Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shakespeare, Bacon, and Religion - 1

Opinions, attitudes and interests of Shake-Speare and Bacon.



 Inevitably, Protestants and Catholics have each claimed Shake-Speare for their faith. But Shake-Speare himself offers only limited evidence on this question.

Of a number of clues which the Catholics have detected in his work, the three main ones are perhaps: (a) Shake-Speare displays, they argue, more sympathy for his Catholic priests, such as Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet and Abbess Emilia in The Comedy of Errors than for his Protestant clergy such as Sir Oliver Martext in As You Like It and Sir Nathaniel in Love's Labour's Lost. But there is no difficulty in regarding his treatment of clerics as dictated by the demands of his plots; also, the helpful friar was a convention of folktale; (b) Shake-Speare's King John was closely based on an earlier anonymous play, The Troublesome Reign of John King of England. That play was strongly anti-Catholic but Shake-Speare deleted most (though not quite all) of the bias. This however may be evidence of nothing more than religious tolerance; (c) Hamlet is claimed to contain strong expressions of Catholic feeling. I am not qualified to judge of this, but in any event Denmark was a Catholic country.

For the Anglicans, Rowse, op.cit, p. 43, argues that "We learn that to him there were only two sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion [not the Catholic 7] ... not a trace of Catholic teaching...nor had he any knowledge of the Vulgate [the Catholic Bible in Latin]". One may add that the porter scene in Macbeth 2.3.8-11, jeers at Jesuit "equivocators". However, these lines which are an obvious reference to the trial of Father Garnet for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, may be an interpolation. Besides, many Catholics even may have abhorred the traitors.

Probably Shake-Speare was Anglican. But the absence of any strong denomination posture in his work argues for religious tolerance in general.

  Bacon was an orthodox but tolerant member of the Church of England, Anglican but not puritan. About 1590 he drafted a letter to a Secretary of France on the Queen's religious policy. In it he wrote of her Majesty "not liking to make windows into men's hearts and secret thoughts, except the abundance of them did overflow into overt and express acts and affirmations". This was always his own view (see his Essay on Unity in Religion). People should be allowed to worship privately as they pleased, provided they did not engage in open disaffection against the State. He had Catholic friends such as Tobie Mathew and the Earl of Southampton.

Will Shakspere of Stratford:
  He was baptised, married and buried in the Anglican Church. So probably he was Anglican.

Since Bacon, Shake-Speare, and Will Shakspere probably shared the same religion, the point is neutral for purposes of the Authorship question, except that Bacon and Shake-Speare can be shown to have been tolerant. But the next post takes the matter further.

continued on the next post.

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