Shakespeare 400 ii
Meditation and Reflection

Wise unto salvation: the Christ in Shakespeare

 

William Shakespeare died 400 years ago today, on St George’s Day, at the age of 52, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. His was the greatest English mind ever to have existed. Sir Henry Irving observed: “The thought of such a man is an incomparable inheritance for any nation.” And truly, it is impossible to calculate the depth and breadth of influence his writings have exercised upon the nations and peoples of the whole world. “He was,” as Ben Johnson wrote, “not of an Age, but for all time!”

To ascribe to his mind any single political philosophy is to bind infinite space in a nutshell. He is conservative and liberal, Protestant and Roman Catholic, black and white, male and female, gay and straight… He is the reflection of the whole of humanity, because every human passion, thought and feeling courses through his words. And those words of plays, sonnets and poems are steeped in the Word of God: the mind of Shakespeare was permeated with divine truth. He knew the deep corruption of our fallen nature, and the desperate wickedness of the heart of man. His confession comes from the lips of Hamlet:

I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.

He sets forth the scheme of our redemption: he was wise unto salvation; garlanded with liturgies, framed with rites, inspired by the solemn ceremonials of his day.

The name of Shakespeare is the greatest in our literature. He was the glory of his Age, and is the glory of the present Age. “The greatest student of man, and the greatest master of man’s highest gift – of language,” wrote Irving. “Surely it is treason to humanity to speak of such a one as in any sense a common place being.” His genius was colossal, raising him indeed above the commonality; and yet he is nearer to all of us, seeking the light of life and the way of truth, just like any other. If Milton sings of him: “With laurel crown’d, which never fades”; and Wordsworth: “Scorn not the sonnet… with this key / Shakespeare unlock’d his heart”; and if King David could witness that the love of Jonathan for him was “wonderful, passing the love of women”, surely our National Poet might confess that ‘the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge‘ claimed all of him in return.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak‘ (Mt 26:41). The depths of carnality are explored in Measure For Measure:

Duke: ..for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touch’d
But to fine issues..

Angelo: ‘Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
Another thing to fall…

Escalus: Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall…

Isabella: ..but man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep

There is more, much more, of course. The sublimity, pathos, imagination, wit and humour are incomparable. The theology of the intellect is set forth in dramatic psalms. The clay into which God breathed the life of man becomes the paste and cover of deposed kings. The dust which smeared Job infuses our vanity and conceit. ‘But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven‘ (Mt 19:14). And in the contemplation of King Richard II:

King Richard: ..The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine, are intermix’d
With scruples and do set the word itself
Against the word:
As thus, ‘Come, little ones,’ and then again,
‘It is as hard to come as for a camel
To thread the postern of a small needle’s eye.’
Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot
Unlikely wonders; how these vain weak nails
May tear a passage through the flinty ribs
Of this hard world, my ragged prison walls,
And, for they cannot, die in their own pride.

Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus… And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre‘ (Mk 15:43-7). We find the reverberations in King Henry IV Pt.I:

King Henry IV: ..Therefore, friends,
As far as to the sepulchre of Christ,
Whose soldier now, under whose blessed cross
We are impressed and engaged to fight,
Forthwith a power of English shall we levy;
Whose arms were moulded in their mothers’ womb
To chase these pagans in those holy fields
Over whose acres walk’d those blessed feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail’d
For our advantage on the bitter cross.

Through every exploration of political freedom is woven the liberty of the soul. The concessions and compromises of Shakespeare’s court are illuminated and exposed by the moral feelings and spiritual reformation of his church. Shakespeare is imbued with Christ because his drama is an ecclesiastical movement of human character in its living play. “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will.” It works efficiently, but secretly. It may be disorganised, but it is never denaturalised. The power and virtue which can achieve wonders is simply the beautiful soul of man. From the raptures of joy to the racks of pain, there is no smile or anguish he has not felt or imagined. If we recognise in a moral order of the world a divine presence, then divine presence is never absent from Shakespeare’s world. He is a glorious resurrection and a noble life.

