Was William Shakespeare A Catholic?

Was William Shakespeare A Catholic?

Click here to read a report of the Vatican’s view that William Shakespeare was, very likely, a “crypto-Catholic”

Father Stephen DeLallo, SSPX, presents the opposite case, as set out in the Catholic Encylopaedia – The Religion of William Shakespeare

 

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2
Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2

 

(1) Arguments against Catholicity taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

 1) His own daughters were baptized in the parish Anglican Church as he himself had been, and were brought up as Protestants, the older daughter, Mrs. Hall, being apparently rather Puritan in her sympathies

 2) In 1608, he stood as godfather to a child of Henry Walker (who was an eminent London musician)

 3) In 1614 he entertained a protestant preacher at his house

 4) He was very familiar with the Bible in a Protestant version

 5) The various legatees and executors of his will cannot be identified as Catholics

 6) He seems to have remained on terms of intimacy with Ben Johnson, despite the latter’s disgraceful apostasy from the Catholic Faith which he had embraced for a time

 7) During his residence in London from 1598 – 1604, he lived at the house of Christopher Mountjoy, a refugee French Huguenot who maintained close relations with the French Protestant Church in London

 8) Even if his sympathies were with the Catholics, he made little or no attempt to live up to any Catholic moral convictions, as is seen in the immorality in many of his writings, and in various historical testimonies about his personal depraved morals

 (2) Complete Article from the Catholic Encyclopedia

 Of both Milton and Shakespeare, it was stated after their deaths, upon Protestant authority, that they had professed Catholicism. In Milton’s case (though the allegation was made and printed in the lifetime of contemporaries, and though it pretended to rest upon the testimony of Judge Christopher Milton, his brother, who did become a Catholic) the statement is certainly untrue (see The Month, Jan., 1909, pp. 1-13 and 92-93).

 This emphasizes the need of caution — the more so that Shakespeare at least had been dead more than seventy years when Archdeacon R. Davies (d. 1708) wrote in his supplementary notes to the biographical collections of the Rev. W. Fulman that the dramatist had a monument at Stratford, adding the words: “He dyed a Papyst”. Davies, an Anglican clergyman, could have had no conceivable motive for misrepresenting the matter in these private notes and as he lived in the neighbouring county of Gloucestershire he may be echoing a local tradition. To this must be added the fact that independent evidence establishes a strong presumption that John Shakespeare, the poet’s father, was or had been a Catholic. His wife Mary Arden, the poet’s mother, undoubtedly belonged to a family that remained conspicuousl yCatholic throughout the reign of Elizabeth. John Shakespeare had held municipal office in Stratford-on-Avon during Mary’s reign at a time when it seems agreed that Protestants were rigorously excluded from such posts. It is also certain that in 1592 JohnShakespeare was presented as a recusant, though classified among those “recusants heretofore presented who were thought to forbear coming to church for fear of process of debt”. Though indications are not lacking that John Shakespeare was in very reduced circumstances, it is also quite possible that his alleged poverty was only assumed to cloak his conscientious scruples.

A document, supposed to have been found about 1750 under the tiles of a house in Stratford which had once been John Shakespeare’s, professes to be the spiritual testament of the said John Shakespeare, and assuming it to be authentic, it would clearly prove him to have been a Catholic. The document, which was at first unhesitatingly accepted as genuine by Malone, is considered by most modern Shakespeare scholars to be a fabrication of J. Jordan who sent it to Malone (Lee, Life of William Shakespeare, London, 1908, p. 302). It is certainly not entirely a forgery (seeThe Month, Nov., 1911), and it produces in part a form of spiritual testament attributed to St. Charles Borromeo. Moreover, there is good evidence that a paper of this kind was really found. Such testaments were undoubtedly common among Catholics in the sixteenth century. Jordan had no particular motive for forging a very long, dreary, and tedious profession of Catholicism, only remotely connected with the poet; and although it has been said that John Shakespeare could not write (Lee, J.W. Gray, and C.C. Stopes maintain the contrary), it is quite conceivable that a priest or some other Catholic friend drafted the document for him, a copy of which was meant to be laid with him in his grave. All this goes to show that the dramatist in his youth must have been brought up in a very Catholic atmosphere, and indeed the history of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators (the Catesbys lived at Bushwood Park in Stratford parish) shows that the neighbourhood was regarded as quite a hotbed of recusancy.

 On the other hand, many serious difficulties stand in the way of believing that William Shakespeare could have been in any sense a staunch adherent of the old religion. To begin with, his own daughters were not only baptized in the parish church as their father had been, but were undoubtedly brought up as Protestants, the elder, Mrs. Hall, being apparently rather Puritan in her sympathies. Again Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the parish church, though it is admitted that no argument can be deduced from this as to the creed he professed (Lee, op. cit., p. 220). More significant are such facts as that in 1608 he stood godfather to a child of Henry Walker, as shown by the parish register, that in 1614 he entertained a preacher at his house “the New Place”, the expense being apparently borne by the municipality, that he was very familiar with the Bible in a Protestant version, that the various legatees and executors of his will cannot in any way be identified as Catholics, and also that he seems to have remained on terms of undiminished intimacy with Ben Johnson, despite the latter’s exceptionally disgraceful apostasy from the Catholic Faith which he had for a time embraced. To these considerations must now be added the fact recently brought to light by the researches of Dr. Wallace of Nebraska, that Shakespeare during his residence in London lived for at least six years (1598-1604) at the house of Christopher Mountjoy, a refugee French Huguenot, who maintained close relations with the French Protestant Church in London (Harper’s Magazine, March, 1910, pp. 489-510). Taking these facts in connection with the loose morality of the Sonnets, of Venus and Adonis, etc. and of passages in the play, not to speak of sundry vague hints preserved by tradition of the poet’s rather dissolute morals, the conclusion seems certain that, even if Shakespeare’s sympathies were with the Catholics, he made little or no attempt to live up to his convictions. For such a man it is intrinsically possible and even likely that, finding himself face to face with death, he may have profited by the happy incident of the presence of some priest in Stratford to be reconciled with the Church before the end came. Thus Archdeacon Davies’s statement that “he dyed a Papyst” is by no means incredible, but it would obviously be foolish to build too much upon an unverifiable tradition of this kind. The point must remain forever uncertain.

