Saturday, September 15, 2007

Reflections on Jerome Weeks defense of Shakespeare

Jerome Weeks had a nice blogpost on the intermittent controversy about 'who wrote Shakespeare.' The nub of the difficulty in disposing of anyone other than Shakespeare himself is, as I see it, 'how could a commoner write so well on court life?' This led me to the following reflection.

"The Courtier" (Il Cortegiano) by Baldissare Castiglione, a handbook of manners, idealizes High Renaissance life. 'A significant translation occurred in 1561 when Sir Thomas Hoby turned "The Courtier" into a compelling English-language work that every educated Elizabethan read. Particularly influenced by it was Shakespeare..'* 'At the center of "The Courtier" was the humanist philosophy, a broad-based collection of high-minded values embodying entire fields of knowledge from poetry and geography to natural science. Castiglione drew on all this for his courtier's pursuit of eloquence, his shying away from specialization, his gentle aloofness and nonchalance. Sprezzatura is the Italian word for this special attitude, this careless elegance, though it is all of the parts that make up the Renaissance gentleman. In modeling a perfect courtier, Castiglione imagines a courtly world tilted toward perfection. This was a powerful current in 16th-century Italy -- an upper class urge to create alternative worlds, imaginary and better than the world around them,' a world that Shakespeare created for us in romance in A Midsummer Nights Dream. 'Shakespeare' may owe more to the High Renaissance of Italy and Castiglione than to the Earl of Oxford.

*W. Amelia, Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2007

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