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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: June ::
Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0467.  Saturday, 10 June 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Elizabeth Y. Zeria <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Jun 95 13:34:24 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
 
(2)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Jun 95 17:29:47 EST
        Subj:   [Was Shakespeare Catholic?]
 
(3)     From:   David Glassco <
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        Date:   Friday, 09 Jun 1995 23:16:25 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
 
(4)     From:   Mack Carter <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 Jun 1995 00:07:12 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Elizabeth Y. Zeria <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Jun 95 13:34:24 EDT
Subject: 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
 
I've been on-line/off-line and more off than on lately, so please excuse me if
I repeat anything already said...
 
Who says Shakespeare was necessarily a firm believer in any particular
religious denomination?  He might very well have been (and in my reading of the
plays I've gotten the strong impression that he very likely was) questioning
rather than professing.  It has seemed to me that almost every contemporary
approach to religion (or politics, or philosophy, or cosmology...for that
matter) was addressed and analyzed, usually found wanting, at some point in his
works.
 
I've thought him more interested in exploring, taking apart, playing with and
wondering at, than in espousing.  (and actually, at the risk of doing some
professing of my own, I've developed the pretty strong opinion that WS was
disillusioned with institutionalized religion as a whole...that his plays tend
more and more over his writing career to portray institutionalized religion as
a hindrance to spiritual and moral development.  Lear seems to me not so much
to deny God in favor of gods, or atheism, as to expose institutionalized
religion as a dressing-up of deity in quite changeable fashions...whatever
fashion suits the politics of the time or individual desires...but that's the
stuff of the paper I'm supposed to be writing as I sit here playing on the
Internet instead!)
 
Just one opinion...but an opinion which would certainly help account for the
ability of the texts to support such a variety of other opinions!
 
Intermittently yours,
Liz
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Jun 95 17:29:47 EST
Subject:        [Was Shakespeare Catholic?]
 
Let me second remarks to the effect that we need to interrogate statements such
as, "Shakespeare was a Catholic"--or an Anglican or a Puritan or an atheist,
even.  Some of the biographical data suggest that he grew up in a Catholic
household and led a life in London compatible with recusancy.  The plays
exhibit some carryovers from Catholic theology and polity--auricular confession
in _Rom_, purgatory in _Ham_, monasticism in _MM_; they also celebrate English
domination over religious affairs at the expense of papal authority (Jn, H8),
discomfit Puritans (TN), expose episcopal intriguing (1 and 2H6, H5), make fun
of rural clergy (LLL, AYL), and anatomize the use of ostentatious piety as a
political device (R3).  On this basis it is difficult to speculate with any
comfort about Shakespeare's own private religious thought and practice.  But in
any case, and especially at this point in history, that was likely to be a
complex and unstable set of ideas, feelings, habits, attitudes, and activities,
changing with time and circumstance, and not necessarily at any point the least
bit reliable or coherent.
 
For all that, the question remains interesting not only in the People Magazine
sense, as helping us to attach this author and this work to our own (no doubt
equally complex and unstable) frame of religious reference, but critically.
The most important relationship is not, I think, that between the protean
playwright and the multiple masks of his text, but between the text, as
enacted, and the equally protean audience.  How might the responses to the
Ghost's invocation of purgatory or Isabella's conventual vocation have differed
as between Anglican and recusant spectators (perhaps even a wayward Puritan or
two); if different, how might the differences have affected responses to other
elements of the play?  The questions begin to turn back toward the dark box of
authorship, of course, when we begin to wonder about the calculation involved.
Is it all part of a more-or-less conscious exploitation of unorthodoxy, for
instance--dabbling in off-limits theology right there with incest, insanity,
and regicide as part of a deliciously naughty package of _epatage des
bourgeois_ (Luc Borot will pardon my French, I hope, if it's out of line).  For
these reasons, the inquiry, inconclusive as it has been, seems to me worth
carrying further.
 
Imp-iously,
Dave Evett
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Glassco <
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Date:           Friday, 09 Jun 1995 23:16:25 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
 
Don't know whether S was an RC and don't much care. What we do know from the
plays is no position is ever advanced without alternative possibilities being
explored. One word for his sensibility might be "sceptical". Among the major
targets of his scepticism one would want to include both dogmatism in all it
forms and the various posturings--and brutalizations--of authority.
 
Whether this is a sensibility that would call itself Catholic seems to me more
a question for the historian of the Church than for the student of Shakespeare.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mack Carter <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 Jun 1995 00:07:12 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0459  Re: Was Shakespeare a Catholic?
 
I can't believe a question with a simple answer could cause so much debating
fluff.  Why don't we just stereotype the poor guy as a "Catholic" and breath
all the views of that stereotype into his works for ourselves.  In the end the
person and the works won't be changed and two hundred years from now another
person can read an Encyclopedia to find he was Catholic to draw their own
opinions.  I know that when that happens the stereotype will have changed and
the views done with that bias with it.  It seems all this conversation is too
much art and little matter.  We seem to be losing the fact Shakespeare had a
broad focus in his work with this question.  If you look at a T.V. to close you
will see nothing but blue, green and yellow dots.  If you look at Shakespeare
to close like that T.V. you will see only small peices of that larger picture.
 

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