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  • Shakespeare
  • As You Like It
  • Poaching
  • Enclosure
  • Agrarian Capitalist
  • Marx
  • Polanyi

"Bardwashing" Shakespeare: Food Justice, Enclosure, and the Poaching Poet


Journal Title:

Journal of Social Justice


Volume 5


, Pages 1-21

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


William Shakespeare arguably represents the height of English intellectual creativity. His drama and poetry transcend his mortality, speaking to generation upon generation with an authoritative appeal that seems morally superior because of its durability over the centuries. In his play As You Like It, Shakespeare even appears to glorify the social bandit and proto food activist. Characters that survive in the Forest of Arden by poaching their usurping duke’s deer are likened to the mythical figure, Robin Hood. The allusion achieves greater significance when considered alongside near-contemporary pseudo-biographies that record Shakespeare’s early life as a poacher and youthful renegade. At face value, Shakespeare’s Robin Hood reference might suggest his subtle advocacy of food sovereignty and social justice. This romanticized image is supported by later historiographies that interpret medieval and early modern enclosure from a specifically partisan viewpoint. Early nineteenth century historians who referenced More’s Utopia, and whose influence is evident in enclosure analyses ranging from Marx to Polanyi and Bookchin, unwittingly assist in perpetuating the iconography of the social bandit Shakespeare, united with his rebellious rural contemporaries. Surprisingly, however, Shakespeare’s true personality – that of a shrewd and ruthless businessman, at ease with hoarding in time of famine as purchasing common-land rights and privileges at the expense of his impoverished neighbors – is less familiar. The opportunistic, land-grabbing, pro-enclosure Bard, while not erased from critical view, is certainly shielded by the bardolatrous hero-worship of later ages. This “Bardwashing” of Shakespeare’s agrarian capitalist identity, in favor of the morally irreproachable icon, owes much to gossip gleaned from the very people most impacted by his aggressive exurbanite dealings. This paper interrogates the populist iconography of Shakespeare, and questions his reinvention as a local celebrity and Robin Hood eco-champion, rather than aggressive capitalist willing to exploit for immediate profit the food justice rights of his hometown community.

Copyright information:

©2015 Transformative Studies Institute

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