He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.

  • Royinsouthwest

    His was the greatest English mind ever to have existed.

    While unwilling to deny Shakespeare’s genius I think the above claim is debatable. I would say that the phrase fits Isaac Newton better. However it is difficult to compare people who worked in completely different fields.

    • chiefofsinners

      Newton understood and described the works of God through mathematics which few understand. But Shakespeare understood the works of God, of Satan and of man, describing their interactions in ways which are accessible to all, uplifting and healing.

    • No doubt he was a great literary mind and very observant, but how was he at engineering or science?

  • Dreadnaught

    When Shakespeare wrote all his plays
    way back in the old golden days
    while the Merchant of Venice
    was out playing tennis
    he’d sneak into his house and get laid

    Now Ms Shylock was such a bad girl
    always up for an amorous twirl
    with her husband away
    she said bugger your play
    I’m horny now don’t be a churl

    Will dropped both his quill and his ink
    trying desperately hard not to think,
    rhyming doublet with couplet
    while good at the outset
    wouldn’t sound well in tights shocking pink

    But her wickedness won her the day
    and with Willy she did have her way
    when Shylock returned
    he’d been thoroughly spurned
    at home, and in court and a play.

    (Dread the unread) 2016

    • dannybhoy

      Thou wert up all night by candle’s soft light
      working on that piece of prose.
      Whether twas truly worth thine effort.
      Heav’n above only knows….

      • Dreadnaught

        Boom Boom!

        • dannybhoy

          :0)

    • chiefofsinners

      I say, Dredders, it’s a tad fruity! Remember that the fragrant Mrs Proudie is once again amongst us. I also have it on good authority that Busty Mum is of the female persuasion. We must have regard for their delicacy and refinement, and restrain our ejaculations.

      • Dreadnaught

        Speak for yourself you Bounder!

  • David

    This is a most interesting article which sets up a claim which will no doubt echo down the ages, namely “His was the greatest English mind ever to have existed”. Whether this is true or not is very debatable. I incline to the opinion that in the field of literature the claim is almost undoubtedly true. But if it is true in that one field, it still does not prove the claim, overall. For was not Elizabeth the First the greatest political mind, or that great scientist Newton the greatest scientific one ? And what of the mind of that great wartime leader Winston Churchill ? Or are we too close historically to Churchill to be make a balanced judgement ? But certainly we have been given a most excellent debating topic.
    This article is so much better than the last comment I heard from an archbishop of Canterbury, in relation to good old Will Shakespeare. It was so very silly and prejudiced. Our previous bearded one, said something like, “he wasn’t all that nice a man”, citing as evidence that he invested his profits in property in his home town Stratford – presumably as a financial support for his old age, which unfortunately he never reached. I thought to myself, that, in a pre-industrial age, what else does a successful playwright do with profits, as an investment ? After all the claim wasn’t that he was a greedy or rapacious landlord, or never gave to charity ! But perhaps, all financial investments are anathema to many of the present senior C of E clerics. To me that comment typified the strange, blinkered, left-wing world inhabited by many of the C of Es higher clergy, which is a thousand miles away from the reality of life. This makes it all the more difficult for them to reach out to a spiritually needy nation. After that very clumsy criticism, I understood more convincingly why it was necessary to write Article Thirty Eight of the Thirty Nine Articles, entitled, “Of Christian men’s Goods which are not in common”. At least Archbishop Welby understands the commercial world decidedly better. So let us be grateful for that about Archbishop Welby, as well as our ethereal archbishop, Archbishop Cranmer, of this blog.

