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Shakespeare's Education Level

With Carol Rutter

Is there anything in the works which require their author to have been educated at a university?


Rutter: Certainly not. In the early 1590s, there was a clutch of university-educated playwrights who were hopping mad that a new generation of writers, equipped with only their grammar school training, reading Ovid, Virgil, and Ciscero, were supplying the players with brilliant scripts for the stage. 

Shakespeare was one of these smart grammar school lads. Ben Jonson was another, and Decker, Haywood, Webster. None of the big books that informed Shakespeare’s mind and writing was even on the university syllabus. Holinshed’s Chronicles, Plutarch’s Lives, Montaigne’s essays, Ovid’s Metamorphoses

What students on the university arts’ course studied was Latin, Greek, rhetoric, and overwhelming logic, for careers in the church, civil service, and in the court. You can see in Shakespeare what kind of men the university fashioned—tedious logic-choppers like Polonius, dubious schoolmasters like Lucentio in the Shrew, and caviar to the general playwrights like Hamlet in The Mousetrap. If you want to know what kind of playwright Shakespeare was, have a look at Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Carol Rutter

Carol Rutter

Carol Chillington Rutter is a Professor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies at the University of Warwick and a National Teaching Fellow; her books include Shakespeare and Child's Play: Performing Lost Boys on Stage and Screen and Enter the Body: Women and Representation on Shakespeare's Stage.

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