The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1552 Monday, 19 September 2005
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: Sunday, 18 Sep 2005 17:45:12 EDT
Subject: 16.1460 More Shakespeare Code ...
Comment: Re: SHK 16.1460 More Shakespeare Code ...
Risking further comment on a thread that may have run its course, I'll
respond to Steve Sohmer's evaluation of _Shadowplay_ by Clare Asquith.
>One cannot encounter these documents without admiration both
>for her ingenuity and her scholarship. But she is more polemicist
To me, the word 'scholarship' implies a consistency not exhibited in
_Shadowplay_. Polemic based on spotty scholarship is suspect. Despite
the fact that mistaken arguments may accompany correct arguments,
insistent pursuit of a theme through thick and thin can only call that
theme into question.
Having taken a quick look at Asquith's book, I will attest that its
publication proves once more that it isn't what-but whom-you know. If
there is any truth in the notion that Shakespeare composed as a
campaigning Catholic, _Shadowplay_ will have hindered rather than helped
P.28) "One expedient for those who wanted to gain a university education
while ducking the Oath of Supremacy was to attend one of the halls at
Oxford . . . either by taking an alias or without registering . . . .
Shakespeare could have done the same. Like others . . . he could have
been forced to complete his education in Italy . . . . Two biographical
details support this possibility: for unknown reasons, his father began
to lose money in the late 1570s, perhaps as a result of this expensive
education. And Shakespeare appears in the Stratford records in 1582, a
year after the government had recalled all those studying abroad . . ."
Historico Passio. Scholarship uses evidence, generally. In this case,
the 'biographical details' are supportive only by procuring the fallacy
that concurrent events are related by cause & effect.
P.46) "His shadowy patrons evidently set an unusually high value on
their protege. A year after Greene's attack appeared, its publisher,
Henry Chettle, was forced to issue a groveling apology. . . . An
interview with a number of personages 'of worship' has changed his mind.
. . . Chettle's cringing volte-face confirms the reason for
Shakespeare's surprisingly long run of covertly dissident drama. His
passion for his cause was shared by dedicated, influential people
prepared to go to great lengths to protect him."
In my opinion, a consistent scholar would have noted that some believe
Chettle referred in his apology not to Shakespeare, but to Peele, as
recently reargued by Erne, who notes that 'of worship' refers to
gentlemen, not nobility. Shadowy patrons must in this case remain
P. 62) "Valentine's defiant passion is that of a reformer defying the
Pope rather than a lover-'Wilt thou aspire to guide the heavenly car /
And with thy daring folly burn the world (3.1.154)' thunders Silvia's
father-his imperial rank a reminder that Luther's adversary was the Holy
Evidence from outer space is acceptable, but is it kosher to refer to
Classical mythology to pinpoint allusions to Catholic politics?
P. 194) "One of the tasks of the King's Men as they accompanied the
delegation from Dover to London was to arrange for interviews between
Spanish delegates and imprisoned priests and recusants, ostensibly an
information-gathering exercise into the true state of English Catholics.
This experience may account for the spine-chilling dungeon scenes in the
I wonder if this would be blood-curdling if I didn't take aspirin.
Perhaps Asquith appeals not to imagination for her statement, but to a
well-argued source. If so, she made no note.
P. 248) "Perhaps aware of a natural resistance on the part of the Prince
and his tutors to a work by a writer known to plead the Catholic cause,
Shakespeare barely reveals his hand in the first two acts of Pericles,
which retell Gower's old story in such archaic terms that . . . many
scholars believe Shakespeare did not write them at all. But in spite of
the simple diction, Shakespeare's control is evident from the first moment."
Simple diction has its place, but I believe recent scholarship has left
no doubt that Pericles is not wholly Shakespearean. Yet if someone
else's work may be enlisted to serve in Shakespeare's Catholic campaign,
may we not doubt the campaign itself?
>But to infer from these references that Shakespeare was a
>recusant Catholic and, indeed, a polemicist for the old religion
>is to appropriate him in a way which is inappropriate, given the
>established facts of his life and a broad view of his canon.
I quite agree with Steve Sohmer's opinion. Gerald E. Downs
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