Monday, November 21, 2011

Shakespeare the Papist

The UK Telegraph reports today that the Vatican newspaper says there are "few doubts" that Shakespeare was a Catholic.

That's obviously the case, as anyone who has read Joseph Pearce's two books on the subject (The Quest for Shakespeare and Through Shakespeare's Eyes ) can tell you. Indeed, the documentary evidence alone (which Joseph covers in The Quest for Shakespeare) is what any unbiased observer would call conclusive, without even looking at the Catholic spirit and Catholic themes of the plays themselves (which Joseph covers in Through Shakespeare's Eyes).

But what a hornet's nest of comments appear on the UK Telegraph site! I haven't the patience to read them all, myself, but I encourage you to take a glance at them at least. If you doubt that anti-Catholicism is alive and well, the fervor and indignation of the commenters on this issue will satisfy you on that score. If there is any logic to be found in the commenters, the logic seems to be kind-of sort-of syllogistic ...

1. The Catholic Church is narrow and shadowy and judgmental

2. Shakespeare's plays are broad and lively and fun

3. Therefore, Shakespeare was not a Catholic.

But this bigotry takes many forms.

One commenter, for example, more or less says, "How dare the Vatican tell us what to believe about Shakespeare!" That comment is so wrong-headed it's hard to know where to begin. Behind it is nothing but confusion. First, it never occurs to the commenter that the Vatican is not exactly speaking with the authority of the Church, far less is one reporter working for L'Osservatore Romano; next, it never occurs to him that the Church is not in the business of issuing fatwas and snuffing out reasoned discussion on any subject, much less literary criticism or historical fact; and most importantly, that the question of Shakespeare's religion is just such a question of Historical Fact, a question that is independent of one's empathy toward or antipathy against the Church.

And there's the great irony that the anti-Catholic bigots in the UK Telegraph comboxes are all worked up that the Church is the enemy of reason, art and (as one Protestant commenter implies) Christ Himself - and they make these points in the most unreasonable, inartistic and antichristian way possible.

Well, Willie Shakespeare (God rest his soul) keeps learning after death what Catholics have known from the beginning - that Our Lord and Savior is a Sign of Contradiction, and that He will be spoken against, or sometimes simply ranted and raved against.

I would suggest that the Earl of Oxford wrote all of the comments in the UK Telegraph comboxes - but they're not the work of one man. They are the hallmark of chaos and contradiction - they are Legion.


Anonymous said...

Hello Kevin,

Hope this finds you well. I was wondering if you can help me with something that lately has been bombarded in my direction quite often this past week. Amongst the subjects i have at university inclining towards theatre, there's always this "intellectual" attack against the Church in history in the syllabus; that it was against theatre in the past, there was mention of particular church fathers and their comments about theatre that made them seem puritanical, specially in the middle ages. That religion's there to bring fear. And not too long ago my lecturer - who clearly professes his ignorance towards the Church as if she's the whinning baby in suit and tie - had the nerve to say that the Church invented some of its doctrine, even about our Lady. That comment made me emotionally sick throughout the rest of the day because of the fact that we have such an ignorant lecturer teaching us, basing his lecturing on his bias towards the Catholic Church. I cannot comment back to this person during the lecture when he's 'on a roll' - it's pointless! The last time someone did speak his mind he failed that student in his work which led him to drop out. No joke!!

How do you deal with such comments? Is there some advice you can give me when i get faced again with bombardments of this kind, particularly those towards "Church against theatre" ones? Is there a book you can recommend me that isn't so biased towards the Church to theatre as most of the modern world?

Thanks for your patience and God bless.

Kevin O'Brien said...

The best defense is to educate yourself. The education you're being fed does not sound like much of an education, so take some steps on your own. It's never been easier, technologically speaking.

I can't recommend any one particular book, but if you read online and check out from the library sources on the history of theater, you'll find that the theater from Roman times on has done plenty to raise red flags of concern in the Church. So there is a Catholic tradition of suspicion regarding the theater and actors - for good reason.

But it's the Puritans who ran with that, closed the theaters in England, and remain enemies of good dramatic art to this day (and there are plenty of Puritans even in the Catholic Church). You see, most people aren't agruing with the Church, but with (in Chesterton's phrase) their "fundamentalist maiden aunts".

And the drama grew out of religious activities in ancient times and English drama came directly out of the Catholic liturgy. Without the Catholic Church, there would have been no flowering of drama in England.

My point is that if you educate yourself, you can correct the misinformation your teachers are spewing. Do so charitably, and don't be afraid of them failing you. If they do, it's just a kind of martydom for Christ.

But chances are they won't. Even agenda-driven teachers are typically impressed by students who work hard and can point to evidence. If you attempt to correct your instructors, you might try suggesting to them an extra credit project you'll embark on to investigate this issue. Let them know that your goal is good scholarship and the truth - for the truth will set us all free.

Your teachers might become wary of you, but if your research and scholarship are good enough, and if you approach them with charity (remember, they are simply confused and have probably never met a Christian who modeled Christ for them), and if you enjoy the adventure of finding out what the Church has really done vis a vis the theater (warts and all), then they'll probably admire your pluck and encourage your learning - even if it contradicts their own prejudices. Even most bad teachers will go that far.

Good luck! Let me know how things turn out.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your speedy reply; i will take this advice as a mission to build my knowledge on faith and theatre. I just leave it in God's hands as to when and how i can reach to others the truth of this matter. If i ever end up in a face-to-face debate on such a subject - even if it's to a classmate alone or in a group - i'll let you know how i went, even if the opposing side wins. Cos truth be told i was and am never good at defending a point, partly cos i don't how to do so and partly cos words fail me, as in the needed information and argument ends up coming to me 2 hours or a day later :-/ But i suppose such saints and people in the Bible that God chose fell under "the unqualified". I'm not placing myself up-top as being 'special' or anything, i'm just remembering that character you played as that Italian blessed Barberi, that God chooses the most unusual of characters to reach out to people. Please correct me if i'm wrong or if i'm misinterpreting.

One thing got me curious from your reply though - the part where you said there are Catholics who are Puritanical in character. In what way are such Catholics 'puritans'? Do you recognise them also amongst theatre goers?