    • Alison Bailey Castellina

      William Shakespeare invested for himself and his family in Stratford because he knew the dark heart of man. His royal fellow servant in the Royal Bedhamber to King James and Queen Anne, linguist Giovanni (John) Florio, born in Soglio, Switzerland, not in solid Warwickshire, trusted Scottish monarch James 1 but James would not pay Florio’s royal pension. As a result, aged Florio died a pauper, in his Will begging the Earl of Pembroke to care for his beloved widow. We don’t know if James failed to pay Shakespeare’s pension too, but we know that Florio was thrown in a common grave under what is now Hurlingham Club. Canny Will was safely buried in his parish church. Queen Elizabeth was true to her servants and paid their pensions – which says a lot about her. Was this why The Bard wrote “Men were deceivers ever…the fraud of men etc.”?

      • David

        In interesting comment, drawing upon an in-depth knowledge of the Bard and his period. It also presents as a very good riposte to the silly comments of our previous Archbishop.

  • Uncle Brian

    Did Shakespeare predict blogging?

    King Henry VIII … Stand up, good Canterbury:
    Thy truth and thy integrity is rooted
    In us, thy friend: give me thy hand, stand up:
    Prithee, let’s walk. Now, by my holidame.
    What manner of man are you? …

    Cranmer Most dread liege,
    The good I stand on is my truth and honesty:
    If they shall fail, I, with mine enemies,
    Will triumph o’er my person; which I weigh not,
    Being of those virtues vacant. I fear nothing
    What can be said against me.

    http://shakespeare.mit.edu/henryviii/henryviii.5.1.html

  • chiefofsinners

    News just in…

    David Cameron and Barack Obama have discovered an original Shakespeare manuscript of Richard II which reads:

    This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
    This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
    This other Eden, demi-paradise,
    This fortress built by Nature for herself
    Against infection and the hand of war,
    This happy breed of men, this little world,
    This precious stone set in the silver sea,
    Which serves it in the office of a wall
    Or as a moat defensive to a house,
    Against the envy of less happier lands,
    This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Europe.

    • dannybhoy

      Attributed by transatlantic experts to Barack O’Bacon…..

      • chiefofsinners

        but actually the work of the Camer chameleon.

    • dannybhoy

      Truly stirring stuff though.
      “And you, good yeoman,

      Whose limbs were made in England, show us here

      The mettle of your pasture; let us swear

      That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;

      For there is none of you so mean and base,

      That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

      I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

      Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:

      Follow your spirit, and upon this charge

      Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

      (newsflash: “Soldiers will be put at risk on the battlefield if the Ministry of Defence is held liable for deaths during training, a former head of the army in Afghanistan has warned.
      Defence chiefs risk facing corporate manslaughter prosecutions for training fatalities after a committee of MPs called for a long-standing protection to be removed.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/24/corporate-manslaughter-threat-to-mod-could-cost-more-lives-forme/

  • carl jacobs

    That whole Taming of the Shrew thing. Women could learn a lot from that.

    • Ivan M

      The usual way to tame a shree is to be handy with a tool. Though it gets harder with age.

      • dannybhoy

        A shree??

        • Ivan M

          A banshree shrew

      • carl jacobs

        The Spirit of Jack is upon this weblog.

        • Ivan M

          May it also descend on Bubba Clinton. If he does his duty as an American, he will save us from Armageddon.

  • We all like an anniversary and the events that give rise to them. Personally, I am deeply suspicious of most of them, especially of anniversaries that span several centuries. Most present conflicting and unverifiable claims and can be safely jettisoned by lovers of truth and consistency. Some would-be anniversarians conveniently forget the discrepancies that exist between the Julian and Gregorian kalendars, the which only increase as the years go by. Why then do we assume that people die on precise dates? Shakespeare died on the same date as Cervantes, but not on the same day! Is it Shakespeare’s four hundredth anniversary? Probably not but who cares?

  • The Explorer

    A couple of weeks ago, ‘The Big Questions’ featured the topic ‘Is there more truth in Shakespeare than the Bible?’

