The Argument from Shakespeare

The setting: A pub somewhere in England. Saturday, 3.20 p.m. On the telly: Chelsea v Arsenal.

Bloke 1: Boy, this must be one of the best soccer matches I've seen in years!

Bloke 2: Football! The game is called football!

Bloke 1: Excuse me, Shakespeare used soccer in Troilus and Cressida, act III, scence i.

Bloke 2: Oh . . . Can I buy you a pint?
When the sun set on the time we now call the Middle Ages, scholars started to agree that if you wanted to make an argument, it was not quite good enough to point out that Aristotle said so, too; you had to offer a little more. When it comes to arguments about language, the English still live in the Dark Ages: Just point out that Shakespeare did X and you have proven that X cannot be criticized by any sane person. This is particularly funny because these arguments - although they are too often couched in the language of right and wrong - are usually arguments about different views about aesthetics, which have no correct answer. E.g., this clip, which everybody but me seems to love and which, on top of using the argument from Shakespeare, caters to exactly the feelings of smug superiority it purports to criticize.

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