1767 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Upton

Richard Farmer, in Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare (1767) 6-7.



Mr. Upton wonders "with what kind of reasoning any one could be so far imposed upon, as to imagine that Shakespeare had no learning;" and lashes with much zeal and satisfaction "the pride and pertness of dunces, who under such a name would gladly shelter their own idleness and ignorance."

Like the learned Knight, at every anomaly in grammar or meter,

H' hath hard words ready to shew why,
And tell what Rule he did it by.

How would the old Bard have been astonished to have found, that he had very skillfully given the trochaic dimeter brachycatalectic, commonly called the ithyphallic measure to the Witches in Macbeth! and that now and then a halting Verse afforded a most beautiful instance of the Pes proceleusmaticus!

"But, continues Mr. Upton, it was a learned age; Roger Ascham assures us, that Queen Elizabeth read more Greek every day, than some Dignitaries of the Church did Latin in a whole week." This appears very probable; and a pleasant proof it is of the general learning of the times, and of Shakespeare in particular. I wonder, he did not corroborate it with an extract from her injunctions to her Clergy, that "such as were but mean Readers should peruse over before once or twice the Chapters and Homilies, to the intent they might read to the better understanding of the people."