    It seemed to me a terrible question: even for a programme that specialises in fuzzy concepts. ‘Macbeth’ is historically inaccurate, and psychologically spot on. True or untrue then? And in the history plays, facts are adapted to fit the performance timescale and the temper of the powerful among the audience.

    The Shakespeare experts went off on a tack of their own to make discussion meaningful. Being less conversant with the Bible than with Shakespeare, they came up with proposition that Shakespeare’s characters are well rounded, but the Bible’s are one-dimensional. That’s because the Bible’s main purpose is to tell you what to do. Judas, maybe, had a bit of interest.

    One-dimensional. Christ? Peter? Mary Magdalene? Job? Esther? Ruth? Isaiah? Ezekiel? Daniel?

    • CliveM

      What did the bible experts say, or were there none?

      • The Explorer

        Good question. The Bible experts knew more about Shakespeare than their counterparts did about the Bible. Basically, it was two against two (although the director of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company and Nicky Campbell on the Shakespeare side made it four against two), but the Bible experts were not clear what they were supposed to be discussing. (Neither were the others, but it didn’t stop them.)

        A Shakespeare expert said that because he had Shakespeare he didn’t need the Bible, and a Bible expert pointed out that Shakespeare relied on the Bible for his value system.

        It would only have worked as a discussion if you were comparing two bodies of literature. From a BBC perspective, that was the case.

        • CliveM

          It’s strange isn’t it. Why this strange either or? Why set things up in opposition to each other in this artificial way. Can’t help but think that Shakespeare would be mighty confused by the whole circus.

          • Pubcrawler

            I look forward to the next in the series: ‘Is there more truth in Shakespeare than the Koran?’

          • The Explorer

            ‘Is there more truth in the Koran than the Bible?’ is a likely topic, provided the answer is “yes”.

          • Pubcrawler

            Though I have had but little exposure to that dreadful show, I reckon you’re right.

  • sarky

    As everyone has seem to have forgotten….

    Happy St George’s day ✌

    • William Lewis

      And to you and to all our English compatriots.

      • Ivan M

        Not just the English. We have St George’s Day in some churches in India today. St George is a universally recognized dragon slayer.

  • David

    If His Grace will indulge me, here’s an interesting aside from the topic offered for discussion, albeit one which is very relevant to the UK’s current political situation.

    Campaigning for GO (Grassroots Out – of the EU) this afternoon, which was market day, on the fair and sunny streets of Bury St Edmunds, our sturdy band of self-selected “Outers”, found that a good two thirds of those who were interested in the event, were of the Out persuasion. Many were passionate about their country regaining control of its own laws, trade, borders and destiny in general. I found the same pattern some six weeks ago in another Suffolk market town.

    • sarky

      As someone from your neck of the woods, I’m yet to meet a bremainer!

      • David

        A “bremainer” – that’s an interesting word.
        But I’m glad to hear that Outers are the clear majority in your circle as well.

        • sarky

          Coined by Boris last week!!

          • David

            Ahh ! Yes he’s a good wordsmith. I don’t trust Boris but he has his uses.

      • Anton

        That’s a no-brainer!

  • Anton

    The man who wrote those plays was obviously, as well as being a staggering literary genius, a nominal Christian.

    • The Explorer

      When the roof of Shakespeare’s father’s house was renovated, Catholic papers were found hidden there. Shakespeare Senior was Catholic, while Shakespeare Junior was nominally Protestant. It reflects the tension in ‘Hamlet’ between the Protestant son who has been at the university where Luther was once a professor, and the Catholic father who is in Purgatory.

      • Anton

        Anybody who was Catholic in Elizabethan England was committed deeply to Catholicism, whatever their personal commitment to Jesus Christ. The Catholic theatrical tradition that Shakespeare and his contemporaries comprehensively buried displayed an ethos utterly different from Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare wrote not a single play about the life of a saint, let alone the life of Christ (as staged in the earlier mystery plays). This is very strong evidence that the plays were not written by a Catholic.

