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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Shakespeare and Catholicism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0996  Tuesday, 9 April 2002

From:           Matthew Baynham <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Apr 2002 10:50:06 +0100
Subject:        Shakespeare and Catholicism

In answer to Sophie Masson's question, I've read Devlin on Southwell,
whose poetry very probably influenced the Naked Babe soliloquy in
Macbeth, as Garry Wills has shown (Witches and Jesuits). Southwell had
been executed for treason some time before the writing of Macbeth, and
thus it is too little known that the key issue at his trial was
equivocation. We usually associate this doctrine with Garnet, who wrote
in defence of it; but he wrote, as much as anything, in defence of his
Jesuit colleague. Devlin's Life of Southwell deals with all this.

The key witness at Southwell's trial was his hostess Ann Bellamy, whom
the priesthunter Topcliffe had probably frightened into testifying
against him.  The gist of her evidence was that he had taught her to
equivocate so that she could effectively lie when asked if there was a
priest hidden in the house. There is a folk tale, for which I am
indebted to my Irish colleague John Flood, of a Catholic hostess,
standing on the rug which concealed the priest's hole, who was asked 'Is
there a priest in the house?' and replied, 'Not unless I'm standing on
him.'

In relation to Macbeth, the interest of this is that Duncan, the
consequences of whose death the Naked Babe soliloquy, with its imagery
from Southwell, describes, uses the word 'hostess' with surprising force
when speaking to Lady Macbeth, repeating it three times in his 15 lines
in 1.6 - the scene before the Naked Babe. It is indeed his last word in
the play, both onstage: 'By your leave, hostess. (1.6.30)' and reported
from offstage: 'This diamond he greets your wife withal,/ By name of
most kind hostess...' (2.1.16)

The language that this hostess uses to Duncan is also particularly
interesting. Equivocation is thematically linked in the play to
doubling, doubleness and the cognates doubt and doubtful (see especially
Tom McAlindon, Shakespeare's Tragic Comsos ad loc). Thus the
equivocating Witches 'palter with us in a double sense' (5.9.20) and
chant in duple time: 'Double, double, toil and trouble...'
(5.1.10,20,35) and Macbeth, too late, begins 'To doubt th'equivocation
of the fiend,/ That lies like truth...' (5.5.43-44)

Lady Macbeth first response, when addressed as hostess by Duncan, is:

All our service,
In every point done twice and then done double,
Were poor and single business to contend... (1.7.14-16)

So the possible links to Southwell in these two successive scenes are
fascinating, not least because there are few men of whom it could more
truly be said that his virtues plead like angels, trumpet- tongu'd
against the deep damnation of his taking off than the now beatified
priest, Jesuit and poet St Robert Southwell; hanged, drawn and quartered
and betrayed by his hostess.

Matthew Baynham

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