As regards the internal evidence of the plays and poems, no fair appreciation of the arguments advanced by Simpson,Bowden, and others can ignore the strong leaven of Catholic feeling conspicuous in the works as a whole. Detailed discussion would be impossible here. The question is complicated by the doubt whether certain more Protestant passages have any right to be regarded as the authentic work of Shakespeare. For example, there is a general consensus of opinion that the greater part of the fifth act of “Henry VIII” is not his. Similarly, in “King John” any hasty references drawn from the anti-papal tone of certain speeches must be discounted by a comparison between the impression left by the finished play as it came from the hands of the dramatist and the virulent prejudice manifest in the older drama of “The Troublesome Reign of King John”, which Shakespeare transformed. On the other hand, the type of such characters as Friar Lawrence. or of the friar in “Much Ado About Nothing”, of Henry V, of Katherine of Aragon, and of others, as well as the whole ethos of “Measure for Measure”, with numberless casual allusions, all speak eloquently for the Catholic tone of the poet’s. mind (see, for example, the references to purgatory and the last sacraments in “Hamlet”, Act I, sc. 5).

 Neither can any serious arguments to show that Shakespeare. knew nothing of Catholicism be drawn from the fact that in “Romeo and Juliet” he speaks of “evening Mass” Simpson and others have quoted examples of the practice of occasionally saying Mass in the afternoon, one of the places where this was wont to happen being curiously enough Verona itself, the scene of the play. The real difficulty against Simpson’s thesis comes rather from the doubt whether Shakespeare was not infected with the atheism, which, as we know from the testimony of writers as opposite in spirit as Thomas Nashe and Father Persons, was rampant in the more cultured societyof the Elizabethan age. Such a doubting ors keptical attitude of mind, as multitudes of examples provein our own day, is by no means inconsistent with a true appreciation of the beauty of Catholicism, and even apart from this it would surely not be surprising that such a man as Shakespeare should think sympathetically and even tenderly of the creed in which his father and mother had been brought up, a creed to which they probably adhered at least in their hearts. The fact in any case remains that the number of Shakespearean utterances expressive of a fundamental doubt in the Divine economy of the world seems to go beyond the requirements of his dramatic purpose and these are constantly put into the mouths of characters with whom the poet is evidently in sympathy. A conspicuous example is the speech of Prospero in “The Tempest”, probably the latest of the plays, ending with the words:

 “We are such Stuff

 As dreams are made on, and our little life

 Is rounded with a sleep”.

 Whether the true Shakespeare speaks here no one can ever tell, but even if it were so, such moods pass and are not irreconcilable with faith in God when the soul is thrown back upon herself by the near advent of suffering or death. A well-known example is afforded by the case of Littré.  End of Catholic Encyclopaedia article.

Comment:

Historians and other societal “experts” consider that the religious references and beliefs expressed in literature, drama etc. make an important contribution to us in our attempts to understand the past. Many have researched the religion of Shakespeare, therefore, given his standing in the world of English language and literature as a poet, playwright and actor.  But, does it really matter whether or not Shakespeare held to Catholic beliefs, albeit secretly? If, as many argue, it is important to contextualise the religious references in his work, why is it important?  Do these references really tell us much about the history of the Reformation period?  Do  you think that William Shakespeare was a Catholic? If so, what makes you so sure?  

Comments (177)

  • Therese

    Athanasius

    I really think you are being unjust to Summa in suggesting that his/her remark is “bad manners”,and this is not at all like you. Whilst some of us clearly do not agree with your opinion in this matter, and your suggestion that as a result we are victims of Cultural Marxism, I don’t think you are being bad mannered in expressing that opinion. Please don’t take umbrage at Summa’s lighthearted remark about Calvinistic thinking; s/he is entitled to that too, surely?

    September 28, 2016 at 7:19 pm
    • editor

      Therese,

      Summa is a “he” – a “he” who has attended Mass in our chapel in Glasgow, and had tea with us in the tearoom, before flying back to sunny Australia.

      I think Athanasius’s mention of bad manners is due to the fact that, although Athanasius had submitted a lengthy reply to one of Summa’s posts, Summa responded simply to point out that Athanasius had misspelt Joseph Pearce’s name. That would irritate me, I have to admit. Not terribly important in the great scheme of things but rather uncalled for and perhaps calculated to irritate. So, I’d cut Athanasius a bit of slack there – he doesn’t usually, as you say, make comments about manners, but in this case, I can (as they say, most ungrammatically, just about everywhere these days) see where he’s coming from!

      Still, Summa won’t be able to get me on spelling. I NEVER make spelling misteaks. NEVER!

      September 28, 2016 at 9:46 pm
      • Petrus

        Editor,

        Now, watch it! You will be accused of homophonia!

        October 4, 2016 at 7:46 am
  • Therese

    Me neether Ed. Apols to Athanasius if I’ve misunderstood his remark.

    September 28, 2016 at 9:53 pm
  • Summa

    Athanasius had misspelt Mr Pearce’s name 5 times and I felt it appropriate to point that out. I had no sinister motivation in doing so. Believe me, I am far too busy to cause trouble: I usually try to avoid it!
    Not terribly important in the scheme of things, I agree, but if you are going to discuss someone, then it’s only fair to use their name properly.
    Doing otherwise Ed, can be construed as being designed to irritate or despise.
    That’s the trouble with the internet, so much jumping to conclusions, baseless accusations, misunderstandings and lack of awareness of the circumstances of others.
    Anyway moving on…

    For the record, I think I met Athanasius in Glasgow after Mass did I not? He seems like a decent chap, although I must admit that I was a little perplexed why he wasn’t rushing off to thee Celtic game like I was!

