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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: Wittenberg and Paris
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0266  Monday, 5 February 2001

From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Feb 2001 12:33:18 +0900
Subject: 12.0234 Re: Wittenberg and Paris
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0234 Re: Wittenberg and Paris

Maybe, in pursuing this question, it's worth remembering Hamlet's
pointed reply, when Horatio says, "There's no offence, my lord." Hamlet
replies:
        Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio,
        And much offence too.            (1.5.136-37).

St. Patrick is the patron saint of purgatory. If the Ghost really is
Hamlet's father, not a devil, so that its references to purgatory are
not a devilish or papist lie, Protestants were in deep trouble--in
Shakespeare's England, as well as Hamlet's Denmark--since they denied
the very existence of purgatory.

No, I myself do NOT think this indicates that Shakespeare was a
crypto-Catholic. At least, you COULD (as I do) understand the grim joke
differently. When "Hamlet" was written, ALL of the differing confessions
"unchurched" other Christians. John Donne, after leaving the Roman
church, and before and after entering the English church, consistently
expressed his fear that the effect of this "unchurching" would be to
drive men into disbelief, by making God appear a tyrant (for reasons
that were political, rather than religious). Later, Viscount Falkland
and William Chillingworth (who is out of print and scarcely read now
but, I think, much more impressively logical and thoughtful than the
better-known, smugly authoritarian Hooker) would repeat Donne's protest
while giving it an exotically Egyptian embellishment or twist: denying
salvation to other Christian confessions made God not only tyrannical
but like a "Pharaoh" who commands men to make "bricks from straw", and
damns them when they fail. My own (frankly, helplessly speculative)
guess would be that, if you want literary evidence for the practical and
historical truth of Donne's fear about how good Christians would be (and
were} driven into disbelief by the differing confessions, it is there in
"Hamlet", "Macbeth" and "King Lear". In Shakespearean tragedy, not to
mention plays like "Measure for Measure", the real or putative
references to Christianity always and only increase the terror, and are
never a source of consolation.

When I attended the last Stratford conference, on "Shakespeare and
Religion", I thought these issues might be addressed. Maybe they were,
in sessions I didn't attend (so many options). But several papers that I
did hear seemed to argue, once a papist or prot, always a papist or
prot. That was just not true, of Donne, or Ben Jonson, or many in their
overlapping circles of friends. Including young Chillingworth (in the
"Tribe of Ben"). And one William Shakespeare too???

In short, "Wittenberg and Paris" were not the only, spiky alternatives.
Hamlet knows that much, by Saint Patrick. But, since young Hamlet never
doubts the success of the abortive "Mousetrap", he never again worries
about the Ghost's credentials and provenance. Big mistake.

Over and out, with best wishes from the damned,
Graham Bradshaw
 

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