The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0205  Friday, 26 August 2011


[1]  From:         Joseph Egert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

      Date:         August 18, 2011 4:03:21 PM EDT

      Subject:     Re: MV 


[2]  From:         Nicole Coonradt <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

      Date:         August 20, 2011 3:47:29 PM EDT

      Subject:     More on MV 




From:         Joseph Egert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         August 18, 2011 4:03:21 PM EDT

Subject:      Re: MV


In response to my query, “JD Markel notes, ‘Nicole Coonradt correctly points out that Christianity does not promote forced conversions’

JE: Nicole, do involuntary baptisms of non-Christian minors and their subsequent kidnapping count as forced conversions?”,


Nicole Coonradt writes:


>I’m unsure how Markel presented what I said, not having seen the 

>prior posts, but the point of Christianity is love and forgiveness.  

>My point always is that Shakespeare is writing in a time of religious 

>persecution—heinous and unrelenting—and that his play shows us 

>hypocrisy.  I don’t know if Egert is referring to then or now, that 

>isn’t specified.  In terms of the play, however—the message of 

>which is relevant to us NOW because we do not live in a time of 

>absolute tolerance, religious or otherwise regardless of what 

>anyone wants to think or say—the questions, as Projansky 

>points out, are not abstractions and in Shakespeare’s day those 

>who were in charge, as a result of the power shift in Reformed 

>England, were anything but tolerant or merciful.  They were 

>not practicing love for their neighbors, turning the other cheek, etc.


JE: Let's narrow our focus to the case at hand.


From your study of the period, Nicole, would the Catholic Church (i.e., its Papal authorities) have officially deemed Shylock's conversion forced? 



Joe Egert



From:         Nicole Coonradt <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         August 20, 2011 3:47:29 PM EDT

Subject:      More on MV


Dear SHAKSPER Members:


Joe Egert and I recently had an off-list exchange re MV and Shylock's "conversion" as a continuation of the recent thread on MV in Las Vegas Setting. After I'd posted that I think the play highlights hypocrisy, Joe had asked me this:


"Let's narrow our focus to the case at hand.  From your study of the period, Nicole, would the Catholic Church (i.e., its Papa authorities) have officially deemed Shylocks conversion forced?"


After I replied, Joe wrote back to encourage me to post my response to him at SHAKSPER, which I include, below, for any interested readers.


Best regards,

Nicole Coonradt

University of Denver


Hi, Joe,

20 August 2011


To answer your question re the Church and whether or not the Papal authorities officially would have deemed Shylock’s conversion forced: yes, I do believe they would have and I think that’s part of what WS is playing at in MV and I think “choice” and free will lie at the heart of that discussion/exploration.


The Catholic Church believed in free will in ways the emergent Protestant reformed sects did not and the point of human behavior was supposed to be based on active choice when the human soul was moved by the divine; something one could either embrace or reject.  Shylock in the play does not actually choose conversion, of his own free will.  The Jesuit Mission to England was to be spiritual and not political, to minister to souls-- part of the Ignatian ideal of charism, or "helping souls."  They were not even meant to be proselytizing in any active way-- if members of the Reformed faith were swayed to convert, so be it, but they were first and foremost to minister to the recusant community.  Protestants, especially Calvinists with their Doctrine of the Elect, favored Providence, which they claimed effectively made choice impossible.  We might note an annotation for The Book of Wisdom in the Douai-Rheims bible concerning free will asserts that “God’s prescience does not preiudice mans free wil” (Chapter 3, at EEBO).  Augustine, much cited and lauded by RCs at the time, in his Confessions, makes it clear that he chose to convert as he emphasizes the importance of free will.  Edmund Campion addresses all this specifically in his little-known play Ambrosia; in fact, every doctrinal issue then being debated during the schism is part of the play, offering unambiguously the Catholic position on each. 


The emergent Protestant reformed sects position can be noted in this passage from Calvin's Institutes (Chapter 21):


5. The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny; but it is greatly caviled at, especially by those who make prescience [Providence] its cause. We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say, that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former (see chap. 22 sec. 1). When we attribute prescience to God, we mean that all things always were, and ever continue, under his eye; that to his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are present, and indeed so present, that it is not merely the idea of them that is before him (as those objects are which we retain in our memory), but that he truly sees and contemplates them as actually under his immediate inspection. This prescience extends to the whole circuit of the world, and to all creatures. By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.


Two canons established in the Decree on Justification are useful here in demonstrating the Catholic stance re choice:


4. If anyone says that a person’s free will when moved and roused by God, gives no cooperation by responding to God’s summons and inspiration to dispose and prepare itself for the grace of justification, and that it cannot, if it so wishes, dissents but, like something inanimate, can do nothing at all but remains merely passive: let him be anathema.


5.  If anyone says that, after the sin of Adam, human free will was lost or blotted out, or that its existence is purely nominal, a name without substance, indeed a fiction introduced into the church by Satan:  let him be anathema.


Council of Trent in Chapter 5, “The Necessity of Preparation for Justification in Adults, and Whence it Proceeds” states:


It is furthermore declared that in adults the beginning of that justification must proceed from the predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ, that is, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits on their part, they are called; that they who sin had been cut off from God, maybe be disposed through His quickening and helping grace to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace; so that, while God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, man himself neither does absolutely nothing while receiving that inspiration, since he can also reject it, nor yet is he able by his own free will and without the grace of God to move himself to justice in His sight.  Hence, when it is said in the sacred writings:  Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you [Zach 1:3], we are reminded of our liberty; and when we reply:  Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted [Lam 5:21], we confess that we need the grace of God.  (31-32)


Chapter 6 goes on to underscore how one is "moved freely toward God" to then "resolve to receive baptism" (32).


Chapter 7 notes the "voluntary reception of grace" with the "disposition and cooperation" of the faithful (33-34).


From:  The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent.  Trans. and Intro. Rev. H. J. Schroeder.   Rockford, IL:  Tan, 1978. [Sixth Session (1547)]


The focus on "liberty" to choose and to submit to God's grace are central to justification.


So, given that Shylock does not approach his "conversion" in the ways outlined above and the play makes it clear that that he doesn't really have a choice, I'd say the RC Church necessarily would have thought his conversion forced.


I note that Catholic priests, Jesuit and otherwise, were presented with a similar choice:  convert or die.  Many of them chose martyrdom rather than renounce their faith.  Who or what is Antonio if we view the play through a topical lens?  It's possible to entertain the idea that as "a merchant"-- which was the code for priests in the Jesuit Mission who "traded" in souls-- Antonio, who was willing to give his heart, literally, can be seen as a Jesuit priest.  Various scholars have considered this as one possible reading of the text in context.   Robert Southwell wrote to Robert Persons using the merchant metaphor in regards to his own family and we have numerous other contemporary voices on the topic.  And etc.


This is not to say that we cannot also read the play on a purely universal level and still enjoy it and find it useful both aesthetically and didactically, but if we wish to read the play in its historical context-- fraught as the period was with political-religious unrest-- we can ask interesting questions as the text prompts us, the possible answers to which can further enrich our understanding of the time and its art.





SHAKSPER: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List

Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The SHAKSPER Web Site <http://shaksper.net>


DONATION: Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER: shaksper.net.


DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the editor assumes no responsibility for them.


Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.