    September 29, 2016 at 10:37 am
  • gabriel syme

    I always always expressed sympathy with the view that Shakespeare was a Catholic, although this has been chiefly in a petty attempt to annoy Anglicans, rather than as the result of rigorous research. Ha ha!

    The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, previously said that he thinks Shakespeare was a Catholic but not a particularly devout one.

    This thread inspired me to do a little reading and, although I am no big fan of Fr Dwight Longenecker, he wrote an article in 2015 claiming, among other things, that Shakespeare was from a recusant family, probably had a Catholic wedding and that his daughter, Susanna, was known to be a Catholic.

    See here:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2015/05/ten-reasons-why-shakespeare-was-catholic.html

    September 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm
    • Athanasius

      Gabriel Syme,

      Fr. Dwight Longenecker is not the first to propose such specualtion about Shakespeare, nor will he be the last. The actual historical evidence demonstrates that he was at best an apostate Catholic and at worst (more likely) a non-pacticing Anglican. Those who idly speculate about Shakespeare’s supposed Catholicism can never get around recorded history, which shows him to be Anglican.

      September 29, 2016 at 2:39 pm
  • Summa

    Athanasius says…

    What has been presented throughout this thread in response to you and others is demonstrable evidence that Shakespeare was not only not Catholic but that his works present a danger to the minds and souls of young Catholics.

    Then…

    The actual historical evidence demonstrates that he was at best an apostate Catholic and at worst (more likely) a non-pacticing Anglican.

    Glad to see you’re moving in the right direction 🙂

    And thanks for all the suggestions above 🙂

    Let’s keep it civilised 🙂

    September 29, 2016 at 3:09 pm
    • Athanasius

      Summa

      That was not a good choice of words for me to have included in my comment. That’s what comes of responding to people’s comments in the middle of a busy working day. You’re lucky to be relaxing on holiday with lots of time on your hands. Anway, here’s my clarification. The man is not for turning!!

      I do not accept under any circumstances that Shakespeare was Catholic. The historical evidence demonstrates the fact conclusively for me. It was not my intention to suggest that the evidence so much as hints that Shakespeare may have been Catholic, it doesn’t.

      What I meant to say was that for those who mistakenly champion the man as a Catholic hero, even if they could prove his Catholicism, which not one of them can, would only mean that he was at best an apostate and therefore to be very much frowned upon by Catholics faithful to the Church.

      As for “let’s keep it civilised”. I hope I have always tried to maintain respect and good manners when debating with others. I haven’t yet had anyone accuse me of lacking civility.

      September 29, 2016 at 8:21 pm
  • Athanasius

    Summa

    Here’s a challenge for you. Show me just one piece of sound historical evidence that Dr. White and others have produced, that seriously counters what the recorded facts state about Shakespeare’s religious affiliation, and I will back off from my entrenched position. If you cannot do this then you cannot in good conscience continue to argue for the Catholicism of Shakespeare. Is that fair?

    So far it has been my historical facts against their hysterical speculation. Can you make the difference by producing something more solid than rumour and wishful thinking?

    September 29, 2016 at 8:31 pm
  • Athanasius

    Therese

    I thought this update to Fr. DeLallo’s blog essay on Catholic Moral Principles.. may be of use in further explaining my position. It was too late to include the update in the original blog thread but I think it is useful information.

    “A. Portrayal of Virtue and Vice in Literature: It is true that classic literature often praises and exalts virtue by contrasting it with examples of immoral behavior. Since the Church has always warned against reading literature that would be a near (or proximate) occasion of sin, it follows that students should avoid those literary stories that contain obscenity.

    As noted above, “books or other writings contain obscenity when they inculcate or recommend impure acts, or advise how these may be committed; when they treat sins of impurity or narrate immoral facts or stories in such a manner as to make vice seem alluring or pardonable to the intended reader; when an erotic composition by language, allusions, details, sympathetic treatment, etc., gives prominence to animal passion.”

    Sometimes there are classic literary works that contain some inappropriate texts, but have such a great degree of excellence in the portrayal of truth, goodness and beauty, that it seems unfitting to remove them from the school curriculum. In such cases, these works may be read – especially if they are required reading for college – provided that all inappropriate texts are blacked out (expurgated), and that no writings are used that are inappropriate for the age of the students.

    As Pope Leo XIII says in his Apostolic Constitution, “Officiorum ac Munerum,” Jan. 25, 1897: “Classical works of ancient or more recent authors, if they are infected with this stain of turpitude, on account of the elegance and perfection of their style are permitted only to those who are excused by reason of their office or teaching; but on no account are they to be given to youths or young men to translate or read, unless they have been carefully expurgated.”

    October 1, 2016 at 3:25 pm
    • RCA Victor

      Athanasius,

      What is the address of Father DeLallo’s blog?

      October 1, 2016 at 3:38 pm
      • editor

        RCA Victor,

        I suspect Athanasius means this blog when he speaks of “Fr DeLallo’s blog…” I’m turning a blind eye to the danger of a takeover bid… 😀

        October 1, 2016 at 5:20 pm
      • RCA Victor

        Thanks Ed, I thought he meant Father had his own blog…we Americans have to learn to follow the script…..(speaking of Shakespeare…)

        October 1, 2016 at 5:29 pm
      • Athanasius

        RCA Victor

        Sorry about the confusion. Editor is right, I meant this blog. She has no fears of a takeover!!

        October 1, 2016 at 7:33 pm
      • editor

        Athanasius,

        “Editor is right…”

        My favourite words!

        October 2, 2016 at 8:32 pm
      • Athanasius

        Editor

        Just so long as you know we’re not talking about the brain here!!

        October 2, 2016 at 9:24 pm
    • Therese

      Thanks Athanasius. I do find this whole thing difficult to accept in total, but that’s my problem. If we were only talking about sheltering the youth from unsavoury and impure writings, I would completely agree, but, anyway….. as the Bard himself said: Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.

