Bard was a Catholic: New book

In a newly published book, American scholar Joseph Pearce concludes that William Shakespeare was a Catholic. reports that academics have increasingly noted links between Shakespeare and the persecuted Catholics of his times.

A new book by Joseph Pearce, The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome lays out the case that Shakespeare was indeed a believing Catholic who, for the sake of his career and his neck, kept that a secret.

Shakespeare came from Stratford in Warwickshire, a hotbed of Catholic non-conformity. His father John Shakespeare was identified in 1592 as a recusant, meaning a Catholic who refused to attend Protestant church services.

William himself appears on no records attending Protestant services or registering with the Church of England — something he was required by law to do. His mother Mary Arden came from a family of fiercely loyal Catholics. His school teachers included at least two Catholics.

William and Anne Hathaway’s wedding took place not in Stratford but four miles away, at a church presided over by a man identified in 1586 as a Catholic priest.

A bricklayer working on the Shakespeare home in 1757 found a document hidden in the rafters, its wording copied from a pamphlet distributed by Edward Campion, a Catholic priest who was tortured and executed under Queen Elizabeth in 1581. The document seemed to be a promise by John Shakespeare to die in the faith, even if he was unable to obtain last rites from a priest.

Shakespeare’s beloved daughter Susanna was identified as a Catholic recusant in 1606. In his waning years, William, who had rented all his life when away from Stratford, bought a London building that was said to be a hiding place for Catholic priests and a site for illegal masses, and some speculate that Shakespeare bought it to help the cause.

Describing himself as a sceptic before he embarked on serious research, author Pearce says that "I became convinced that Shakespeare was indeed a Catholic ...and that this fact has radical consequences with regard to the study of his works."

Anthony Esolen, a noted professor of Renaissance English at a US College, contends that Mr Pearce’s case is "meticulous, reasonable, and convincing."

It also seems to square with Shakespeare's works, which touch on themes of wisdom through suffering, and of trying to be faithful to one’s beliefs in the face of self-doubt and bitter persecution, he says.


Edward Achorn: Was the immortal Bard a Catholic? (Projo, 5/8/08)


William Shakespeare (Wikipedia)


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