Shakespeare’s Grammar

Latin, literacy, and the vernacular

Authored by: Leah Whittington

The Routledge Research Companion to Shakespeare and Classical Literature

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781472417404
eBook ISBN: 9781315613550
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041689


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In The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster (2 Henry VI), one of the earliest plays Shakespeare wrote for the London stage, the populist rebel Jack Cade captures and beheads Lord Saye, accusing him of forfeiting England’s territories in France and of committing an even more objectionable “crime”: “It will be proved to thy face that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear” (4.7.32–33). Portrayed in the play as a consequence of Henry VI’s weak rule, Cade’s rebellion attacks all the inherited privileges of rank and nobility, but Cade and his followers take particular aim at literacy and learning. “Thou hast most traitoriously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school” (4.7.27–28), Cade rails at his victim. When Saye insists that “ignorance is the curse of God,” and “knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven” (4.7.66–67), Cade gives orders to strike off his head.

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