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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Shakespeare's Personal Faith
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0441  Wednesday, 9 March 2005

[1]     From:   Hannibal Hamlin <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 08 Mar 2005 11:22:34 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[2]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Mar 2005 11:27:34 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[3]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Mar 2005 14:18:55 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 08 Mar 2005 15:57:11 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[5]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Mar 2005 16:10:50 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[6]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 9 Mar 2005 12:03:54 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date:           Tuesday, 08 Mar 2005 11:22:34 -0500
Subject: 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

I agree with John Cox that, barring any remarkable documentary discovery
(Shakespeare's personal diary?), we simply will never know Shakespeare's
personal faith.  We can study Shakespeare's exploration of certain
religious ideas in the plays, but this is not at all the same thing as
determining the author's own beliefs.  I would just add that it is
somewhat suspicious that critics who have discovered Shakespeare's faith
(whether it be Protestant, Catholic, secular humanist, spiritualist,
what have you) tend to find in him more or less the beliefs they have
themselves.  This is perhaps a testament to the breadth of Shakespeare's
appeal, but not, I think, to the judgment of many critics.  My own
feeling, for what it's worth, is that we do a disservice to Shakespeare
and many of his contemporaries by forcing them into rather facile
dichotomies: Protestant or Catholic, high or low church, etc.  These
dichotomies are perhaps a useful way into the study of early modern
religion, but the actual beliefs of many English men and women,
especially those who were not professional clergy, were surely rather
more complex.

Hannibal

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Mar 2005 11:27:34 -0600
Subject: 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Peter Bridgman writes

"When WS was born the vast majority of his fellow Englishmen and women
were of the "old faith", hoping for a return to Marian Catholicism once
Mary Stuart (next in line) became queen . . ."

I have some issues with this assertion. Do we have any hard data on the
religious preferences of the "vast majority" of Englishmen in 1564? Or
even any soft data?

My own impression is rather different: that the intense anti-clericalism
of much of the English population (that is, their antagonism toward the
perceived wealth, power, arrogance, and laziness of the clergy, both
secular and regular) made them extremely receptive to Protestant ideas
from the time of the Henrician Reformation (1534).

When "much" became "the vast majority" is, of course, much of a
muchness. It varied a great deal from region to region and even village
to village. But I think there was greater support than PB suggests.

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Mar 2005 14:18:55 -0500
Subject: 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

The matter of Shakespeare's personal faith has always attracted
attention from people who have committed in advance to believe that he
must somehow have professed the faith of their own preference.  Except
for a vanishingly small number of non-conformers, the choice has
remained between Catholic and Protestant Christian denominations.

In 1963, the recently late Roland Mushat Frye, showed, in his
"Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine," that all the indications were
counterbalanced by equally convincing indications for the other, and
that no secret surreptitious personal ideology on Shakespeare's part
could be identified with any real scholarly merit.  This has not
prevented the destruction of great forests to produce the paper on which
new arguments of the "would have", "could have", 'must have" variety
have periodically been re-raised and argued with energetic enthusiasm,
often based on previously unexamined details of fact.  None of them in
my opinion undermines Frye's elderly but deeply considered and still
convincing judgments.

My own studies of several other controversies over Shakespeare's
personal views on matters of general interest-his supposed legal
attainments is an evergreen favorite, along also with his
support/subversion of the aristocratic/patriarchal/economically
exploitative social system of his day-has led me always to the
conclusion that, fairly considered, the facts introduced by Shakespeare
were so carefully chosen and balanced as to defeat either co-opting by
any ideological camp, or self-satisfaction by the apparent "winner" in
the dramatic work in question.  They do, however, challenge readers and
audience to decide the doubtful issues in complete personal freedom,
based on whatever moral, legal, political, or religious insights they
have available for considering difficult questions.

The great mystery seems to lie, not in discovering Shakespeare's own
hidden voice, but in appreciating his apparently inexhaustible capacity
to engage other people of every stripe with fact situations that are
thoroughly challenging and equally problematic to each one, regardless
of the individual bias from which that person begins to reflect on the
matter in question.

Tony Burton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 08 Mar 2005 15:57:11 -0500
Subject: 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Can we draw any inference from the near absence of religious
anachronisms and WS's treatment of pagan divinities in the pagan era
plays as having at least as much reality as the Christian God in the
Christian era plays?  Diana, Jupiter and Apollo are very real in
Pericles, Cymbeline and Winter's Tale.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Mar 2005 16:10:50 -0500
Subject: 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

 >This
 >cultural revolution, the major event of WS' lifetime, had a profound
 >effect on both art (there is no British pre-reformation art in the
 >National Gallery) and literature (which blossomed to fill the images
 >vacuum) and would have had a profound effect on WS' personal faith.

I'm not sure what Peter Bridgman is proposing as to the effect of the
Reformation on British art. I do not think one can confidently talk of
"an image-vacuum," at least not in an absolute way. Protestant
iconoclasm destroyed a lot of existing art-sculpture, wall-painting,
stained glass. But funerary sculpture continued to enrich churches
throughout the period, while the decoration of the country houses and
city mansions, hospitals and colleges that still hold a conspicuous
place in English art history produced fine secular work in all three
media, and if most of the figurative tapestry to be seen in those houses
was imported from the continent, there was from the late C16 an effort
to establish an indigenous industry, together with a lot of domestic
embroidery. There seems to have been very little in the way of
stand-alone painting in pre-Reformation Britain; after 1530 there were,
of course, a lot of portraits, many of which include discreet but
significant iconographic and social elements; Continental paintings
begin to show up in English inventories from the mid-century on, but
especially after 1590 or so, and we can document the activity of
Continental painters in England in every decade from 1530 on: most of
their surviving works are portraits, but not all.  The middle ages had
seen an active tradition of manuscript illumination, and a modest but
significant amount of engraving; these continued through C16 and early
C17, in both imported and indigenous books and broadsides. Nor should we
forget both fine and domestic metalwork, including coins and medals,
ceramics, wood-carving, and other so-called minor arts.

That all this affected Shakespeare or any other individual writer) is
probable; whether it "had a profound effect on WS's personal faith"
seems to me difficult if not impossible to be sure about.

David Evett

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Wednesday, 9 Mar 2005 12:03:54 +0900
Subject: 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

What's all this about "personal faith"? Is there impersonal faith? I
must say, the implied contrast reminds me of Nietzsche's observation
that faith is a form of not wanting to know.

Collegially, Graham Bradshaw

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