        Many Catholics understandably wish to claim this genius as one of them. I think they would not, if they pondered the evidence that his Christian belief was of the nominal sort. There is the absence of any dramatised gospel story. There are his terrifying soliloquies about death, such as this from Measure for measure

        The weariest and most loathed worldly life
        That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
        Can lay on nature, is a paradise
        To what we fear of death

        and his description of death in Hamlet as “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns”. At his most profound and reflective, he completely forgets the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! And then there is the utter bleakness of his tragedies, with not a hint that things will be put right in heaven.

        The evidence that Shakespeare was nominal, a genius writer in an age of institutional Christianity of which the Reformation merely changed the form, is more about what he didn’t write than what he did. But I find that evidence very strong.

        • The Explorer

          Agreed. I didn’t say Shakespeare was a Catholic. I said his father was.

          • Anton

            Grand. I’m making other points, really.

          • The Explorer

            “The undiscovered country” is problematic for two reasons.
            1. The Resurrection.
            2. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father who has returned from the undiscovered country.

            The original Hamlet story is set in pagan times when revenge was a virtue: so the revenge theme sits uneasily with Christian forgiveness.

            As with nearly all Shakespeare, a story is taken from its original time and place and relocated in Elizabethan/Jacobean England. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ starts in a wood near Athens, but Bottom, Peter Quince etc are pure English yokels. A clock is mentioned in ‘Julius Caesar’.

          • Anton

            But Shakespeare portrays Hamlet’s drive for revenge as the undoing of his house. Shakespeare would have known that King Saul heeded the advice of the dead and left a trail of blood the ended in his own death; Hamlet did the same.

          • The Explorer

            C S Lewis made the point that in ‘Hamlet’ everything is questioned except revenge.

            Agree about Saul, but I think Shakespeare is probably drawing more on the Saxo Grammaticus original (itself reaching back into the heathen past). In the sagas, revenge is a matter of family honour. Look at the story of the Volsungs. The men undertake revenge as a matter of course. When there are no men left, the women avenge the men.

          • Anton

            Maybe! In Njal’s Saga, written a few centuries after Iceland had become institutionally Christian in the Catholic tradition, a family feud is going on, with two families taking it in turn to murder increasingly senior members of the other. Then there is an interlude in which the “new religion”, Christianity, is described as arriving. A discussion was convened and the chiefs decided that Christianity was a Good Thing, so – apart from a few mutterings by the old pagan priesthood – they all became Christians. Then the vendetta resumes exactly as before…

            In case anybody grumbles that this is a work of fiction, the Franks became institutionally Christian after their king Clovis won a battle following a trial prayer to Christ, during the Dark Age. A century later Bishop Gregory of Tours (d. 594AD) grumbled in his History of the Franks how hard it was to convince people that being a Christian meant a change of moral lifestyle and an end to pagan custom.

          • Ivan M

            Damned Catholic Sicilians.

          • IrishNeanderthal

            Hey no!

          • Pubcrawler

            Best to give Vespers a miss in Sicily

          • Uncle Brian

            Historically, the so-called sins of aversion—pride, envy, and anger, in that order—–were seen, both by preachers and by the laity at large, as more grievous than the sins of concupiscence (avarice, gluttony, lechery). That order of importance evidently reflected the scale of the relative danger to social cohesion. When families and clans were habitually, as a matter of course, at one another’s throats like the Montagues and Capulets, minimizing the danger of murder, feuds and vendettas was naturally uppermost in people’s minds.

          • Anton

            Vendetta as a fact of life is found in the Law of Moses too!

          • IrishNeanderthal

            Where does sloth fit in?

          • Uncle Brian

            That was something the theologians never managed to agree about. Some of them thought of sloth as ordinary laziness or indolence, lying in bed too long, being a skiver and a layabout. In that case they would count it as a fourth sin of concupiscence, seeing it as overattachment to bodily comfort alongside overattachment to wealth and material possessions, to eating and drinking, and to sex.