      October 3, 2016 at 7:38 pm
      • Athanasius

        Therese

        I think the principle question at the outset was whether or not Shakespeare was Catholic. That was the original poser and I think it has been established by the facts that he was not. His writings were a separate issue, though obviously tied in with the principle question.

        October 4, 2016 at 12:22 am
  • Benedict Carter

    Would have been hard for Shakespeare to have appeared unambiguously Catholic, given the penal times in which Catholics then lived; and the influence of the Presbyterians (aka Calvinists aka Puritans). England was only 20 years away from losing its Catholic mentality when he was writing the bulk of his plays, a mentality that has lasted a good fifty years after the Elizabethan Settlement. Why be too hard on him?

    Another English writer was most definitely a Catholic, and here is the proof – my favourite passage from his General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales:

    A good man was ther of religioun,
    And was a povre PERSOUN OF A TOUN,
    But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.
    He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
    That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche;
    His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
    Benynge he was, and wonder diligent,
    And in adversitee ful pacient,
    And swich he was ypreved ofte sithes.
    Ful looth were hym to cursen for his tithes,
    But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,
    Unto his povre parisshens aboute
    Of his offryng and eek of his substaunce.
    He koude in litel thyng have suffisaunce.
    Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder,
    But he ne lefte nat, for reyn ne thonder,
    In siknesse nor in meschief to visite
    The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lite,
    Upon his feet, and in his hand a staf.
    This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
    That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte.
    Out of the gosple he tho wordes caughte,
    And this figure he added eek therto,
    That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?
    For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
    No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
    And shame it is, if a prest take keep,
    A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
    Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
    By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde lyve.
    He sette nat his benefice to hyre
    And leet his sheep encombred in the myre
    And ran to Londoun unto Seinte Poules
    To seken hym a chaunterie for soules,
    Or with a bretherhed to been witholde;
    But dwelt at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,
    So that the wolf ne made it nat myscarie;
    He was a shepherde and noght a mercenarie.
    And though he hooly were and vertuous,
    He was to synful men nat despitous,
    Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,
    But in his techyng discreet and benygne;
    To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse,
    By good ensample, this was his bisynesse.
    But it were any persone obstinat,
    What so he were, of heigh or lough estat,
    Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys.
    A bettre preest I trowe, that nowher noon ys.
    He waited after no pompe and reverence,
    Ne maked him a spiced conscience,
    But Cristes loore, and Hise apostles twelve
    He taughte, but first he folwed it hymselve.

    How beautiful, both in composition and content!

    October 3, 2016 at 2:23 pm
    • Athanasius

      Benedict Carter

      The martyrs, both of the early Christian times and of the Elizabethan times, could have taken the compromising route of Shakespeare (had he been Catholic, which he was not), so accommodation for the sake of career doesn’t really hold water. Our Lord sacrificed His life for us, so we cannot put career and reputation before Him. It doesn’t work like that!

      October 4, 2016 at 12:19 am
      • Benedict Carter

        There you go, Athanasius, at your pompous best. As if YOU know whether Shakespeare was a Catholic or not! Just stop with the sermons, okay?

        October 5, 2016 at 9:31 pm
      • Athanasius

        Benedcit Carter

        If you can’t respond with genuine contradictory evidence then please don’t respond at all. Insults are not facts, they’re just signs that someone has lost the argument.

        By the way, recorded history tells us clearly that Shakespeare was not Catholic. What makes you or anyone else think differently? The speculative theories of so-called literature experts? Sorry, that doesn’t counter historically recorded fact.

        October 5, 2016 at 10:44 pm
      • bencjcarter

        Comment removed.

        October 6, 2016 at 1:47 am
      • editor

        Athanasius,

        I’ve now removed a personal (rude) comment about you from Benedict Carter, but there is no point in removed the one to which you have replied.

        I suggest to all bloggers that you ignore any personal remarks in posts and when I see them I will delete that part of the comment, or an entire comment if necessary.

        As Athanasius rightly says, hurling insults is simply a sign that someone has lost the argument. Stick to the argument, and I’ll remove any insults when I see them.

        Thank you.

        October 6, 2016 at 9:07 am
    • Christina

      Benedict Carter – wonderful. Thank you. And what about his lesser known paean of praise to Our Lady.

      http://www.bartleby.com/258/54.html

      October 5, 2016 at 12:56 am
      • bencjcarter

        Beautiful, yes Christina!

        October 5, 2016 at 9:32 pm
  • Christina

    Athnasius, I apologise to you, and to other yawning bloggers, for going back to your last post addressed to me (Oct. 2, 6.30pm.). It is a post dealing with two of (presumably my) ‘ideas’. I could not get wifi where I have been for the past several days.

    You said: “The first is the idea that back in the days of Shakespeare the people were more coarse and earthy in their everyday language and therefore less sensitive to obsenity and impurity than we are in these so-called times of intellectual refinement.”

    Nowhere in this thread have I expressed an opinion (though I have some) about the lack of sensitivity of Shakespeare’s contemporaries to ‘obcenity and impurity’. Nor have I suggested that we are living in times of ‘intellectual refinement’.

    You seem to have overlooked, or to have forgotten, what I plainly said I was specifically referring to, namely scatological words used in everyday language in Shakespeare’s day, which are not now used in polite language. This was underlined by a reference to Thomas More’s repeated use of such a word in one of his polemics. I called such language ‘earthy’, and in usage I distinguish between ‘earthy’ and ‘raunchy’, the latter referring to sexual vulgarity rather than scatalogical. I do realise that modern synonym dictionaries might conflate these terms, as you seem to have done, but I avoided that ugly word, and hoped I was making myself clear in context.

