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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1035  Monday, 10 May 2004

[1]     From:   Graham Hall <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 May 2004 15:37:44 +0000
        Subj:   A Good Read

[2]     From:   Matthew Baynham <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 May 2004 10:11:50 +0100
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <
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Date:           Friday, 07 May 2004 15:37:44 +0000
Subject:        A Good Read

 >[...]Yes, of
 >course it was to earlier versions of the *Bible* which Will S. had made
 >his thousands of literary allusions,[...]

I assume that I am wrong in thinking that in this case Shakespeare was
making Biblical allusions rather than literary ones. Of course, if we
are considering works of fiction....

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Baynham <
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Date:           Monday, 10 May 2004 10:11:50 +0100
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

I confess I had not realised that Bill Arnold was one of the many who
claims to have isolated the pure thought of Jesus from the distorting
accretions of organised religion.

It's a difficult trick to pull off, of course, since the only access we
have to any thought of Jesus of Nazareth has already been mediated
through the tradition of the organised religion which sprang up so soon
after his death.  There's no particular reason to doubt, either, that
there was a primitive level of organisation in Jesus' followers before
that - Judas keeping the communal purse; perhaps Philip and Andrew
responsible for permitting access to Jesus; James, John and Peter in the
inner circle and so on.

But mainly I want to question Bill's musings on Shakespeare's faith,
which sound to me rather too modern. The question of whether a person is
a nominal or 'truly believing' Christian is one thrown up in a very
different way in our essentially post-Chrisian era from how it might
have presented in Shakespeare's time.

In the west, even those of us who are religious believers are now
educated in a thoroughly secular mindset: it is indeed precisely this
which tends to move (I might say 'relegate') faith to the private
sphere, where it is protected from the difficult questions posed by
modernity.

In Shakespeare's time, almost the exact opposite is true. Even the very
few who affirm themselves as non-believers have been educated in a
thorougly religious mindset, which is both the public and private
ideology. In this period, the assumptions one makes about one's
personhood and one's personal, social, political and cultural
relationships are inescapably religious - to the extent indeed that my
use of 'one' in this sentence is probably misleading.

Of course, the Protestant Reformation was the beginning (?) of a process
which has increasingly emphasised the personal and individual over the
corporate and communal in Christianity. And it undoubtedly created a
climate in which intelligent people had to think carefully about their
religious belief and practice, since the wrong belief and the wrong
practice could be fatal for some. But the Catholic/Protestant divide did
not offer an extra-Christian or secular option.

It is in this sense that Shakespeare's work must be considered as
religious, simply as a function of the time and place in which it was
written. The explicitness, personal depth, and church allegiance of
Shakespeare's faith will probably always evade us - apart from anything
else, they probably varied over time, like most people's - but what is
important is that we take seriously his body of work as participating in
a thoroughly religious culture, which we need to try and understand,
both in general and in detail. (I tend to think that we're getting
better at this, compared to when I were a lad, but there's still a long
way to go.)

Matthew Baynham

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