Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shakespeare a Catholic?

We have been occupying ourselves in composing irate letters to the Lord Bishop on the subject of Glynn Cardy and the Virgin Birth (see previous post), but we did notice that Father Longenecker thinks Shakespeare was a Roman Catholic.

read the details here.

The trouble with this thesis is exactly what Fr Longenecker writes about it--there is an awful lot of time in Shakespeare's life we don't know about.

The evidence we have is fragmented--it is likely, based on hearsay evidence, that Shakespeare's father made a Catholic will.

It is true that he went to a catholic minded priest to marry his wife.

It is true that his plays (like Hamlet, for instance) have many Catholic ideas in them.

And it's true Warwickshire was a bastion of traditionalism--accounting for plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream.

But half of England was still Catholic-minded in 1590, if not Papist--that's where the Civil War came from, and half the Church of England is catholic minded still. Distentangling Shakespeare from his culture is problematic on such small evidence as we have--he would hardly be the first son to reject his father's religion.

Shakespeare conformed to the Church of England at several points during his life, and there are lots of plays which seem to have Protestant ideas in them as well (Measure for Measure is not kind to the Poor Clares, or the Franciscans).

Finding signatures saying "William of Stratford" is interesting, but it's rather like having a signature saying "Jesus of Judea"--How do you know it's the famous one?

You can make the evidence say lots of things--not sure you could call our Will a Puritan (in fact, you can't). But gaps and fragments don't lead to much of anything, except an honest "I don't know" because very little is known about Shakespeare's life. Like most people back then, in fact.

1 comment:

Bearhunter said...

Perhaps effort would be best spent determining once and for all whether he wrote the works attributed to him before trying to work out which foot he kicked with. Personally, I'm happy to believe he was more concerned with words than with gods. In any case, a happy Christmas to you Swift, you finest of old codgers. And perhaps a tankard of something hoppy for Bickerstaff, the poor creature.
Nollaig shona dibh, agus beannachtai na mbliain nua oraibh.