When I was seven, I discovered Shakespeare. Ever since his works have never been far from my reach. In my seventh year I was given sets of LP records with some of the greatest actors in the world reading the plays. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, but I was enthralled. I was driven to a dictionary, and to the texts of the plays in print. Slowly but surely, it all started to make sense. The language provided endless treasure hunts. I was ensorcled.
We’ve even observed “Talk Like Shakespeare Day” here (skipped this year for obvious reasons).
I am convinced that Shakespeare was Catholic and that he put all sorts of Catholic content in his works.
This is the subject of some books (which you readers have sent me from my wish list), such as Clare Asquith’s engaging but uneven book Shadowplay Joseph Pearce’s critic-provoking The Quest for Shakespeare and Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: seeing the Catholic presence in the plays. And it is has been advanced that he studied for the priesthood, in Rome.
Today I saw this in The Telegraph:
William Shakespeare was probably a Catholic, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who discussed spirituality and secularism in the Bard’s plays with the actor Simon Russell Beale. [Beale, by the by, is the fellow who narrated that great BBC 4 series on Sacred Music. It's on DVD.]
Little is known of Shakespeare’s life and there is no direct evidence of his religious affiliation, but Dr Rowan Williams said he believed him to be a Catholic. “I don’t think it tells us a great deal, to settle whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant, but for what it’s worth I think he probably had a Catholic background and a lot of Catholic friends and associates. [With due respect to Dr. Rowan's erudition, I do think it makes a difference. We may read his plays differently.]
“How much he believed in it, or what he did about it, I don’t quite know. He wasn’t a very nice man in many ways – it’s always very shocking, that. The late Shakespeare was hoarding grain and buying up property in Stratford – it was not terribly attractive.”
However, he went on: “The extent to which I want to call him a Christian is not [an attempt] to kidnap him for the tribal trophy wall, but a) because everybody at that time was some sort of Christian, and b) there are things in his plays you can’t understand without understanding the notions of forgiveness and free grace.
“He wrestled with human questions and he ends up saying there is a great deal more to all this than some might think. That mysteriousness is part of what the plays are about. That seems impossible without something of the sacred.” [Do you suppose this is brought up in public schools when Shakespeare is read. No... wait... is any Shakespeare read any more in public schools?]
Asked which Shakespearean character he found most compelling, Dr Williams chose Macbeth, but quickly added: “That’s not to say I identify with him, because you don’t really want a serial killer as the Archbishop of Canterbury.”