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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Shakespeare's Personal Faith
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0472  Monday, 14 March 2005

[1]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Mar 2005 10:39:59 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[2]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Mar 2005 10:44:59 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0451 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[3]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Mar 2005 11:07:50 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[4]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Mar 2005 12:44:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Inquiry: Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[5]     From:   Katy Dickinson <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Mar 2005 09:33:20 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Episcopalian & Anglican

[6]     From:   Hannibal Hamlin <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Mar 2005 13:37:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0451 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[7]     From:   Kathy Dent <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Mar 2005 17:57:02 +0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[8]     From:   Ros King <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Mar 2005 17:01:23 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[9]     From:   Ros King <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Mar 2005 17:01:23 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Mar 2005 10:39:59 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Tony Burton responds to my previous posting:

 >I confess surprise that Jack Heller thinks my description of the
 >"Shakespeare's faith" dispute as "the choice has remained between
 >Catholic and Protestant Christian denominations," I somehow excluded "
 >the Church of England in the list of possibilities" Yankee that I am
 >(well, New York Westsider), I always equated the C of E with the
 >Episcopalian church in the U.S. which, in turn, I considered a
 >Protestant denomination.

My intention is not to quibble too much, but to note that in the lists
of options, such as Hannibal Hamlin also offered ("Protestant, Catholic,
secular humanist, spiritualist, what have you"), the divide between
Protestant and Catholic may not be so stark with the Church of England
than with the then-dissident Puritan and enthusiastic sects of
Shakespeare's time. When I see the arguments for Shakespeare's recusant
Catholicism, I wonder now why those same arguments could not be used for
an early modern Anglican faith. I would like to hear from those who
believe Shakespeare to have been a Catholic: Why, specifically, do they
not find him to have been an Anglican?

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Mar 2005 10:44:59 -0500
Subject: 16.0451 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0451 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Colin Cox wrote:

 >To open up a huge can of worms, and I already feel Marc Anthony's
 >infamous cry of outrage being thrust upon me, I conjecture there is
 >plenty of evidence for Shakespeare's personal faith (oh boy did I really
 >say that?).  Hamlet seems to be a great example of the struggle
 >Catholics faced in an Elizabethan world and a deeply personal struggle
 >within Will.

Colin, thoughtful Hamlet is from Protestant Wittenburg.
95-theses-on-a-church-door Wittenburg. Rash Laertes, however, returns
from Catholic Paris. St.-Bartholomew's-Day-Massacre Paris. Shakespeare
couldn't have drawn a clearer, more deliberate contrast.

Hamlet talks of suicide. Does he seem to be worrying about a guarantee
that he will burn in hell because it's a mortal sin? Nope. Talks about
not having a clue what's next. Does that sound like a convinced Catholic?

When Hamlet abandons thoughtfulness and acts, disaster ensues. Wasn't
Hamlet written just after the whole company was taken in for questioning
over the Essex revolt? What happened to Denmark because it was SO
important to Hamlet to right a terrible wrong? It was taken over by a
foreign power. For England, that would most likely have meant a Catholic
power like Spain. Or France. With Elizabeth's reign so close to its
close, how many seductive voices were whispering that the time was
right? Right for revenge, for justice, for counter-reformation? For
restoring the good old days? And what is Shakespeare's response to these
whispers? Hamlet, in which a nation loses its independence and its
justice seeker; Troilus and Cressida about a war that did no one any
good; and Measure for Measure, in which a clearly Catholic attempt to
get religiously strict leads to completely perverted justice.

If Shakespeare was having "a deeply personal struggle" with his Catholic
background, Catholicism lost to political stability, no contest.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Mar 2005 11:07:50 -0500
Subject: 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Tony Burton <
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 >I confess surprise that Jack Heller thinks my description of the
 >"Shakespeare's faith" dispute as "the choice has remained between
 >Catholic and Protestant Christian denominations," I somehow excluded "
 >the Church of England in the list of possibilities"  Yankee that I am
 >(well, New York Westsider), I always equated the C of E with the
 >Episcopalian church in the U.S. which, in turn, I considered a
 >Protestant denomination.
 >
 >If I've been wrong all these years, I invite instruction.  I certainly
 >never meant to isolate and exclude the C of E from the scope of my
remarks.

Many Anglicans, especially since the Oxford Movement of the 19th century
prefer to regard themselves as a /tertium quid/, standing between the
Roman Catholics on the one side, and Protestants on the other. (And,
indeed, as holding out a hand to the East, as well.)

That notwithstanding, in Elizabethan terminology, the Church of England
was Protestant.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Mar 2005 12:44:58 -0500
Subject:        Re: Inquiry: Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Regarding his inquiry into Shakespeare's Personal Faith Marvin Bennet
Krims asks:

     What do members of this List think about
     Shakespeare's personal faith as can be gathered
     from the little that is known about him as a person
     and what can be inferred from his writings. I am
     not interested in the issue of Catholic vs.
     Protestant but rather what can be said about his
     own spiritual beliefs.