    Laura, I think, took the discussion as one about ‘raunchiness’, following on from your comments, and was horrified by what she found. I have since checked some of these disgusting ‘translations’ and I, too, was horrified and suggest that they are the works of corrupt sex-obsessed modern minds finding filth where it doesn’t exist. Having read every passage quoted as a student, and also later in life, and having seen the plays on the stage, every reference given by these ‘translators’ has passed over me as innocuous, and probably is. Perhaps the aim is to spice up the bard to make him more appealing to this sex-obsessed age. Last week my sister saw Cymbeline, and was disgusted that the director, fired up by the current popular perversion, had turned Cymbeline into Cymbelina, and ‘transgendered’ other characters as well. Perhaps Shakespeare will get the blame for that, too!

    As for these times of ‘intellectual refinement’, well, I was speaking of the olden pre-60s days when I studied Shakespeare, and we were all, I assure you, most intellectually and morally refined (!).

    The other idea, I think, although you say it with your usual admirable politeness, is that I’m a moral relativist because I disagree with Pope Leo XIII’s call for expurgation of obscene words and passages in literature. Moral relativism is: ‘… the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. By no stretch of the imagination can Pope Leo’s teaching on expurgation fit into the definition of ‘an objective or universal moral truth’! It was a good piece of practical advice in his day when children had no means, lacking a huge reference library and time, to supplant the missing word. Now any functionally literate child can find the missing word in seconds, so expurgation would simply fuel prurient curiosity. Some mere situations like this do change with time and require different forms of action. This is not MORAL relativism.

    A further point re Shakespeare’s perceived obscenity. Father DeLallo wrote:

    “… books or other writings contain obscenity when they inculcate or recommend impure acts, or advise how these may be committed; when they treat sins of impurity or narrate immoral facts or stories in such a manner as to make vice seem alluring or pardonable to the intended reader; when an erotic composition by language, allusions, details, sympathetic treatment, etc., gives prominence to animal passion.”

    Bloggers very familiar with Shakespeare’s work, as opposed to those who are guided by the opinions of others or modern ‘translations’ may judge for themselves if his works fit such a description. Many modern works certainly do.

    In addition to this I must comment on the following claims made in the course of your post:

    ‘I do not accept that Catholics, and even the first Protestants of the period under discussion, were desensitised to earthy and obsence conversation and behaviour. Religious faith and grace were far more abundant for so ill-refined a culture to have existed in thsoe days.
    …The people of those times were far more sensitive in their souls to obsenity and impurity, by reason of faith and the grace of God, than they are today. ..Shakespeare’s world was a world of Revealed moral truths which one contravened upon the peril of one’s immortal soul. Oh yes, they were far more refined in mind and conscience than the people of today, and consequently more acutely conscious of obscene and impure language.’

    WHAT?? Sorces for this please!! Shakespeare was born in 1564. Pope Paul III (1534 -49) had appointed a Commission to examine the state of the Church and in 1540 St. Ignatius Loyola had founded the Jesuits to assist the Pope in reforming a Church in which Popes and Cardinals had become too worldly, bribery to gain Church office was widespread, as was nepotism, monasteries had lost their discipline, impurity was rife in the ranks of the hierarchy and clergy and the selling of indulgences was wiely abused. Members of the curia resisted the reforms, and it wasn’t until 1545 that the Council of Trent was convened “…to extirpate so many most destructive heresies, to reform morals and restore ecclesiastical discipline”. So there are the words of the papal Bull in confirmation of all this. Also, the Council itself acknowledged that Luther’s revolt had been prompted ‘ by the ambition, avarice and cupidity of clergy’. It condemned abuses including the holding of several cathedral churches by one bishop, the bestowing of favours on relatives and having mistresses. It abolished the sale of indulgences, and called for Church leaders to avoid the smallest of faults.

    The Council ended in 1563, and with it came the start of the Counter-Reformation when great sinners were replaced by great saints and the Catholic laity gradually became fit for the description you applied to the earlier age – impossibly, given the corruption of clergy and customs exposed and tackled at Trent. We know all too well what happens to the sheep when the shepherds abandon them.

    October 5, 2016 at 12:44 am
    • Athanasius

      Christina

      The question that introduced this thread was: “Was William Shaespeare A Catholic”

      I think the answer to that question, given what historical evidence still remains, is that he was not a Catholic, but a non-practicing Anglican.

      As for your other points, I would respectfully suggest we leave it there since we are not going to agree. I completely agree with the Church teaching presented in Fr. DeLallo’s essay, but it seems you have reservations about it.

      The one thing I would point out is that by the time Shakespeare became a young adult, that holy counter-Reformation you refer to was well under way in the Church and in society. He was born one year after Trent, according to your supplied dates. So by your own timeline you surely confirm these words of mine:

      “..Shakespeare’s world was a world of Revealed moral truths which one contravened upon the peril of one’s immortal soul. Oh yes, they were far more refined in mind and conscience than the people of today, and consequently more acutely conscious of obscene and impure language.’”

      October 5, 2016 at 1:46 am
      • bencjcarter

        “Religious faith and grace were far more abundant for so ill-refined a culture to have existed in those days.”

        Have you ever studied, Athanasius, the pilgrim songs of the High Middle Ages, the period at which the Catholic Faith was at its highest? Clearly not, for you would then be aware that the bulk of the people were as earthy as any we see today. And why shouldn’t they have been? Death, illness, violence and the passions were just as much of their lives as they are today in ours.

        You fool yourself if you think our Anglo-Saxon forebears (for instance) were any different, despite their great Saints who converted the pagan Dutch, Germans and others, their great Catholic Kings such as Aelfred and Aethelstan, their great churchmen. Indeed, every filthy word today in the English language is pure Anglo-Saxon. Every one.

        I contend that Catholicism goes together with a certain earthiness: in fact this shouldn’t surprise us at all, given that the Catholic mentality recognises and welcomes reality, and these things surely are part of reality, even if not one of a highly-sensitive nature or what you might call “cultured”.

        October 5, 2016 at 9:39 pm
      • Athanasius

        BCJC

        I’ve debated this subject to death but suffice it to say I don’t particularly care for your view of the Church and Catholics as generally comfortable with “earthy”, (meaning obsene) language. That’s not a Church or people I recognise today or from history.

