Sunday, September 1, 2019

Shakespeare Mocks the Working Man (and Woman)

Since Shakespeare had something to say about everything, as Labor Day approaches, it seems appropriate to ask, what did he have to say about the working man and woman? More precisely, how did he represent working men and women on stage? Well. A brief consideration of his most notable working class characters -- and there aren't many, compared to the gentry -- suggests what we already knew. Shakespeare, though of working class origin himself, was an elitist snob who identified intellect with aristocracy, and used characters who worked with their hands -- "leather-apron men," as they were called -- as figures of fun. Likeable, good-hearted, but not so bright.

This is interesting, because Shakespeare, famously, was the son of a glovemaker who had also worked as a tanner (a skinner of  cattle for their leather hides). It's hard to believe that Shakespeare himself wouldn't have gotten his hands greasy at some phase of his upbringing. You'd think young William, bursting out of the lower (though not at all the lowest) echelons of society by means of his reading and his wit, would have written in defense of the intellect of his earlier peers (peers in the modern sense of the word). After all, his greatest rival, Ben Jonson, who had once worked as a bricklayer, and who, like