Katherine Duncan-Jones

The Stratford Wife

Shakespeare’s Wife

By

Bloomsbury 416pp £20 order from our bookshop

It is said that in his latter years A L Rowse used to enter the Common Room at All Souls with the self-trumpeting assertion, ‘You’re all fools, and I am not.’ Like Rowse, Germaine Greer was a first-class Elizabethan scholar in her youth. But in this bold ‘late’ study she adopts an alarmingly similar tone. Rowse himself is excoriated for having ‘the temerity to exercise his imagination’, even though this is something that Greer has the temerity to do at all times. Scattergun assaults on shadow-squadrons of other scholars – sometimes named (‘the likes of Anthony Holden’, ‘Burgess and most of his ilk’, ‘Greenblatt and his ilk’) and sometimes unnamed (‘bachelor dons’, ‘those nineteenth-century schoolmasters’, ‘the Shakespeare wallahs’) – explode violently like Tourette tics. At times Greer seems almost to wallow in her own spleen. For instance, when glancing at the immediately successful Venus and Adonis (1593) she claims (mistakenly) that:

Year after year of multifarious shakespeareanising goes by without producing a single discussion of the work that was the Bard’s principal claim to fame among his contemporaries.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter