Sometimes I feel like my mind is a sieve--at least when it comes to reading nonfiction. I read and read. Some of the information stays inside and some just pours right back out. The nice thing about reading about Shakespeare is getting information from a variety of sources. Every time I read something new--a book or an article, watch a documentary, I add a little bit more to what I know and remember. I watched another episode of Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare. It seems as though so much of what is written about Shakespeare's life is conjecture. It has been interesting reading what one scholar says, only to have it refuted by another scholar.
Episode two of the documentary covered the "lost years" of Shakespeare's life between the ages of 18-28. It is known that Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway and had three children. Wood discusses the possibility that Shakespeare lived in Lancashire during those years. Apparently someone by the name of Shakeshafte lived there at this time--could this possibly have been Shakespeare? Although Shakespeare's father was Catholic, there appears to be conflicting thoughts on whether Shakespeare also followed his father's faith or not. All these little variables help explain what he might have been up to (or not) before he finally came to London.
I have also been reading Frank Kermode's The Age of Shakespeare. He tends not to conjecture quite so much. The book has been following along loosely the same timeline and information that I am watching in the documentary. He tends to think that these speculations tend to be a bit far fetched. Kermode writes that it is possible that Shakespeare's first ambition was to be a "page-poet" rather than a "stage-poet" as he was writing sonnets at this time. It could be that Shakespeare came to London not as an actor, but looking for patronage. He might have fallen in to acting in order to pay the bills so to speak. And then the writing of plays would follow.
I thought this was rather interesting (always interested when books and reading comes up in any text) in the Kermode:
"We must assume Shakespeare, as the son of a prominent citizen, to have attended Stratford's Guild School. The existence of such establishment ensured that Latin did not belong solely to priest and lawyer. Rhetoric was taught less as a vocational than as a cultural acquirement, a means to self-fulfillment. Since all textbooks, including those we may assume the young Shakespeare to have worked through, derived from the same sources, there was a measure of genuine uniformity in humanist education."
"It was in this age that the book became a familiar object, with incalculable consequences. Since records are fairly thorough, it is known that between 1558 and 1579, 2,760 books were published in London. Between 1580 and 1603 the number rose to 4,370. John Guy calculates, on the basis of an average print run of 1,250 copies, that 'this represents an average of just two books per head of a population of 1-1/4 million over a generation and a half.' Part of the endless bustle around St. Paul's must have been caused by the bookstalls, for St. Paul's, in a sense the social center of the city, was also the center of the book trade, and it was not far from where the newly arrived aspirant would find himself. The proportion of citizens who read may seem small, but there were enough of them to make bestsellers, one of which was Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, an example of the fashionable Ovidian-erotic mode, which went into nine editions in the poet's lifetime. One could go into St. Paul's and buy a sermon, or a sixpenny quarto of a play, or almost any other sort of book, from devotional tracts to romances."
Next up in my reading is the theaters at this time. The documentary will cover more personal aspects of Shakespeare's life--his rise to fame, as well as the "disasters of life and love which marked his path to greatness."