How could a person who <has> <had> never attended a university <write> <have written>...

Makel Leki

Senior Member
Russian
From ReadTheory:
The only biographical information we have about Shakespeare has come from things like tax records and other legal documents, such as his birth and marriage certificates. We know that he was born the son of a glove maker, had little formal education, and likely never set foot inside of a royal palace. These humble beginnings have led many Anti-Stratfordians to argue that there is no possible way that such a man could have written these masterpieces. After all, how could a "commoner" come to understand enough about royal life to write a play like King Lear or Richard III? How could a person who has never attended a university write the brilliant poetry in Hamlet or Othello?
As I understand, the "could" in the last and second to last sentences are referring to the present (because of "has never attended," which is present tense). Could we use "could have" there, provided we change "has never attended" to "had never attended"?

Since the author isn't referring directly to Shakespeare but generalizing about any person, I suppose those "could" are making the generalization "timeless" whereas "could have" would specifically be referring to Shakespeare's time.
 
  • GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I would say that "has never attended" is an error -- largely because Shakespeare is dead, and has been dead for some time. The sentence might be recast with "had never attended", but I would make it a simple past: "How could a person who never attended a university..."

    I will also note that the question is a fatuous one, and indicates a fundamental lack of knowledge about what was studied by those attending Oxford and Cambridge in the 16th Century. University students of that day would have been expected to be able to speak Latin conversationally, but there would have been no place at all in their studies for English composition or poetry.
     

    tunaafi

    Senior Member
    English - British (Southern England)
    You are thinking along the right lines, Makel Leki.

    How could a person who has never attended a university write the brilliant poetry in Hamlet or Othello?
    = How could anyone, at any time, who has never attended a university write ...

    How could a person who had never attended a university write the brilliant poetry in Hamlet or Othello?
    = How could a person, namely Shakespeare, who had never attended a university, have written ...
     

    Makel Leki

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks.
    How could a person who had never attended a university write the brilliant poetry in Hamlet or Othello?
    Is this sentence also referring to any time? I see you changed "has" to "had" but kept the "could." Or are you referring to the past and saying that said person did write the poetry? I'm just a bit unsure if you meant the sentence to sound natural or just wanted to show the transition from "could" to "could have."

    By "Shakespeare's time" I didn't mean Shakespeare alone but any person who lived in his time.
     

    tunaafi

    Senior Member
    English - British (Southern England)
    Not in the first sentence of the second pair :confused:
    That was careless. My apologies. I'll try again.


    1a. How could a person who has never attended a university write the brilliant poetry in Hamlet or Othello?

    1b. How could anyone, at any time, who has never attended a university write at any time brilliant poetry such as that in Hamlet or Othello?

    2a. How could a person who had never attended a university write the brilliant poetry in Hamlet or Othello?

    2b. How could a person, such as Shakespeare, who had never attended a university, write at any time the brilliant poetry that he did write in the past in Hamlet or Othello?

    3a. How could a person who had never attended a university have written the brilliant poetry in Hamlet or Othello?
    3b. How could a person, namely Shakespeare, who had never attended a university, have written in the past the brilliant poetry that he did write in the past in Hamlet or Othello?

    I don't think my b versions stand up to close scrutiny. I tried to give an impression of the message I might wish to convey if I used the words in the a versions. In speech, I would probably neither think to deeply about this nor consciously use one particular form rather than another. The mental path between message intended, message produced and message received is not always a smooth one especially with modal and modal perfect forms.

    Even in careful writing, where the writer has time to think and re-think, the reader may not always receive exactl the message that the writer wished to convey.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Shakespeare's father has been reported to have been an English teacher at the school that it is believed that Shakespeare attended as a youth. His home environment probably shaped his use of language. But much of the history of Shakespeare is conjecture so all this might be nonsense.

    At any rate the nurturing at home might account for much of a writer's skills.

    As a comedian joked, "Shakespeare's English education was much easier than ours; he never had to study Macbeth, Othello, or Julius Caesar." :)

    I would paraphrase the sentence this way:

    It is surprising that a writer with a limited formal education was able to write such sophisticated poetry.
     
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