Mythmaking about William Shakespeare is so common that it even has a name, “Bardolatry.” And it has been that way for centuries: The actor David Garrick’s 1769 “Shakespeare Jubilee” laid the foundation for the modern notion that Shakespeare was the greatest English writer of any age. In his own day, however, Shakespeare was simply considered one of the greatest writers of his generation. Because we so highly value our estimations of Shakespeare’s talents, we tend to make up myths about his life and work to justify them. Yet dispelling these myths, as the more historically minded scholarship of the past 35 years has tried to do, does not mean diminishing Shakespeare and our appreciation of him. Rather, it opens new ways to understand his works and their relationship to the culture that gave rise to them.
1. William Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare’s plays.