When scholars consider Shakespeare’s rise and lasting popularity in modern culture, they usually tell us how he assumed his position at the head of the canon but not why. This essay contends that Shakespeare’s elevation in the early nineteenth century resulted from the confluence of his strategy as an author and the political commitments of his canonizers. Specifically, Shakespeare’s ironic mode made his drama uniquely appealing to the political liberals at the forefront of English culture. In their own ways, Shakespeare and his proponents were antiauthoritarian: the literary antiauthoritarianism in his drama (the irony granting audiences the freedom of interpretation) perfectly matched the political antiauthoritarianism (liberalism) advocated by the likes of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. Thus it is possible to speak of bardolatry as an allegorical intertext for liberal politics.

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