On the issue of religious denomination, (which Marvin Krim is not asking
about), I think it is informative to learn that Harold Bloom in a
lecture a number of years ago, seen on C-Span, at (I believe) the
Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, was asked about the poet's religion.
Bloom replied that there were two things that could get a man killed in
Elizabethan England. These were "religion and politics" and that is why
he believed that we would never learn the answer to these questions.
Though some on the list have said similar things, Bloom's statement
seems to sum up the situation very well.

Concerning the question of Shakespeare's personal faith, it is certain
that the poet was spiritual. While he recognized the realities of all
the barbarities of life, he yet continued to have faith in God. His
plays and Sonnets demonstrate this. I think these show that his views
are Biblically based since a number of his plays are commentaries on
books of the Bible.

For example, the play Hamlet is the staging of the Book of Ecclesiastes,
with Hamlet taking the role of the introspective king that has tried
everything: "I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek
out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of
folly, even of foolishness and madness." (ECC 7:25) These are all things
that Hamlet tries.

This play particularly explores the spiritual dimensions of
Ecclesiastes' warning, (ECC 7:16) "Be not righteous over much; neither
make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself ?" It gives
reasons for many of the moral paradoxes cited by Ecclesiastes, such as
why some good men die young, while the life of the wicked is lengthened.
Thus, the over righteous Hamlet fails to kill the praying Claudius when
he could (he wants Claudius to have a more untimely death that has not
been graced by his prayers). This enables Claudius to live, to lengthen
his life, and to strengthen himself to kill Hamlet, who dies young.

The value of recognizing this biblical source of the play is that we get
away from seeing it as expressions of narrow, particular things like the
death of his child, Hamnet. No doubt, such
experiences with life provide emotions that transform abstract
principles into felt realities, but the poet is engaged with the larger
issues of Ecclesiastes, a finding that is yet to find general acceptance
among Shakespearean scholars.

In the same way, King Lear is an exploration of the themes of The Book
of Job. The Book of Job taught that though a person may undergo great
suffering in this life, it did not mean that he was being punished for
being in some way a bad person, for the good Job is shown to suffer.

Shakespeare picks up on this theme in King Lear, depicting numerous good
persons who suffer unbearably, though a few are restored to their former
good times, as was Job.  In Shakespeare's play, the theme of suffering
good persons (what the poet found as the essence of the Biblical book)
is pressed to the maximum, as good Lear, Cordelia, and some others
meeting grisly fates.

Shakespeare teaches that, if we are not to regard the actions of God as
capricious and lawless, (for whom men are like flies to wanton boys,
which God kills for His sport), we must be satisfied to find our own
acts of goodness to be our rewards in themselves, a reflection of the
"ripeness" of our personality-the maturation of our earthly
personalities. Lear matures in the play, growing through his suffering
from a self-involved narcissist, demanding everyone's love, to a person
who is a loving and giving father. This is a life experience that is a
reward in itself and which, in many situations on earth, is what must
suffice the righteous man, who continues in faith that "his redeemer
liveth" to right the balance in the afterlife.

What the Book of Job explicitly includes is an intimation of heavenly
concerns passing human understanding. Shakespeare intimates this in the
heavenly plan that men are to seek to become their most matured selves
in life, something that cannot evolve in a human being if he is merely a
cold calculator of his benefit for doing a good deed. The latter
condition of a calculating spirit would not help him to spiritual
growth, a spiritual growth that is an end in itself and that Shakespeare
understands to be the highest reward of the living.

We see this spirituality again in the Sonnets, many of which are praises
and appeals directly to God, with the God's name as the Pentateuch's
Tetragramaton often encoded in such sonnets to identify the target of
such prayers. These poems reveal a tripartite conception of the nature
of the soul, high, low, and a middling one that serves as the common
arena for the encounter of these, a view to be found in the work of the
early Jewish sage known as the Zohar. (Maybe similar concepts are found
in other religious traditions but this is where I have found it thus far.)

That the variety of denominations of Christians and Jews (and other
faiths) find spiritual commonality in the message of the poet's works
indicates how deeply he understood and felt such things and how high he
aspired spiritually. That this broadness of spirit benefitted from, (as
I have found abundant evidence for), a deep knowledge of the Talmud and
the Judaic religious tradition is beside the point. Those who wish to
explore such dimensions will find this Jewish source richly rewarding to
a depthful understanding of the poet's work and his message to the
world, but, then, his literary approach has enabled this to be explored
through whatever religious tradition encompasses similar concepts.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Katy Dickinson <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Mar 2005 09:33:20 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Episcopalian & Anglican

With regard to Tony Burton's

"I always equated the C of E with the Episcopalian church in the U.S.
which, in turn, I considered a Protestant denomination.  If I've been
wrong all these years, I invite instruction."

In a general way, that is true but it is not that simple. The Episcopal
church here in the USA certainly started as part of the Church of
England and both are indeed Protestant, but America's separation of
church and state, Revolutionary War, and Civil War made differences
between the two which to some extent continue today.

