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An essay on william shakespeare and catholicism

An Overview of Christian Interpretation. Indiana University Press, 1994. Yet inevitably there have been others who claim for the poet their own reductive beliefs, despite his burial in a church and a Last Will that an essay on william shakespeare and catholicism Christ his savior.

Nevertheless a growing body of scholarship tying Shakespeare's plays to Christian insights has been accumulating since the mid-nineteenth century, and so an overview of this history will be helpful as a background to some summary observations on the achievements the present anthology catalogs.

The religious contexts of action in Shakespearean drama are the focus of our anthology. They may help us recall that in Elizabethan England religion was considered the anchor of morals, and the God of Christian faith was generally believed to be the creator, sustainer, and judge of all mankind. The guidebook for understanding good and evil in all sorts and conditions of life was Holy Scripture, a capstone to testimonies provided universally in the Book of Nature.

In such a context everyone's history could be one of journey toward self-knowledge and health, or else of opportunities squandered. Do not Shakespeare's stories imply this sense of history? Historical criticism in our time should be open to perceptions that a drama's horizons of understanding can be ultimately Christian in their outreach. Of signal importance has been Hermann Ulrici's Shakespeare's Dramatic Art, which appeared in English translation in 1846 and grew to a third edition by 1880.

Similarly, Ulrici read The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure as showing that human virtue is possible only in and through an inner love that combines strictness with mercy. Thus a portrait of the poet as moral philosopher replaced the wild genius presumed by eighteenth-century critics. In this altered context, English writers began to speak of Shakespeare as Christian, and studies soon appeared in tribute to the national poet's congruence with the Good Book.

Of these the most substantial were Bishop Charles Wordsworth's Shakespeare's Knowledge and Use of the Bible 1864 written for the Anniversary ceremonies and expanded in a third edition of 1880; J. Bowdler's excising from The Family Shakespeare the clown's speech in All's Well about the narrow gate and the porter's speech in Macbeth about the primrose way.

He noted that in the tragedies the catastrophe results from sinful passions such as revenge and jealousy. He concluded that Shakespeare's genius had so assimilated and reproduced the Bible's great truths that his words seem to renew its authority. Are there shortcomings in these studies? By hindsight we can observe that some of the moral sentiments cited are less genuinely Christian than they sound. For instance, Iago's discourse on free will is listed by Selkirk among Shakespeare's Bible truths.

Actually, however, Iago was here using a Pelagian language to lure Roderigo to enslave himself to his lustful passion. This truth of the drama can be overlooked by readers who look to Shakespeare simply as a storehouse of moral sentiments.

Let me discern also a misapprehension by Burgess when noting Canterbury's reference in Henry V to the Book of Numbers. This indicates, says An essay on william shakespeare and catholicism, Shakespeare's versatility in using Scripture. A wiser inference would be that the Archbishop is being characterized as an irresponsible exegete, who cites from Numbers a text which a canny reader might know is a half-truth since it omits the more pertinent passage in Numbers where Moses disallowed a daughter the right to inherit land from her father if she marries a foreigner.

Shakespeare's ironic point, wholly missed by Burgess, is that Henry V has no valid claim to France. A bigger mistake regarding Henry V is made by Wordsworth. He misreads the whole character of this king's piety by failing to see the irony in Shakespeare's having him fulsomely ascribe his Agincourt victory to God's arm alone, right after we have seen the battle won by Henry's order to cut the throats of prisoners.

The Victorian Bishop's uncritical feelings of patriotism along with his liking for moral sentiment have left a blindspot in his ability to see. A disillusionment with romantic idealism emerged after World War I and was signalled by T. Eliot's The Waste Land.

While this poem got its popularity from its truth-telling vignettes of hollow love quest, its anthropological diggings encompassed a scope of history from Agamemnon's times to the present day.

And its author was eventually discovered to be, surprisingly, an apologist for Christian orthodoxy. His essays in appreciation of Lancelot Andrewes and Dante, while at the same time he questioned Arnold's humanism and Lambeth's churchmanship, made possible a revived scholarly attention to the history of religion and to medieval drama in particular, along with some modern experiments in churchyard drama, and some stageplays that hinted of Christian mysteries hidden in secular experience.

