Shakespeare-Hatred: An Underground Literary Tradition

Shaw: No Lover of Shakespeare He

Over at Crooked Timber, they are having a lively discussion  provoked by George Bernard Shaw’s scorn for Shakespeare. On many occasions Shaw expressed extreme distain for the Bard of Avon. In a 1906 letter Shaw wrote “I have striven hard to open English eyes to the emptiness of Shakespeare’s philosophy, to the superficiality and second-handedness of his morality, to his weakness and incoherence as a thinker, to his snobbery, his vulgar prejudices, his ignorance, his disqualifications of all sorts for the philosophic eminence claimed for him.”

Shaw’s opinion are easy to dismiss, it is often forgotten that there is a long and venerable tradition of Shakespeare-hatred, a critical tradition that includes not just crank and reflexive contrarians but also some very great writers. Aside from Shaw, Voltaire and Leo Tolstoy were also vociferously hostile to Stratford’s favourite son. Voltaire actually started off as a champion of Shakespeare but turned against the English writer’s plays. More recently the novelist Joyce Carol Oates (in her collection Contraries) and mad-dog essayist Marvin Mudrick have taken aim at Shakespeare.

Continue reading