            More often, though, the theologians saw sloth as something else, as simply not caring enough about anything ever to get involved or take sides, as apathy or a habitual state of ennui or withdrawal. In that case it wasn’t classified either as concupiscence or as aversion. Instead, they called it “accidie” and put it in a third category by itself.

          • IanCad

            UB,
            Sloth is fine so long as one is also greedy.

          • Anton

            I can’t be bothered to tell you.

          • IrishNeanderthal

            Practically the title of this Welsh song. It has English subtitles, which if you follow them I hope you will find most amusing.

        • “Anybody who was Catholic in Elizabethan England was committed deeply to Catholicism, whatever their personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”

          How arrogant and judgemental.

          • Anton

            I did not mean it as a slight to Catholicism; that is your reading. I have consistently stated here that there are plenty of nominals among professed Catholics and professed protestants in church history.

  • len

    William Shakespeare ‘His was the greatest English mind ever to have existed’
    Far from me to say anything controversial but … I would place’ Francis Bacon ‘at least ‘level pegging.’ with the Bard.

    • sarky

      Stephen Hawking?

      • carl jacobs

        Edmund Burke

        • Anton

          He’s “Anglo-Irish”.

          • carl jacobs

            English. British. Same difference.

            He said to antagonize Clive…
            😉

          • Dreadnaught

            Quite right; without the English, Britain would be stuffed.

          • IrishNeanderthal

            Michael Flanders to an American audience (roughly remembered):

            Don’t keep on putting down the English. If it wasn’t for us, you’d all be Spanish!

          • IanCad

            More truth than poetry in that.
            However, a worse fate befell them; sixty percent are of German extraction.

          • Dreadnaught

            So is the Royal Family.

          • IanCad

            Oh Dear! Saxe – Coburg – Gotha. I forgot about that.

      • Anton

        Polls have been taken and among physicists he is not in the 20th century’s top 5, at least. He’s world class but beyond that it’s media hype.

    • chiefofsinners

      No surprise to find Cranmer propping up the Bard.

  • IanCad

    “The Christ In Shakespeare”

    And that exactly was the theme of this morning’s excellent Sunday Worship on Radio4.

    Broadcast from Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0783m49

    The anniversary prompted me to watch an old version of The Merchant of Venice. Olivier, Brett, Plowright. Divided into ten minute segments, it was perfect for my limited attention span:

  • The Explorer

    Milton’s Satan says, “Evil, be thou my good”. There is no reason to think that this was Milton’s own principle, just because one of his characters says it.

    Likewise, when Edmund says, “Thou, Nature, art my goddess,” we need not believe that this was Shakespeare’s own conviction.

    However, when Hamlet says,

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    I would like to think that he speaks for Shakespeare too.

  • The Explorer

    Edmund Gosse’s semi-autobiographical ‘Father and Son’, depicts membership of an extreme Protestant sect. One of the sect objects to national celebrations of Shakespeare’s birthday on the grounds that Shakespeare is a damned soul burning in Hell.

    Gosse Senior is troubled by this. We cannot be certain that Shakespeare is in Hell since he might, for all we know, have repented in simple faith.

    As I recall, it is not clear why exactly Shakespeare is thought to be in Hell. It might be for creating fiction (in which case all writers are in Hell for peddling lies), but I suspect it’s for girls dressing as boys which is forbidden in ‘Deuteronomy’. (That the original ‘girls’ were actually boy actors pretending to be girls would have made it even worse.)

    • Aran’Gar

      Interesting.
      That is a fascinating question, I know actors were looked down upon, and I believe they needed noble patronage to operate legally, but what was the law regarding the cross dressing in plays?

      It was illegal to have girls on stage, but I would think that the law would also have frowned on transvestitism in general at that time.

      • The Explorer

        I think there are three issues.

