Author Joseph Pearce has a new book out “The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome” which claims that Shakespeare was a Catholic.
Now there have been many theories about this over the years but Pearce seemingly attempts to put all the evidence that the Bard was a practicing Catholic in one package.
In an interview with Zenit, Pearce said, “In recent years, even secular scholars have been forced to address the mounting evidence that Shakespeare was a Catholic, though many remain in obstinate denial. The reason that Shakespeare’s Catholicism has been largely unknown is due to a combination of factors. First, Catholicism was illegal in Shakespeare’s time, which necessitated that all Catholics had to keep the practice of their faith a secret.”
A book by Peter Milward SJ “The Catholicism of Shakespeare’s Plays” concludes with a presentation of the historical evidence for Shakespeare’s own Catholicism, including evidence linking the poet with Catholic households in Lancashire, and possibly even with the Jesuit martyr St. Edmund Campion.
Then there is the teasing, late-seventeenth-century reference to Shakespeare by Richard Davies of Corpus Christi College. “He died a papist,” Davies jotted down about Shakespeare among some other Shakespearean memoranda.
Still, many insist that Shakespeare was a secular humanist because all smart people are secular humanists. Pearce said these critics “see only their own prejudices reflected in his plays. These misreadings are exposed by the weight of documented historical evidence that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic.”
Critic Germaine Greer dismisses the “Catholic” claim in her new book, “Shakespeare’s Wife,” as “modish brouhaha”? This, of course, is the academic version of putting your hands over your ears, running in place and screeching, “I can’t hear you.”
To critics who point to the fact that his plays were performed for the Queen as evidence that he was no Catholic, Pearce writes extensively about Shakespeare perhaps being considered a “safe” Catholic by Queen Elizabeth and King James. Pearce said that his talents may have made his Catholicism tolerable to the royalty.
This book is not, however, one of those critical analyses of Shakespeare’s plays where the Sun represents this or the tempest represents that. Pearce writes convincingly of real world “evidence that Shakespeare’s family were militantly and devoutly Catholic.” In fact, according to Pearce, Shakespeare’s mother’s family was one of the most notorious Catholic families in England, and several of Shakespeare’s cousins were executed for their involvement in so-called Catholic plots. Shakespeare’s father was fined for his Catholicism, as was Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna.
Hmmm. His mother and father were Catholic and his daughter was Catholic. Hmmm.
Pearce said that within the works themselves there is tons o’ Catholicism to be seen by the discerning eye.
The tension of this “tightrope,” in which Shakespeare tried to keep his balance between expressing his beliefs without finding himself condemned for them, is evident in the tortured tension in his plays. Although the Catholicism is in evidence, it is always expressed in a circumspect way, and this subtlety and circumspection is the reason for the plays being so often misread by secular critics. The Catholicism is certainly in the plays, however, and a true critical reading of the plays will discover the wealth of Catholic morality that is present.
Shakespeare’s religion would help explain so much about the man whose name was known throughout England but was actually known by few. Shakespeare moved around often, a fact which could be explained by his secret Catholicism. After Shakespeare’s death a contemporary wrote that Shakespeare was “the more to be admired [because] he was not a company keeper…wouldn’t be debauched, & if invited to writ; he was in paine.”
I just ordered the book. Now I have to hope I get to the mail before my wife. If she sees another book coming into our house I will be quoting Shakespeare often by saying “O Woe is me.”