We’re all worried about criticism: what do other people think about our work?
It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean we should let it affect us.
For me, critics are like the crowd in the stands at a football match.
Yelling an opinion is a lot easier than actually being on the pitch.
Take Shakespeare, if he’d listened to the criticism he might have given up straight away.
Robert Green was a famous, influential Elizabethan playwright.
In 1592, he mentioned Shakespeare in a pamphlet called “A Grote’s Worth of Wit”.
He wrote: “An upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide” supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and is, in his own conceit, the only ‘shake-scene’ in the country.”
Robert Greene is criticising Shakespeare, a mere actor, for daring to think he can be an author, and paraphrases a quote from one of his plays and alludes to him by name.
A few years later, in 1662, Samuel Pepys was similarly unimpressed:
“We saw Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, which I had never seen before, nor shall ever see again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.”
Fortunately for Shakespeare he wasn’t around for the majority of the criticism.
In 1758, Diderot wrote: “Shakespeare’s fault is not the greatest into which a poet may fall. It merely indicates a deficiency of taste.”
In 1765, Voltaire wrote: “He was a savage, who had some imagination. His pieces can please only at London and in Canada. It is not a good sign for the taste of a nation when that which it admires meets with favour only at home.”
In 1769, Samuel Johnson wrote: “Shakespeare never had six lines together without a fault. Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute my general assertion.”
In 1814, the poet Byron wrote: “Shakespeare’s name, you may depend upon it, stands absurdly too high and will go down.”
Even the naturalist Charles Darwin wrote: “I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.”
In 1907, playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote: “There is no eminent writer whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. It would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.”
In 1922, James Joyce wrote: “Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.”
T.S.Eliot wrote: “We can say of Shakespeare, that never has a man turned so little knowledge to such great account.”
And Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote: “For King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth, I feel an irresistible repulsion and tedium.”
So, all great men: poets, playwrights, authors, who have criticised Shakespeare.
And yet Shakespeare is recognised as the greatest writer in the English language.
So who is right, the people who despise him, or the people who admire him?
The truth is Shakespeare wrote for the masses.
If you’ve been to the Globe you know the context: actors had to shout the lines from the stage, without subtlety, into an audience that was drinking and eating and shouting back.
Shakespeare wasn’t writing for critics, which could be why critics don’t like his plays.
Shakespeare was writing for ordinary people.
Which is why ordinary people still use Shakespearean expressions in their daily lives.
When was the last time you heard an ordinary person quote James Joyce, or T.S.Eliot, or Voltaire, or Tolstoy?
And as for Robert Greene, who even knows who he was or what he did?