        You’re right to say that Catholics and the Church welcome “reality”, but it’s the reality of grace, of sin, or virtue and the lack thereof, not acceptance of sinful and obsene language because we’re realists. No, we understand that it goes on but we may never approve it, much less participate. This is the true teaching of the Church and the saints.

        October 5, 2016 at 10:39 pm
      • bencjcarter

        Fallen human nature and redeemed, ennobled human nature are in some ways, like love and hate, very close together; even two sides of the same coin. This can be clearly seen in Shakespeare’s work.

        October 6, 2016 at 1:36 am
  • bencjcarter

    Shakespeare’s use of a certain lewdness, an earthiness, is for me a fact that makes his Catholicism more, not less, likely.

    October 5, 2016 at 9:41 pm
    • Athanasius

      Bencjcarter,

      What a strange observation. Just as well it’s wrong or it would send out very bad signals about the Catholic Church.

      There is historical evidence that Shakespeare was not Catholic. Not one person who disagrees with that has been able to bring forward contradictory evidence (by which I mean historical fact). This tells me that those who maintain the argument that Shakespeare was Catholic are not acting objectively.

      October 5, 2016 at 10:31 pm
      • bencjcarter

        Hardly strange. It’s self-evident when one looks at Italian, Spanish, Latin American and other Catholic cultures.

        It was also very much the same in pre-Reformation England. I merely point out the reality of popular culture in Catholic societies, where people can look sex and so on “in the eye”, which those cultures who have been through the Calvinistic mill actually cannot. The modern descent from license to licentiousness is a different matter altogether.

        I discussed this “Catholic earthiness” with a former parish priest on skype this evening. He, a missionary priest with several countries behind him and a great knowledge of Church history, agreed with me completely.

        October 6, 2016 at 1:42 am
      • editor

        Benedict,

        So you found a priest who agreed with you completely about “Catholic earthiness….Catholic societies…where people can look sex and so on in the eye…”

        A Catholic priest who is completely at ease with sex-obsessed societies… Now there’s a surprise!

        October 6, 2016 at 9:23 am
      • Benedict Carter

        Disgraceful reply. The man I am referring to is a monk who is wholly orthodox in doctrine and who, though living far away from his mother house, lives a disciplined religious life.

        October 6, 2016 at 1:00 pm
      • Athanasius

        Benedict Carter

        my advice would be to beware anyone, priest, religious or lay, who tells you that the Church is ok with the faithful looking sex in the eye. That notion flies in the face of everything the Church teaches about fallen human nature. It’s not Calvinistic to hold to the Church’s teaching in this matter, it’s fidelity and having an understanding of occasions of sin.

        I do know that the liberals introduced this new concept of looking sex in the eye after the Vatican II revolution, and with devastating effects. Read Fr. DeLallo’s essay somewhere else on this blog and you’ll see the danger.

        Regarding impurity of any kind, St. Pau said: “do not let it so much as be named among you, as becometh saints”. That’s a far cry from looking sex straight in the eye!

        October 6, 2016 at 3:22 pm
      • bencjcarter

        You’ve missed the point badly, or I have badly expressed it. Whatever.

        October 11, 2016 at 7:20 pm
  • Summa

    I am delighted to read Joseph Pearce’s response to the Catholic encyclopedia article cited above.

    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/10/shakespeare-catholic-joseph-pearce.html

    The evidence is overwhelmingly weighted in favour of Shakespeare’s Catholicism.

    October 11, 2016 at 12:13 am
    • editor

      Summa,

      Your post of 12.13am today went into moderation, probably because you have signed in with a different email address – your avatar is attached to your email address in use when you created the avatar, so I presume that – since your avatar has not appeared – you have used different log in details this time. Hence, your post is way down the sidebar. My apologies.

      I look forward to reading your link later – I will be away from my computer for most of today, so I recommend that you log in with your avatar email address if you post again, to make sure that you don’t languish in moderation until my return 😀

      October 11, 2016 at 9:29 am
      • Summa

        Ed. I know where I erred. I did not enter the wrong email per se, just misspelled it so! Thank you for posting it anyway.

        October 11, 2016 at 10:12 am
    • Athanasius

      Summa

      Are you having me on?

      All Joseph Pearce does in the linked article is scorn the evidence leaning towards Shakespeare’s indifferent Anglicanism without providing a single shred of reliable alternative evidence. It’s one thing claim that there are many authoitative sources who say this, that and the other in favour of Shakespeare’s Catholicism, but it’s all just so much waffle when quotations and sources are absent.

      You’ll really have to do much better than that linked article if you want to demonstrate that the historical record on Shakespeare’s religous affiliation is wrong.

      Oh yes, and I didn’t read anything in Mr. Pearce’s article denying Shakespeare playing godfather to his Anglican friend’s child at an Anglican baptism. That’s forbidden by the Catholic Church, so it is quite a crucial piece of information.

      October 11, 2016 at 2:54 pm
      • HistoryMan

        Well, I don’t know that Joseph Pearce is having anyone on. I’m not that interested in Shakespeare’s religion, BTW, but there shouldn’t be any worry about sources if what Pearce is saying is common knowledge. What he said makes sense for that period in time when Catholicism was outlawed, so I wouldn’t dismiss his article out of hand. He makes a very good point about the Catholic Encyclopaedia being well out of date. That’s a very bad sign for the academic worth of the contents.

        I think this article is very balanced and historic, although it doesn’t come down either for or against Shakespeare’s Catholicism but leaves the question open, which is all that anyone can do, really. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/05/shakespeares-religion

        October 11, 2016 at 5:29 pm
      • Summa

        Athanasius
        I don’t have to do any better. If you’re prejudice is so bloated as to say that Mr Pearce provides no evidence, then I doubt anything will convince you of the contrary. Anyway, I’ll leave you to your fancies.

