The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0408 Friday, 22 June 2007
From: Nicole M. Coonradt <
Date: Thursday, 21 June 2007
Subject: The Shakespeare Apocrypha
Comment: SHK 18.0375 The Shakespeare Apocrypha
RE: Brooks' reply: Darn-- no list of key salient points! (Guess we
all have to just buy the collection: music to the publisher's ears. One
only hopes no poor grad students are asked to summarize Parry's work in
RE: Inman's reply: "Nor will discussion of Shakespeare's Catholicism.
The argument for or against is often the case of whether one is Catholic
or Protestant himself."
Or *HER*self, as it were. For the record, I am not Catholic. And it
ought not be a question of one's own religious beliefs, but rather an
unbiased view of the history and the plays and sonnets themselves. It
was the history that led me to a position of surprised and open inquiry
after having been told my whole life that there was nothing there,
nothing available to anyone but the universal. (Incidentally, see
William Cobbett's work as a Protestant who can read history with clarity
and no religious bias, and, more recently, Arthur Marotti in his
intriguing Religious Ideology & Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and
Anti-Catholic Discourses in Early Modern England [Notre Dame, 2005]; I
don't think Marotti is Catholic either.) Furthermore, Parry's March 30,
2007 letter to TLS did note that, "None of the evidence bears on the
Shakespeare's nostalgia for Catholicism in his works," which many find
curious given the dangerous historical circumstances in which he lived
That Inman says the situation is "irresolvable" seems *spot on,* and
also makes the case that one cannot then really claim the discussion
"closed" or the theory to be "blown out of the water" as he rightly
notes that "papers and books should continue to discuss the evidence for
and against." Well said, and entirely fair! It goes without saying
that such ought to be the model for Academic Freedom and open discussion
among scholars and lay readers alike, especially as what one person
might find "utterly convincing" (Sharpe), may not seem so to another.
For those unfamiliar with the Bearman piece that convinced Sharpe, the
gist was that the "Shakeshafte" named in the Houghten will (listed on
staff as a household player) could not have been our man Will (of
Stratford-whomever else one believes him [or her?] to have been) because
the amount bequeathed was a significant sum and the traditional amounts
left to servants were based on time of servitude. By back-dating the
years based on the amount of the sum, Bearman argued that the person in
question would have been too old to have been Shakespeare. (See the
article for more specific information and decide for yourself how
convincing you find it.)
As Bridgman notes, it is indeed "ironic that it is a Jesuit (Fr. McCoog)
who has 'blown' the theory 'out of the water'"-you are not the first to
make this observation, sir!
Peter Milward's letter appears below.
Letters to the Editor, TLS
March 28, 2007
Sir, -- Peter Davidson and Thomas McCoog, in their Commentary of March
16, return to the old question, "What evidence links Shakespeare and the
Jesuits?", and they come to a conclusion that resounds in the whole tone
of their article, "None that bears examination."
Now, I ask, how can they possibly bestow due examination on so large and
weighty a question within the narrow compass of one-and-a-half pages?
And where, I would retort, are their sources? All too briefly they
dispose of a few articles that have appeared on this subject in the
pages of the TLS over the past ten years, beginning with an excessively
romanticized contribution by Richard Wilson as long ago as December 19,
1997. They apparently fail to realize that the same Richard Wilson has
more recently come out with a much more tendentious book on "Shakespeare
and the Jesuits" in _Secret Shakespeare_ (2004), in which they might
have found a more appropriate target for their criticism than his
earlier out-of-date article.
Anyhow, these two authors-after having dismissed as "wholly implausible"
the well attested "Shakeshafte theory" of Shakespeare's Lancastian
years, without so much as a mention of E.A.J. Honigmann's highly
plausible defense of that theory in his _Shakespeare: The Lost Years_
(1986)-concentrate their critical attention on the particular point of
John Shakespeare's "Spiritual Testament," which they erroneously regard
as "the cornerstone of the case for relations between Campion and
Shakespeare," as if this hadn't already been set aside by what they
praise as "a scholarly and meticulous article by Robert Bearman in
_Shakespeare Studies_ [Quarterly?]. Then why, I wonder, must they go on
flogging what he has presumably disposed of as a dead horse?
Nor is it only Shakespeare's "Lancastrian incarnation" that these
authors dismiss as "wholly implausible," but they also show a strange
propensity for rejecting out of hand certain items of evidence produced
by their opponents as having "nothing whatever to do with" and as
lacking "any reference whatsoever" without any discussion of what is,
after all, a most complicated matter. In their eyes, it seems,
historical evidence has to be either All or None, either demonstratively
certain or of no value at all. They will not admit any shades of
probability or possibility such as most historians of this murky period
have to content them selves. For example, was the young William
Shakespeare masquerading under the name of "Shakeshafte" in Lancashire
in the early 1580s or not? Possibly he was, even probably so, the more
we examine the case, but no one can say so with absolute certainty.
Does that make the theory "wholly implausible"? Certainly not, when you
consider the various aspects of the matter, which these authors have
evidently failed to do. After all, as Newman points out in his _Grammar
of Assent_, there may well be a convergence of independent probabilities
that amount-as I submit they do in this case-to certitude.
These authors themselves admit of occasional probabilities, such as that
concerning the precise reference of the Latin "testaments"-whether to
copies of the Catholic New Testament or of Borromeo's Spiritual
Testament-so long as they make in their own favour, but they are
unwilling to grant a similar favour to those with whom they disagree.
Only, within the limited space of this letter, as within the limited
space of their article, it is impossible for me to go into all the
evidence against them. In conclusion, however, I would like to ask them
by what authority, other than the bare word of Alison Shell, can they
claim that "many of Shakespeare's more devout contemporaries (Catholics
among them) seem to have expressed disappointment that [Shakespeare] had
consistently failed (or refused) to write on religious themes"? To the
best of my experience over the past fifty years the only such
contemporary of Shakespeare's to have expressed such disappointment was
Robert Southwell, and that only with reference to the early poem _Venus
and Adonis_. If only he had lived two more years (after his martyrdom
in 1595), he might well have been pleased to find his writings echoed
again and again (as John Klause has recently demonstrated) in _The
Merchant of Venice_-to name but one play in which the dramatist explores
religious themes at a level I would call "meta-drama," or the
metaphysical dimension of drama.
PETER MILWARD SJ
Sophia University, Tokyo
So, more food for thought.
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