Friday, November 4, 2011

Classism 400 years later

Classism 400 years later focuses on the notion that Shakespeare, who didn't have the advantages of nobility, couldn't have written his plays. I especially like this general point:
The belief that the achievement gap between rich and poor (where it exists) has to do with inherent differences rather than the socially constructed inequities of opportunity and privilege is alive and well. We are looking for talent at Harvard, where the biggest affirmative action program is legacy admissions (that is, you get into Harvard because your dad went to Harvard), when it is just as likely to be found in places the aristocrats don’t hang out. As Gould wrote elsewhere, “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”


  1. Will, when I saw the previews for Anonymous, I said to Mario, "This is 1% bullshit. It's just the elite trying to convince us that a regular guy couldn't have written Shakespeare." OK, so that sounds paranoid. Probably no "elite" was trying to convince "us" of anything. But I still think the movie reeks of classism.

  2. Kim, totally. If you want to have fun with a Shakespeare-was-a-front plot, Marlowe is a much more interesting candidate. But Occam's razor says Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays.

  3. FWIW, Isaac Asimov suggested many years ago that Shakespeare wrote his plays and he wasn't a front for an educated aristocracy based on the scientific inaccuracies in his plays that an aristocrat would not have written.

    The one example I remember from Asimov's essay is the phrase "Constant as the Northern Star" used in Julius Caesar -- due to wobbling of the Earth's axis, the Northern Star isn't constant and wasn't directly above the North Pole when Julius Caesar was alive.

  4. I'm thinking Asimov might've been overestimating the quality of an upperclass education, simply based on the fact that for all the Ivies are good schools, you can get an excellent education elsewhere and some real dolts come out of the Ivies. Still, an interesting point, and it'd be interesting to research that sometime.

  5. I'm thinking Asimov might've been overestimating the quality of an upperclass education

    Really. How many 16th-century aristocrats would have known that the position of Polaris has changed? Or cared, if they were using it as a metaphor? The point of the Northern Star, in this passage, is that unlike the rest of the stars in the sky, it stays in the same position all the time, enabling us to navigate by it. Its wobbles over the centuries are not germane. Sheesh.

    Of course, Asimov was a snob. I've had a bad taste in my mouth about him since reading that when he was on the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary and was presented with the expression, "I could care less" (intended to mean "I don't care at all"), Asimov responded, "I don't know anyone stupid enough to say this."

    Anyway, thanks for the shout out, Will.