Samuel Seabury became the first American to be consecrated a bishop; in
1783, he was consecrated as bishop of Connecticut by Scottish bishops in
Aberdeen.  The new Americans had cut themselves off from the Church of
England when they cut themselves off from England itself, so they turned
to the Scottish church.  This was sorted out by 1787 when two more
American Bishops were consecrated by the Archbishops of Canterbury and
York and two other English bishops. These consecrations were significant
in that the apostolic succession passed to America and the American
church was then able to consecrate its own bishops. (By tradition, three
bishops in the historic succession are required to consecrate a new
bishop.) The Episcopal Church in America was officially formed in 1789.

During the American Civil War, many of the Confederacy's leaders
(including Robert E. Lee) were devout Episcopalians, which some
historians think contributed to England supporting the losing side
during the War Between the States.

The American Episcopal church is part of the worldwide Anglican
Communion today but, as recent headlines will tell you, we continue to
have our own way of doing things.

Katy Dickinson

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Mar 2005 13:37:20 -0500
Subject: 16.0451 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0451 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Like others on the list, I have found Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the
Altars extremely stimulating.  I should point out, though, especially
for those who are less familiar with the historiography, that there is a
very large and extremely volatile bibliography on the English
Reformation (or "Reformations," as Haigh has it), and it has grown
substantially even since Duffy's book (1992).  While Duffy, Haigh, and
others have corrected some of the imbalances of the whiggish
(Protestant) history, they have been accused, with some justification,
of introducing imbalances of their own.  See, for instance, David
Daniell's The Bible in English (2003), which points out that Duffy
virtually ignores the English Bible in his history of sixteenth-century
(and earlier) English religious practice.  Since it might fairly be said
that the translation of the Bible into English was the single most
important cultural event in sixteenth-century England, this is rather an
oversight!  My sense, too, is that the different sides in the
Protestant-Catholic debate here tend to focus on the history of
different parts of England to support their position.  Haigh's work
began with a study of Lancashire, where there was strong opposition to
reform.  If you focus, instead, on London (as in Susan Brigden's London
and the Reformation), you get quite a different picture.  The one point
that can safely be made, I think, is that the history of the English
Reformation is complex and resists easy generalization.

Hannibal

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kathy Dent <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Mar 2005 17:57:02 +0000
Subject: 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0460 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

 >I confess surprise that Jack Heller thinks my description of the
 >"Shakespeare's faith" dispute as "the choice has remained between
 >Catholic and Protestant Christian denominations," I somehow
 >excluded the Church of England in the list of possibilities"
 >Tony Burton

Yes, Tony, and you were not alone.  The Church of England is of course
Protestant.  In Elizabethan England, though, it hardly qualified as a
'denomination', since, if I am not mistaken, it was the only one available.

Kathy Dent

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ros King <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Mar 2005 17:01:23 +0000
Subject: 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0425 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

1. There were many different approaches to reformation both within and
without the Roman Catholic church in the sixteenth century. The
monolithic terms 'catholic' and 'protestant' can therefore be hugely
misleading.  Protestant in any case is originally a historically
specific term and is therefore not really very helpful when talking
about the English church in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

2. It's impossible to judge what the bulk of the population *believed*.
The only evidence is the church court records - which may be coloured by
personal animosity as much as religious difference. The most one can say
is that people - or at least the pragmatic ones - conformed to whatever
of the various different catholic and reformed modes of practice were
set down for them at different times by those in authority, practices
which, in practice, also varied at the same time from one part of the
country to the next (see Judith Maltby, Prayerbook and People).

3.      Religion should not then (anu more than it should now) be divorced
from politics

4.      One can prove virtually anything one likes by selective quotation from
Shakespeare

Best wishes,
Ros

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ros King <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Mar 2005 17:01:24 +0000
Subject: 16.0451 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0451 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

 >I suggest Don Bloom reads Eamon Duffy's 'The Stripping of the Altars:
 >Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580' (Yale, 1992).

Yes, but Duffy's (certainly very moving) book is written from the point
of view of a catholic who makes no secret of regretting the passing of
the 'old religion'. It's not just with regard to Shakespeare that people
follow their own noses.

A more complex - and pan-European - view of the problem can be found in
Diarmaid MacCulloch's Reformation (Penguin, 2004). His earlier biography
of Thomas Cranmer demonstrates that the same person could
conscientiously hold three different beliefs on the eucharist in a
lifetime: the first catholic; the second and third normally classified
as forms of "protestantism". Yet he maintained in the face of his
accusers at the end of his life that the real difference was between the
first two and the third. Judith Maltby (Prayerbook and People), through
careful attention to church records, shows that Church of England
beliefs and practices varied not only over time but also simultaneously
in different parts of the country. She also sounds the caveat that these
records may sometimes indicate that people (both congregations and
ministers) might use accusations of heresy/popishness for reasons of
purely personal, material and secular animosity.

There were various reformed approaches to religion in the sixteenth
century both within and without the Roman catholic church. The
monolithic terms 'protestant and 'catholic' are not very helpful for
this period - certainly in England - and I think we should be very much
more careful about using them.

I speak as an atheist.

Best wishes,
Ros

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