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.
I am sure that Dr Greer must have read Venus and Adonis, yet she doesn’t quote a single line from it, nor from the almost equally successful Lucrece (1594), even though both poems, with female characters at their centre, might have provided her with some useful material. It seems that