        October 11, 2016 at 8:58 pm
      • Athanasius

        Summa

        Rather than leave me to my supposed “fancies”, you should really demonstrate to me where I missed the evidence presented by Mr. Pearce. All I read in the linked article was an attempt to rubbish historically recorded fact with what I will generously call speculation. Yes, there was a lot of talk about superior evidence, yet none was presented.

        That’s not what I call a sustainable case for Shakespeare’s (imagined) Catholicism. Historically recorded evidence always takes precedence.

        But there is also the evidence of the impure suggestiveness in his plays. Regardless of the times and “earthiness” of the people, no true Catholic bard would have written that stuff into his works.

        Some may think I am making too much of this but they should consider what has been written elsewhere on this blog about conditioning minds and souls to gradually become familiar with lewdness, obsenity and impurity in literature, as well as in everyday life. It starts with baby steps, as did the conciliar revolution, until little by little every last remnant of goodness and virtue has been compromised. I hope all will see what I’m getting at here. We need to be very vigilant. I suspect the desperation in some to have Shakespeare declared Catholic has a more sinister motive underlying it. The man was hardly a martyr for the Catholic Faith, after all.

        October 11, 2016 at 9:40 pm
    • Christina

      Summa, interesting that when I cited Fr. Thurston’s work on the paranormal in another thread, some bloggers assiduously searched for information that would, they thought, discredit him and so justify the dismissing of his opinions on anything and everything to do with the subject. Yet now some are happily trusting his expertise in a subject in which, even in his lifetime, he was regarded as less of an authority!

      October 11, 2016 at 11:38 pm
  • Summa

    Athanasius

    I suspect the desperation in some to have Shakespeare declared Catholic has a more sinister motive underlying it.

    That is pretty shocking Athanasius. So you are suggesting Mr Pearce and others of his ilk are promoting Shakespeare as a Catholic for sinister motives?

    Time to move on, knowing I am likely through pride to sin in response.

    Reverend Cajetan Mary da Bergamo – It is necessary to be humble not only in one’s thoughts but in one’s words, because the humble man says little, following the counsel of the Holy Ghost: “Speak not anything rashly: let thy words be few.” [Eccles v, 1] To talk much proceeds from pride, because we are persuaded that we know a great deal and we wish to impress our thoughts and opinions on the minds of others.

    Recollect yourself now interiorly, and examine yourself, and having found that under one or other of these headings pride really dominates you, judge how necessary it is for you to fight against it with humility, because if pride is conquered, a host of other sins will be conquered also. And in order to give yourself courage remember this, that before the tribunal of God the proud will be condemned, and only the humble can hope to find mercy. To say that we are humble is the same as to say that we are amongst the elect and shall be saved; and to say that we are proud is the same as to say we are reprobate and lost. “Pride is a sure sign of the reprobate, as humility is the sign of the elect.” [Hom. 7 in Evang.; et lib. 3, Mor. cap xviii] We owe this conclusion to St. Gregory. Praised be Jesus Christ.

    October 11, 2016 at 11:33 pm
    • Athanasius

      Summa

      Thank you for the reminder of how dangerous pride is. Yes, we are all surely affected by it to some degree or other. If you are more humble than me then thank God for the grace. But beware also, for it is when one realises that he is more humble than his neighbour that he stands in greater peril of losing, in an instant, all humility.

      Since we are all affected by pride, I’ll make a deal with you. Don’t you accuse me of pride and I won’t accuse you. Let us just understand that we are all prone to pride. The so-called great Catholic intellectuals have to be particularly careful of this inclination, as the conciliar revolution amply demonstrates.

      As for name dropping in my previous comment, I was very careful not to name particular individuals, so it is actually you who are suggesting Mr. Pearce’s name, not I. My advice was general not personal. Again, take the Modernist theological experts who planned and executed the post-Vatican II reformation. These intellectuals put themselves forward as the holiest of men with the noblest of intentions. The majority saw no reason to doubt or question them and look what happened. St. Pius X warned about these infiltrators and was mocked for it. It seems we never learn even to err on the side of caution.

      Now, are you or are you not prepared to offer some real historical evidence to counter that which is recorded of Shakespeare’s Anglican beliefs. I’m not interested in speculation, even if the speculators are hailed as great men of literature. I base all my conclusions on facts alone, always have done. It’s safer that way.

      October 12, 2016 at 12:08 am
    • editor

      Summa,

      I think it might help cool the air here if I mention that it is my understanding that Athanasius is aware of a teacher (two in fact) who used Shakespeare to undermine morals in the classroom. Having engaged in some limited study of some of Shakespeare’s plays myself, albeit many moons ago, I was puzzled as to how this could be done, but having read the contemporary translations of some of the more “bawdy” comments, posted by another blogger, whose name escapes me at the moment and I don’t have time to trawl, I am guessing that those teachers have used the contemporary very crude translations in the classroom – a stupid and entirely unnecessary thing to do, but typical of the “we must make everything relevant, pupils must understand this at first reading” mentality which prevails in educational practise today. Personally, I (in my ignorance!) did not read any crudity in Shakespeare, and I don’t think most people do, in fact. I remember being astonished the first time I heard the claim that Shakespeare contained sexually explicit references – they had either passed me by, or I’d been reading the wrong plays. Or should that be the “right” plays 😀

      Anyway, the topic here is whether or not Shakespeare was a Catholic. My own knowledge on this is very limited, but judging from the few TV discussions I’ve heard, and the articles posted here, it seems that there is no definite answer available to satisfy everyone. The Catholic Encyclopaedia seems very clear but then it appears to be out of date, and thus has not taken account of later (than 1912) research. That is a weakness. From the available literature and historical information, we can only speculate. It is not, in any event, a matter of Faith. It is a matter of opinion and personal judgment for teachers/heads of school, if they are convinced that his writings are too sexually explicit to use in a classroom. Unless, however, teachers provide contemporary translations of his character’s bawdy remarks, I doubt very much if many students would realise their significance.

