Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hate Mail From A Low-Mid Functioning Functional Illiterate

Of all of the things I posted yesterday the one that I thought was probably least controversial was me pointing out that even among the dolts who believe what FOX "news" tells them in 2016,  literacy is probably far higher than it was in Elizabethan and Jacobian London.  But some dolt mocked that statement and was joined in by some other dolts, all of whom apparently, from what they claim, have been to college.

Well, the most common figures I see for the estimate of adult illiteracy in the Unites States in recent years measures that as about 14%,  And even at that abysmal rate it is still obvious that my statement is justified.

Recent studies by David Cressy demonstrate that literacy was affected by social straification.  An examination of more than 5,000 depositions in ecclesiastical courts in the diocese of Norwich in the later Elizabethan and early Stuart years (1580-1700) reveals subscriptional literacy rates of 100% for the clergy and professional classes, 98% for the nobility and gentry, 88 to 94% for merchants and superior shopkeepers, 65% for husbandmen and lesser peasants, 15% for laborers, 12% for common artisans and craft workers, and 11% for women.   The Elizabethan period witnessed dramatic improvement in literacy by the 1570s, only to have this advance followed by a regressive period into the 1610s.  Yoemen went from 45% in the 1550s to 79% in the 1570s, but regressed to 62% in the 1590s.  Husbandmen improved their literacy from 10% in the 1550s to 30% in the 1570s, only to retreat to 12% in the 1610s.  The regressive era was probably due to the worsening economy in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign.

Richard Greaves: Society and Religion in Elizabethan England, University of Minn Press

Even the slightest comparison would show that even with the intolerable rates of functional illiteracy in the United States that the situation in Elizabethan England was far worse.  The 89% illiteracy rate of women, alone, would put England in that period at more than three times the illiteracy rate of today's figures by these numbers.  Not counting the illiterate men.

That doesn't take into account that the figures found by Cressy are based in a MINIMAL definition of literacy whereas the modern figures define literacy as a far more accomplished activity. Cressy's study was based on subscriptional literacy, the ability to intelligibly write your name, something that even many suffering from complete functional illiteracy can do.  The Stratford man's elder daughter, Susanna (Shakspere) Hall though unable to distinguish her husband's hand from that of another writer, could, at least once in her life, draw the letters of her name, though just barely forming the letters.  The six widely accepted signatures of William Shaksper (Shakspere, etc.) are not more securely written as far as I can see.  And, by the way, he never seems to have spelled it "Shakespeare" in his life, for those who are upset at how I'm spelling the Stratford man's name.  The Stratford Shaksper's mother, father, wife and his daughter Judith couldn't even draw the letters, all of them having to make their mark which a scrivener or clerk or other functionary identified as their mark*.  And, for the record, John Shaksper, the father of William, was able to function as a village official, as, in fact, most of the officials of the town had to sign with their mark as they were illiterate.  You can get by in a society that expects illiteracy of most people.  Though I'll bet most of them could count money.

Certainly there are more people who listen to FOX who could read a pamphlet or play than the typical Englishman of the 1590s could.   And that's not taking into account that the sea of print we are exposed to today is nothing like what would be circulating in that period.  Paper was expensive and rare, printed material even more so and even handwritten copies would have been rare and circulated within limited circles.  On the other hand any given performance of a play could be seen by many hundreds of people at at time and they gave many performances of them.

It also has to be remembered that even the degenerate standards of FOX "news" no matter how much you like to mock and jape at them, are not as low as it gets on TV,  FOX entertainment programming is only one of the myriad of stations feeding and producing a lower level of idiocy, the kind of TV which contributes to the illiteracy rate.  FOX "news" isn't as low as it goes.  Even FOX "news" probably gets a more funcitonally literate viewership than most of TV which gets the most views.  From my memory of those channels I'd surf by back when I had an idiot box there were Spike, various sports channels, the Food Network, those house decorating porn stations, etc.

Like today, if you want to have an influence on the most people you don't write something, you put it on radio, TV, in movies or on YouTube or the equivalent.   Look at how many idiots with college degrees fall for the most absurd costume dramas, those who are certainly far more sophisticated and well read than any but the most elite of Elizabethans.   I suspect that's what the idiot who snarked at what I said got everything he knows about the period from.  I'll bet he's seen more of the Hollywood school of History than he's ever bothered to read in books from a public library or rotting in some used book store at a dollar or less a copy.  I'll bet he's never read more of THE PLAYS than he was required to in school, though he might, might, have watched the BBC cycle on TV way back when**.

*  I have to admit that until yesterday I didn't know that a will wasn't validated by a signature at that time but by the oath of the executor.  Given the low level of literacy - I'd imagine a lot of those who could sign their name to something wouldn't have been able to read what they were signing - that makes more sense. And someone would have had to witness the signature. 

**  I stopped watching when they had Anthony Hopkins play Othello as opposed to several distinguished Black actors who could have played the role.  I liked Hopkins in the movie version of Titus Andronicus which reveled in the awfulness of the material but I would not watch him in black face playing Othello.  I thought the BBC Measure for Measure was pretty bad, too, and the As You Like It, though I liked their All's Well That Ends Well with the late, lamented Ian Charleson a lot.  But that's for another time.  I still like reading plays better than watching most productions of them.  But when it works, nothing's better.

No comments:

Post a Comment