        1. Within the plays men don’t dress as women, but girls do dress as men. The motive is to protect themselves from rape (Viola) or gain a hearing (Portia disguised as male lawyer) and since these are good reasons they are allowable as preferable to the alternatives.

        2. Boy actors playing girls would have been part of the larger issue of the Theatre as a whole presenting lies (fiction). Hence the great ambivalence towards the Theatre, and its banning under the Puritans.

        3. The best case for fiction is that given by Sidney in ‘The Defence of Poesy’ in the distinction he draws between history and ‘poetry’. History is about what happened, but literature is about what happens. If literature presents a recognisable human situation, then that is the form of truth on which we should focus.

    • IrishNeanderthal

      His father, Philip Gosse, wrote a book Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot

      written in 1857 (two years before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species), in which he argues that the fossil record is not evidence of evolution, but rather that it is an act of creation inevitably made so that the world would appear to be older than it is. The reasoning parallels the reasoning that Gosse chose to explain why Adam (who would have had no mother) had a navel: Though Adam would have had no need of a navel, God gave him one anyway to give him the appearance of having a human ancestry. Thus, the name of the book, Omphalos, which means ‘navel’ in Greek.
      . . .
      Darwin is mentioned several times within the book, but always with considerable respect.

      Regarding strict Protestant sects, here is an extract from a biography of Michael Faraday:

      In one instance, he found it appropriate to accept the Queen’s invitation for lunch on a Sunday which meant skipping the Sunday prayer. But the other fellow church members found it inappropriate and debarred him from church membership for a short period. However, Michael did not raise any objection and not only continued attending Church preachings regularly but also maintained cordial relations with all those who had hurt him.

      • The Explorer

        At least two biographers of the Gosses have pointed out that Gosse Junior exaggerated for poetic effect. The actual Gosse household was a great deal more loving and genial than the novel suggests.

      • Anton

        Faraday was a fine man and a great scientist.

  • Anton

    At the very least, somebody gave Shakespeare of (ie, from) Stratford a lot of information about court etiquette and foreign ways, information running far beyond what he might have learnt from his education and life. At the most, somebody else wrote the plays (and sonnets), and it suited both that person and William Shakespeare for them to be directed by and attributed to the latter.

    Two questions arise: how much of the actual writing is due to Shakespeare of Stratford and how much to his source of information; and who was the latter? I am deliberately emphasising the first question to try to go beyond the usual “Shakespeare of Stratford OR so-and-so” discussions. I believe it is as absurd to say that he picked up that knowledge himself as it is to say that someone else wrote the lot. I am convinced that someone else needs identifying, however much or little they did the writing.

    The two questions became intertangled because for a long time the people who are convinced that Shakespeare of Stratford had no help were easily able to knock down all of the proposed alternatives, such as Marlowe, Bacon and Wriothesley. Not so with Henry Neville; I believe he is the other. The question remains, How significant an other? That I don’t know.

    • sarky

      Does it really matter?

      • Anton

        If you don’t think the identity of the author of those amazing plays is an interesting matter, you don’t have to worry about it.

    • Royinsouthwest

      It is not unusual for contemporary writers of fiction to consult experts on particular subjects. That does not mean that those experts are the true authors of the novels. Why shouldn’t Shakespeare have picked the brains of experts on “court etiquette and foreign ways” when necessary?

      • Anton

        Here’s where my two questions intertwine, because there is a lot going for Henry Neville. I don’t trust the partisans on either side of that debate, but they all know more than me, so I’m simply raising the matter.

    • Findaráto

      Shakespeare had intimate knowledge of how the court worked because he benefited from both royal and noble patronage. His works were performed at court.

      It is quite wrong to think that the Tudor court was the exclusive preserve of the nobility. Commoners could and often did rise to prominence and were certainly the mainstay of the service positions. Queen Elizabeth I’s ladies of the chamber were noble born, of course. But the people who did the grunt work were not, and even the most humble page of the back stairs had ample opportunity to listen and learn. How much more so a feted playwright?

