Myth vs. Reality: What do William Shakespeare and Tiger Woods Have in Common?

Frank Rich

An observation by Frank Rich in today’s New York Times (Sunday December 20, 2009) made me think of why most of the world has had such a tough time considering the possibility that Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon was not, after all, the author of the works attributed to the printed name “William Shakespeare.”

Even when we know somewhere deep in our bones that some magnificent myth simply cannot stand up to scrutiny, we go right on tolerating and even mightily defending it.  We go right on, seemingly oblivious to the great gap between a beloved popular belief and what must be the quite different reality behind it.  Such is the case, I believe with the gap between our traditional image of Shakespeare the man and the real person who became the world’s greatest writer.

In his essay in the Sunday Opinion page, Rich had occasion to bring up the Tiger Woods saga:

“What makes the golfing superstar’s tale compelling, after all, is not that he’s another celebrity in trouble or another fallen athletic “role model” in a decade lousy with them.  His scandal has nothing to tell us about race, and nothing new to say about hypocrisy.  The conflict between Tiger’s picture-perfect family life and his marathon womanizing is the oldest of morality tales.

“What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led.  What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it. People wanted to believe what they wanted to believe…”

And this certainly has been true of the virtually universal belief in the myth of the Stratford man as “Shakespeare,” with English and Drama scholars of the academic establishment (instead of the American establishment and news media) actively helping to sustain and enhance it.

I admit that if I’d had the occasion to bet on Tiger’s reality, I’d have taken the side of the “role model” image that we now know was a false one.  The image that “Shakespeare” attended only grammar school at best, that he never traveled to Italy, that he wrote strictly for the box office, that his detailed knowledge and seemingly firsthand experience (which fills entire walls of library shelves) had been acquired by some miracle — at one time in my life, I would have bet on the side of that image, too.  (Too bad Will of Stratford left no voice mail messages behind!)

Now, about that popular myth of the Virgin Queen…

Published in: Uncategorized on December 20, 2009 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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