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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: June ::
Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0456.  Thursday, 8 June 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Zoltan Abraham <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Jun 1995 11:55:41 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Catholic
 
(2)     From:   Bob Leslie <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Jun 1995 13:32:50 +0100
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Catholicism
 
(3)     From:   Ed Pechter <PECHTER@CONU2.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Jun 1995 21:10:38 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0452  Re: Was Shakespeare Catholic?
 
(4)     From:   G.L. Horton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Jun 1995 00:36:26 +0059 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0450 Re: Catholic
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Zoltan Abraham <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jun 1995 11:55:41 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Catholic
 
I am not qualified to join this discussion, but if you will not mind an
observation, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, perhaps the greatest English
composers of the Renaissance, were Catholics and were not only able to go on
composing during the reign of Elizabeth, but she even gave them a joint
monopoly for the printing, importing, publishing, and sale of music, and also
for the printing of music paper (E. Britannica), which is an indication that
affiliation with the Catholic Church did not necessarily mean that one could
not advance in England at the time.
 
Zoltan Abraham
Seattle U.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Leslie <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jun 1995 13:32:50 +0100
Subject:        Shakespeare's Catholicism
 
Heinrich Mutschmann and Karl Wentersdorf, in their *Shakespeare and
Catholicism*  (Sheed and Ward, New York 1952), align themselves with Carlyle
and Chateaubriand in identifying Shakespeare as a Catholic. Their case is
convincing as far as the religious sympathies of his parents are concerned: his
mother, Mary Arden, came from a staunch Catholic family ; John Shakespeare
withdrew from public life at a time when Counter-Reformation Catholicism
forbade the taking of the Oath of Supremacy or attendance at Anglican services
; much of the family's property was sold, leased-out or mortgaged at this time
and thus became immune to confiscation ; at a time when many Catholics were
being summoned to appear at Westminster to account for an unspecified "breach
of the Queen's peace", John Shakespeare, and others who had stood guarantor for
him, paid heavy fines in lieu of appearing to answer such a charge - presumably
fearing imprisonment if he were to present himself in London ; and the
Shakespeares had many links, both by family and acquaintance, with known
Catholics - some of whom would later be involved in the events of the Gunpowder
Plot . The evidence for William Shakespeare's adherence to the Old Faith is of
a more circumstantial nature, e.g. his marriage, by special licence, probably
in Temple Grafton - a parish whose officiating clergyman was a Catholic , the
Catholicism of his patron, Southampton , and the circumstances of his lodging
with a Huguenot family in London which provided him with a legal dispensation
from attending Anglican services - there appears to be no evidence in parish
records that Shakespeare conformed while in London . E.A.J. Honigmann, in his
*Shakespeare: the 'lost years'* (Manchester University Press, Manchester 1985)
supports the Shakespeare-as-Catholic theory and bolsters it with a mass of
circumstantial evidence identifying the early career of Shakespeare as that of
a tutor and occasional actor-in-residence for a wealthy Catholic household in
Lancashire. Mutschmann and Wentersdorf, in the textual examination to which
much of their book is devoted, indicate that Shakespeare, whatever the truth
regarding his religious affiliation, frequently chooses to depict a theology
which reflects Catholic rather than Anglican orthodoxy.  It thus appears likely
that Shakespeare was, at the least, well-acquainted with Catholicism whether
through upbringing or association. I hope this is of some use!
 
                      Bob Leslie
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Pechter <PECHTER@CONU2.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 07 Jun 1995 21:10:38 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0452  Re: Was Shakespeare Catholic?
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0452  Re: Was Shakespeare Catholic?
 
I read an article by Gary Taylor in *ELR* earlier this year or maybe last year
that gathered lots of the kind of evidence mentioned by SHAKSPERians and more
into a strong argument for concluding that Shakespeare was Catholic.  It seemed
convincing to me, but then I was more or less convinced by Honigmann's
speculations about a Catholic Bard in *Shakespeare--the Lost Years* a while
back, as I have been by other parts of the biographical story Honigmann has
been developing more recently: a usurious, uncharitable, litigious,
self-serving figure seems right to me.  None of this can be proven, though as I
remember, Taylor at the end of his article seems to be assuming as a fact what
he admits at the beginning cannot be determined for sure, whereupon he proceeds
to draw critical conclusions, none of which necessarily follow.  But then even
if we found proof that Shakespeare was a Catholic, what consequences would
necessarily follow?  Do such speculations impact on the way we understand the
plays, or do they proceed from the way we understand the plays? Why do we keep
asking a question we can't answer and which wouldn't do us any good even if we
could answer it?  So far as I can see, the question is of no practical use or
theoretical significance.  And yet, like the speculations about Foucault in
that controversial book a couple of years ago (I forget the author) they ARE
interesting.  Is this just because we like reading novels (I say this having
just read Janet Malcolm's piece on Bloomsbury in the *New Yorker*--that's her
point about the interest of biography)?   Tell me, he or she that knows.
 
Ed Pechter
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           G.L. Horton <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Jun 1995 00:36:26 +0059 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0450 Re: Catholic
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0450 Re: Catholic
 
I had always thought that there was a slight pro-Catholic bias in Shakes, and
that, considering that such a position was politically unwise at the time,
there was rather strong evidence that the author was, if not a believer, at
least a sympathizer.  But when I visited The Shrine at the Stratford Church, I
took note of a detail that seemed to me to weight heavily on the Protestant
side of the scale: upon retirement, Wm S took up the post of Churchwarden in
the parish, and held that office until his death. That's why he is buried in
such a prominent place in the nave -- not because of his literary fame.  I
don't believe he would have served if he did not approve.  Perhaps the family
was divided in allegience, and he was able to see some right on both sides.
 
G.L. Horton
 

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