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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: March ::
Re: Shakespeare and Catholicism I
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0843  Wednesday, 20 March 2002

From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Mar 2002 18:10:17 -0000
Subject: 13.0831 Re: Shakespeare and Catholicism I
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0831 Re: Shakespeare and Catholicism I

David Lindley wrote: "I would be interested to know what is the evidence
that people wish to adduce to support the claim that Shakespeare's
representation of confession and penitence are accurately to be
described as Catholic, rather than Anglican.  It's been asserted a few
times, but, unless I've missed it (which is quite possible), I've not
seen it nailed down.  As far as I am aware there is considerable shared
ground - the differences are, as far as I am aware from reading Hooker
some time ago, much less to do with the theology of confession and
repentance than with its external form, with its sacramental status, and
with the possibility of priestly remission of penalty".

Professor Lindley's recollection of Hooker is sound. Yippee one of my
favourite subjects, upon which I have resisted comment so far. I will
try to demonstrate how and why Prof. Lindley is right on this matter,
with some contemporary "evidence" which refutes some of the recent
claims about WS's confessional persuasion, or at least complicates them.

General concern to protect and constrain orthodox forms by limiting the
potential for doctrinal discussion without the authority of the visible
Church was a settled aspect of Stuart ecclesiastical culture. Laud
reminded his congregation that the "'original copy of the law'" was kept
in the Temple at Jerusalem, and "No preaching in their several
synagogues, and parishes, that I may so term them, but was, according to
the law, contained in the ark, at the Temple, the Mother Church".  Such
constraint is necessary, because "if every man may preach as he list,
though he pretend the law and the gospel too... the world will soon have
as many differences in religion, as there be young, ignorant, and bold
priests in parishes" (Sermon III, at the opening of Parliament, 6 Feb
1625, Works I, p.75). The political tone of these arguments is clear,
the concern for order according to "law" paramount: "A thing reasonable,
profitable, and of absolute necessitie for the being of a Church, to
have distinction of Pastors and People", wrote Montagu, "some to teach,
some to be taught: to leade, to be led: to rule, to obey" (A Gagg for
the new Gospell? No: A New Gagg for An Old Goose... pp.21-22). The
established Church had to show itself capable of instilling this sense
of respect for authority in its congregation.  Bancroft's motion "that
Pulpits might not be made Pasquilles, wherein every humorous, or
discontented fellow might traduce his superiours" was "gratiously
accepted" by James, who threatened "that if hee should but heare of such
a one in a Pulpit, hee would make him an example" (William Barlow, The
Summe and Substance of the Conference, p.57). Clerical professionalism
could be quite convincingly categorized as a priority related to
stifling these "lewde" practitioners: "his Maiesties generall intention
therein is, to put a difference, betweene grave, and solid, from light
and humerous preaching", said Donne on the subject of the 1622
Directions to Preachers, for indeed, "Can any man hope to make a good
Preacher, as soone as a good Picture? In these three or foure dayes, or
with three or foure Bookes?" (Sermon 7, Sermons IV, p.202). The King had
this sermon published at his own request.

The latitude which James had given to preaching ministers during his
reign had come home to roost in the 1620s, when the pulpit and lecture
became the focus of political unrest, "'violence' wrapped about with a
vow or a sermon", as Andrewes called it, "holy 'wickedness'" (Sermon IV,
5 Aug 1614, Works IV, pp.89-90). Donne had observed that, "some in
obscure Conventicles, institute certain prayers, That God would keep the
King, and the Prince in the true Religion", a good prayer, certainly,
except when it is offered "as though the King and the Prince were
declining from that Religion, then even the prayer it selfe is
libellous, and seditious" (Sermon 9, 5 Nov 1622, Sermons IV, p.253). The
Directions to Preachers were a direct attempt to prohibit preaching on
sensitive doctrinal subjects to members of the clergy "under the degree
and calling of a bishop or dean" in the appointed episcopacy, driven by
"our princely care and zeal for the extirpation of schism and
dissension" and "for the settling of a religious and peaceable
government both in Church and commonwealth" - because his political and
ecclesiastical programme required peace, order and moderation to be the
keynotes of his Erastian Church. However, as the Laudians came to "hold
all the best bishoprics and deaneries in England", the restriction by
rank, as Hill observes, "was in effect a party restriction", which
silenced, "mean ministers in popular congregations". As sermons were the
source of political news and ideas for the majority of people - they
"are governed by the pulpit more than the sword in times of peace",
Charles I told his son (Letters, Speeches and Proclamations of King
Charles I [Cambridge1935], p.200) - the development in terms of an
association of a particular view of Church-government and its
relationship with royal power was obvious.

It must be recognized that the motivation behind this development was
political on the part of the government, and professional on the part of
the clerical hierarchy - that is, not doctrinal for either of them.
Doctrinal freedom was, to a large extent, preserved, as long as the
subjects covered did not begin to threaten civil peace and order;
unfortunately, this became an increasingly difficult line to draw, as
Puritans deliberately made doctrinal niceties into fundamental issues
and the Declarations into a kind of "free speech" concern - like
Parliamentary privilege, but invested with all the importance of
salvation itself. By issuing the 1626 Proclamation, "it was never his
Maiesties, (nor I thinke your Lordships) intention, to silence or
suppresse", wrote Prynne in defence of broaching the subject of
predestination; it "prohibits nothing, but unnecessary and curious
Disputes upon bare comiectures on, or strained Collections from our
Articles...  unnecessary disputes about curious, nice, and needlesse
Schoole-points, of which men may be ignorant without great danger",
whereas "these Anti-Arminian Tenets... are points of highest
consequence" (The Church of Englands Old Antithesis to New Arminianisme,
sig.

 

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