There’s not much Shakespeare content in Neal Stephenson’s The Rise And Fall of D.O.D.O, much to my dismay. But there is a bit that’s new to me and worthy of discussion. The story is a time travel one, and when our hero is transported back to Elizabethan England to hang out with an Irish prostitute, he wants to talk about Shakespeare. He notices that Romeo and Juliet is currently playing.
“It’s a shite play,” she responds, “Just a court sponsored rant against the Irish.”
She then cites her evidence:
- the “villain” is a Catholic friar, and “everybody knows” Catholic is code for Irish.
- his meddling is the cause of all suffering and the reason why the play is tragedy and not a comedy
- the friar’s name is Lawrence, obviously named for St. Labhras, who was martyred by a poison of his own concoction.
Is this a well known conspiracy theory, or did Stephenson make it up? He’s got other examples, less specific – the one about the “terrible drunk Irish character staggering about the stage wailing about how all the Irish are villains and bastards and knaves” or the “English king who went to conquer Ireland, and he said the Irish live like venom.”
So, did Shakespeare hate the Irish?