      • Anton

        Point taken, but please see my reply to Roy.

        • Findaráto

          There is no reason why the scion of a noble house would hide literary talent behind a commoner front man.

          There was a very respectable precedent for any nobleman wanting to carve himself out a literary career: the French poet Brantôme. And in Italy and Spain, a far less socially fluid society than Tudor England, the sons of middle class tradesmen and lawyers had no trouble rising to literary prominence. Or do you also claim that Petrarch, Dante Alighieri, Bocaccio and Cervantes were front men for reticent nobles?

          Of course you won’t have considered these European examples because they’re … European, and therefore inadmissible as evidence in the English court of opinion. Shakespeare was English so he must have been different to all of those foreigners. Ah the blinkered xenophobia of the Brexit campaign!

          • The Explorer

            Don’t forget that Shakespeare was given the treatment by the Higher Criticism in trying to decide who he was and what he/she/they wrote.

          • Findaráto

            What qualifies literary critics to make their judgments? Like all the various “experts” who plague modern society and require us to have an almost religious faith in what they say, literary critics are really only delivering an opinion dressed up as expertise.

            There are so many independent witness statements attesting to Shakespeare’s existence that we can’t really doubt that he lived and wrote. But we have no definitive proof that he wrote all of the works that bear his name. The thesis that he was a front man for someone else however is clearly based on erroneous assumptions about how Tudor society worked.

            That it was possible for a tradesman’s son from the shires to rise to prominence in the arts during the reign of Elizabeth I has, I think, been pretty conclusively proven. Just because it could happen, doesn’t mean it did. But in Shakespeare’s case it’s the best and simplest explanation. So I shall continue to assume that he did exist and did write his plays until some definitive evidence proves he did not.

          • The Explorer

            I quite agree with you about the social fluidity of the time. And not just in the Arts. Look at Wolsey: a butcher’s son from Ipswich.

            Regarding the opinion of literary critics, the Higher Criticism had its apogee in the Nineteenth Century, and modern social-justice-warrior criticism is only concerned with race/class/gender issues.

            As for what qualifies literary critics to make their judgements, there are two separate issues in this instance. A judgement about the value of a work is a matter of aesthetics, but a judgment about the identity of an author is historical detective work: and subject to the same criteria of method as other branches of history.

          • Findaráto

            The historical detective work you’re talking about rests on a base of extremely doubtful data and should therefore be approached with extreme caution.

            Look at the Christian synoptic problem. After centuries of claim and counterclaim, there’s still no consensus about which came first or whether they drew on an earlier Q document. The data, such as it is, can be twisted to support just about any viewpoint.

          • Anton

            Luke was first. Robert Lindsay showed that by comparing the three sets of minor agreements (similar passages in Matthew-Mark only, Matthew-Luke only and Mark-Luke only) against each other and against the major agreements (in all three). The Academy has, by and large, ignored his argument. Nobody has knocked it over. It does seem that there was at least one other source, but it is indeed not clear how it fits in; witness Lindsay’s successor David Bivin’s continual revision of what happened. One might call this Q (from Quelle, German), although it is rather different from the original Q hypothesis.

            Not that it matters for reasons of faith, because there are no inconsistencies.

          • Anton

            Friedrich Wolf was the Classics scholar who disputed that Homer was one man. Goethe fell for it but later published a retractation.

          • Anton

            Stop being silly. There has been no pre-existing controversy about those other great writers, and this is not about England vs the rest. I suggest you familiarise yourself with the arguments against Shakespeare’s composition of the plays (distinct from the arguments *for* anybody else, and distinct from the assumption that it was either Shakespeare or A N Other, when it might have been a collaboration). Then – and only then – look at the arguments for Neville. I have done all of that, and even then I consider myself inadequate to make a decision. I don’t mind if you consider that a personal inadequacy.