I haven’t the space to list here.

VI. There is absolutely no hard or factual evidence to prove any of the theories about Bacon, Oxford, or Marlowe, other than speculation, rumor, supposition, and a gross disregard for truth.

All of the above information can be gleaned in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s treatment on the life and writings of the Bard. Britannica also addresses each of the cases presented by the Intellectual Bigots, but primarily dismisses all them as unsubstantiated and unproven nonsense.

The sad truth about the Intellectual Bigots is that they suffer from true class prejudice. William Shakespeare didn’t need a University education to write. All he needed was the imagination power of his wonderful mind. Shakespeare lived, worked, and breathed within the finest theatrical company in all of 16th and early 17th century England. This experience far outweighs any “education” he could have had to help him write so beautifully for the theater of his day. Creative brilliance and genius can exist in anyone, regardless of background or education.

I don’t claim myself to be a genius, or in any way as talented as Shakespeare. However, I do know that I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have some ability. If I could get here without going to University, certainly someone with the discipline, energy, and drive as William Shakespeare, could have done all that he did. Of course, one must also remember that Shakespeare was not above re-writing other people’s works. Example: despite the popular notion put forth in the movie Shakespeare In Love, Romeo and Juliet was already a well-known Italian story when Bill “revised” it into his own play. Of course, the original was crude, at best, and Shakespeare’s version was incredible by comparison. Yet he did plagiarize from other sources, as most writers do.

What Shakespeare In Love did do for us, however, was show us how Bill was able to write so well, despite his lack of proper education (as the Intellectual Bigots would have us believe). He had the best actors of his day in his company, and his plays were staged quickly, in order to make money. Revisions and re-writes were common occurrences, and many times his plays could and were changed over the years, even decades. Since none of his plays were “officially” published in print until after his death, no one can be sure exactly how well the publishers recorded his original texts, but most of the real Shakespearean experts agree that his plays are pretty much intact the way he intended them.

So what have we learned? Does a fabulous education at the best schools guarantee instant success and greatness in one’s chosen career? No. Do hard work, determination, and the drive to constantly improve your abilities have a greater factor in one’s level of success? You bet. Did William Shakespeare need to go to University in order for his talent to become immortal? Heck no. Did the fact that he constantly lived and breathed inside the very theater where his works were performed help him write the best plays possible? Darn tootin’.

There’s no record of when William Shakespeare began writing. We can figure out about when his first plays were produced, but I’d be willing to bet that Bill was writing plays and poems back when he was in Grammar School. I’d be willing to bet that if we could somehow transport back in time to those days, we’d discover that Bill was constantly writing stories, poems, and plays from a very early age, and likely some of his teachers noticed his talent and encouraged him. I’d further be willing to bet that there are lots of plays that he wrote that were thrown aside because he discovered that they were unworkable. To be honest, these would be easy bets to win, because virtually every writer in the history of writing itself learns to write the hard way, University or not. Bill had one remarkable talent over all the other writers of his day. He wrote beautiful prose, and he was an excellent editor. Almost none of his works are overly verbose or redundant. That can be attributed to the nature of his medium. The plays in his day had a time limit, as they do today. He could only write so much, before he knew he had to resolve all of the plot twists and intrigues.

That’s why his stories are so good. They don’t drag on and on for pages at a time, like the works of many of his contemporaries. He had a time limit to keep, deadlines to obey, and he had to make sure his audiences were continually entertained, or his plays would lose money, and he’d be out of work. Because he wrote his pieces for performance, he also had to keep pacing in mind and keep scenes moving swiftly to avoid audience boredom. When your stories are performed almost immediately after you first write them, you can soon discover what will hold the attention and what won’t. Now, the kicker: does any of this experience sound a little familiar to what you do?

Don’t get me wrong; we are obviously not Shakespeare. But, we do get paid based on the quality of our output. Unlike a tenured professor of English who can write about anything for as long as he or she wants, secure in the knowledge that it will be published no matter how pointless, redundant, and seemingly endless it becomes, we have deadlines to keep and audiences to entertain.

By the way, don’t believe for a second what those pointy-headed intellectual bigots say about computers being terrible devices to create upon, because Shakespeare never used one. By saying that, they prove they know nothing of Shakespeare. He was a PLAYWRITE. He got paid by how much and how quickly he wrote. If there were a tool that could have helped him write faster, he would have embraced it passionately. There are many references in his plays and sonnets when he laments the slowness of writing by hand. He wasn’t just saying that for affect my friends. He would have loved any form of typewriter or word processor.

The fact is, we are all capable of creating as well as Shakespeare, providing we have the same drive and dedication he had to his craft. Aye, there’s the rub. Are we willing to work as hard as he did? One thing is certain; education will only take you as far as graduation. After that, you’re on your own. Those who have to work the hardest at something, usually wind up being the best. Just ask Michael Jordan. So the next time some intellectual bigot suggests to you that only those with higher education can produce quality works that can stand for time immemorial, please simply respond with this ageless quote from the Bard himself: “Hey nonny nonny.”

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