      It’s certainly not something that is worth falling out over, gentlemen, so let’s leave aside all talk of pride. It’s difficult enough for me, knowing that I’m the only really humble person on the blog, if not the planet, to see accusations and counter accusations of pride flying around… 😀

      According to some commentators, Shakespeare was (or at least died) a Catholic, others disagree and the connections with the new (Anglican) religion seem to rule out his Catholicism. However, were Joseph Pearce’s claims to turn out to be true, that it was quite usual for recusants to use the Anglican churches as a cover during that period of anti-Catholicism, we’d have to reconsider. I don’t know enough about all of that, to come to a considered view, although I plan to do some reading on the subject asap.

      For now, let’s stand a sing two verses of Peace, Perfect Peace (no, Summa, NOT Pearce, Perfect Pearce)!

      October 12, 2016 at 10:52 am
  • Athanasius

    Editor

    I would ask everyone involved in the promotion of Shakespeare as a recusant Catholic to consider whether it is permissible for Catholics to give even the outward appearance of having rejected the true religion during times of persecution?

    We know from the record of the early Christian martyrs that many of them could have spared their own lives by simply complying with a State demand to burn a grain of incense before the pagan gods, yet they would not countenance such a thing and suffered terrible deaths as a result.

    Some early Christians, however, through fear, did succumb and were duly excommunicated for their treachery. There is evidence that some of these eventually returned to the faith having repented and carried out very strict penances.

    So it seems from the earliest persecutions that compromise with religious error, even superficially, was condemned as a betrayal of Our Lord and the Truth.

    Did not Our Lord Himself say: “All who confess me before men, I will confess before my Father in heaven. Those who deny me before men, I will deny before my Father in heaven.”?

    At a time when many English Catholics bore with heroism the penalties for not conforming to the new religion, including martyrdom, are we to accept that Shakespeare chose the better path by appearing publicly as a conformist Protestant while harbouring Catholicism in his heart? Would such a compromise be acceptable to God? If so, what does it say of those brave souls who refused to conform and suffered for it? What does it say about St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher and the martyrs of Tyburn, for example? Did they sacrifice their lives for the Faith unnecessarily?

    Let me put it another way: What would we say today to someone who claimed to be a Traditional Catholic at heart but who nevertheless, for the sake of avoiding persecution and isolation, went along publicly with the post-conciliar revolution with all its liturgical and sacramental abuses? Would we praise such a person as a Catholic worthy of respect and emulation? Wouldn’t we rather condemn such cowardice in the face of adversity?

    I’m very surprised that those who stand in Shakespeare’s corner today have not weighed this central issue.

    I suppose the question, then, is not so much one of Shakespeare’s Catholicism or absence thereof as it is whether or not Catholics are free before God to subscribe publicly to a heretical religion while remaining united to the Church in their heart. It seems to me that it would be preferable that Shakespeare was a convinced Protestant, as the evidence indicates, than a Catholic coward. His judgment surely would have been lighter before God.

    October 13, 2016 at 2:10 am
    • editor

      Athanasius,

      I’m not standing in anyone’s corner. I am simply trying to weigh the evidence, without, as you appear to think, condoning any “cover up” by pretending to go along with the new Protestantism at the Reformation.

      This is not a thread to discuss whether or not Shakespeare should be canonised. If he did take cover with the new Anglicans, then that would certainly rule him out.

      I’m simply looking at what everyone is saying and interested in discovering whether or not there were Catholics who did what Joseph Pearce claims.

      That wouldn’t make them Catholic heroes, and, personally, I am sick and tired of weak and ignorant Catholics today who prefer to sit tight and wait for the crisis to pass rather than stand up and be counted, given that nobody is demanding their blood, unlike, during the early days of Christianity and the Reformation period, so I’m with you on that.

      A fairly recent example will illustrate my point. Petrus offered a complimentary ticket to a young priest of the archdiocese who is (I’m told, but doubt it) supportive of Catholic Truth. Flatly turned it down, despite the fact that there were at least three priests (“in good standing”) publicly advertised who would be attending, two of them speakers, plus one of his Glasgow brother priests participating in the final Q & A. Cowardly concern for his own personal standing within the archdiocese, I presume, trumped supporting the only group in Scotland which is all-out fighting for the restoration of the traditional Faith in this country. So, believe me, I have not a lot of sympathy for those who take cover.

      The fact remains that there may well have been Catholics who went along (outwardly) with the new religion in order, in their misguided judgement, to keep the Faith. Some would call that prudence, but as you say, the early Christians and the martyrs, like Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher at the Reformation, were entirely “imprudent” in that respect. Whether or not Shakespeare is to be counted among those “prudent” Catholics is the question. Not whether he should be canonised.

      I hope that clarifies my position. Which is standing right in front of that cupboard where my final two chocolates are hidden!

      October 13, 2016 at 10:23 am
  • Athanasius

    Editor,

    Keep your hair on! That comment wasn’t meant for you, it was a general comment for all to ponder. I didn’t think for a second that you were siding with anyone, your post is clear on that.

    Anyway, they reason for the comment was that, regardless of the truth of Shakespeare’s religious affiliation, we don’t want Catholic teachers holding him up beside the martyr saints as a great Catholic leterary figure who offers an alternative under persecution to the ‘neurotic’ extremists who stupidly surrendered their lives when they didn’t really have to. It’s that message which must be suppressed utterly.

    October 13, 2016 at 3:05 pm
    • editor

      Oh, I see I suppose it was the salutation (“Editor”) at the start which made me think you were addresing moi!

      You needn’t worry about Catholic teachers speaking about martyrdom at the Reformation. Archbishop Oscar Romero is about as far as their understanding of “martyrdom” stretches. The rest were just standing up for religious freedom! Gimme strength!

      October 13, 2016 at 4:16 pm
  • Athanasius

    Editor

    You keep your hands off they chocolates! Their mine!

    October 13, 2016 at 3:05 pm

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