That is true; but the wide range of history that was reinvigorating scholarship needs to be more fully appreciated.

Was Shakespeare Catholic?

While some students were delving into the history of theatre in general, or of Elizabethan acting companies, or of medieval story conventions, others were looking into schoolbooks and Stratford schoolmasters two of them of Catholic sympathies during Shakespeare's boyhood, or assessing the extent of his familiarity with the Bible 42 of its books by R. Noble's count and the Prayerbook, or reviewing the contents of the Elizabethan Homilies appointed for church use.

The history of ideas became important with the publication of Lily B. And concurrently, scholars of Old English literature and the medieval poets began to re-estimate the Christian an essay on william shakespeare and catholicism of Beowulf and the works of Cynewulf, Langland, and An essay on william shakespeare and catholicism.

All this, when accompanied by the proddings from T. Eliot I have mentioned, provided challenging horizons for those of us who underwent our graduate training in the mid-30s. Almost everybody in those years seemed interested in Christianity's relation to culture. A stream of books around that topic issued from both Protestant and Catholic scholars, but was fed especially by Maritain's True Humanism 1938Ransoming the Time 1941and Christianity and Democracy 1945along with Gilson's various expoundings of the medieval philosophers.

Also new journals cropped up with titles such as The Christian Scholar and Christendom, college courses on the metaphysical poets flourished, and literary critics were shown by Erich Auerbach's Mimesis Eng. Shakespeare's relation to Catholic tradition was first probed in the mid-nineteenth century by Richard Simpson, whose papers were assembled and amplified in Henry S. Bowden's The Religion of Shakespeare 1899. The contention of this book was the probability of a personal sympathy for the Old Faith by Shakespeare.

Bowden began with some distinctions between Catholic and Protestant doctrines, and then showed how biographical documents relating to Shakespeare can have a hidden religious explanation. His best insights are his likening the persecuted Catholics under Queen Elizabeth to the plight of Edgar in King Lear, and his reply to Harsnett by quoting Thomas More to the effect that occasional fraudulent miracles should not blind us to the reality of true miracles—the kind Bowden finds in the conversion of Lear, in the healing of the King of France by Helena, and in the cures by King Edward in Macbeth.

To Bowden's culling of Catholic phrases he added others; and as evidence of Shakespeare's familiarity with the Rheims New Testament he cited the words cockle, narrow gate, and not a hair perished, unique to that translation.

But De Groot's important contribution was his convincing argument, based centrally on discoveries made by Herbert Thurston in 1923 and subsequently, that the Last Will and Testament of John Shakespeare, the poet's father, was indeed no forgery but reliable evidence of his probable contact with the Jesuit missioners, since the Will follows a formula for Testaments drawn up by St Charles Borromeo and imported into England by them.

  • It is divided in three parts, each increasing in complexity;
  • Most indications are that Shakespeare had next to no trouble with censorship, yet Asquith, virtually alone among scholars, asserts that in 1611 Shakespeare did not retire from public life, but was silenced by censors;
  • Spiritual testaments were popular among English Catholics of that time;
  • The Jocular Struggle in Life 2262 words - 9 pages work at Orsino's palace;
  • Lord Strange, like his father before him, held his personal religious views close and was considered a religious neutral.

This historical evidence justified De Groot in postulating a home training of young William which could have included Catholic lore and its continuing witness in iconography, such as the wall tapestries referred to by Falstaff.

For although he attempted in the latter book a providential view of history, the sense of providence he relied on was that of Edward Hall's Protestant overview rather than that of Augustine's City of God the textbook of More and Erasmus. Tillyard's unawareness of the difference can be seen to be, in retrospect, the cause of the difficulty he got into when interpreting Henry V.

At odds with this is also his comment that in 3 Henry VI Shakespeare failed to make his material significant because he got tired or bored. It seems to me Tillyard approximates a satisfactory reading only when he views Henry Richmond as a godly minister of England's deliverance from Richard's tyranny. Yet, even here, he does not see that Hall's. The entire section is 7,075 words.