Texan at Heart

Texan at Heart

Amanda Witt writes that she is homesick for Texas. Me too. Especially after watching this fun travelogue she posted:

Though, truth be told, I think I’d rather wait till it cools down a mite before we go for a visit. I do prefer summer in New England.



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  • I read Asquith’s book and blogged about it here. I agree that it was interesting; but not persuasive. I found the case for Shakespeare’s Catholicism in Steven Greenblatt’s book Will in the World more persuasive (I blogged about it here) mainly because Greenblatt didn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak. He didn’t seem to care personally whether Shakespeare was Catholic or not and so presented the evidence dispassionately. As I recall, he believes that there is not enough solid evidence to be certain one way or another and yet does give the theory a fair hearing.

    There’s another book on the subject that I’m interested in checking out, Shakespeare the Papist by Peter Milward; but I don’t know much about it.


  • Now you see, I read an article on the subject that was very convincing.  It was very rooted in Shakespeare’s works, not just biographical stuff.  The historical circumstances also make it probable, I thought.  I can’t remember the title, of course!!  I remember a detailed discussion about The Merchant of Venice and the Triduum. 

    I look forward to Pearce’s book, but as I was already familiar with the idea, and find Pearce’s scholarship a little unscholarly (his work on Tolkien fell short of my expectations), I’m not as excited as I think I might be otherwise.  I have a friend who is a convert to Catholicism and has worked EXTENSIVELY with Shakespeare and early Modern lit in general, and I keep wanting to discuss the theory with her.  I saw an interview with Pearce and he did a kind of, “Scholars aren’t interested in Shakespeare being Catholic.”  Well, no.  They’re too busy trying to make him gay.  The religious angle isn’t as important (and might undermine some other theories!).  At any rate, I don’t expect this book to break the theory into mainstream Shakespeare scholarship, sadly.  Because I think it would be good to address in any given Shakespeare course (not necessarily at a Catholic U), not just relegated to a cooky theory that some Catholics cooked up and you can only write a paper about if you’re not afraid of having your prof roll his/her eyes.  The popular nature of Pearce’s books is, unfortunately, a drawback there.  I not only want it to be true, I want it to be true and enter in a meaningful way into scholarly discourse!

  • Thanks for the link! I wrote the story about Professor Pearce’s new book, and he makes the case very well. 

    Claire Asquith’s “Shadowplays” was another recent book on the subject, but it relied on an elaborate theory of “coding”. This made for interesting reading, but it didn’t prove much and was easy to dismiss.

    Pearce, on the other hand, simply builds a strong case based on evidence, and leaves the Catholic interpretation of the actual works of Shakespeare for a later book. This was was smart, since it puts the objective evidence first, and makes the subjective material of literary criticism a separate issue.

  • The surprising thing about Greenblatt’s book was that it WAS so even-handed. As founder of one of the trendier schools of criticisms (new historicism) and editor of the Norton Shakespeare, he’s done a lot to stoke some of the more absurd distortions of modern Shakespeare criticism, such as “otherness”, fetishism, and queer theory. I didn’t expect Will in the World to be as good as it was.

    I’m very fond of Michael Wood’s documentary In Search of Shakespeare and his book Shakespeare, both of which press the Catholic case quite well, again from a the perspective of a committed secularist.

    Peter Ackroyd’s book is also full of wonderful detail, although his determination to use Shakespeare as some kind of mirror of his own secular ideology is wearisome and anachronistic: “Shakespeare doesn’t believe in all this God stuff because he was smart and ahead of his time.”

    On the DVD for the new Merchant of Venice (which was much better than I expected), Jeremy Irons has a great response to the idea that he’s playing Antonio as “gay” in the movie. He rejects this, and says such categories simply didn’t apply at the time. Men had passionate relationships with other men that were not “gay”. The relationships between the sexes were very different.  In our time, affection between men is limited to a slap on the back or going out for beers, but men used to share a more profound kind of platonic love that moderns mistake for homosexuality. I was kind of surprised to find Irons making this case, since some of his most famous roles were gay men.

  • Have you read Robert Miola’s review of the Pearce book? (It’s in the Aug/Sept First Things) He’s quite scathing—one of his primary criticisms is that Pearce bases his case on a “patchwork of other people’s work.”  Basically, he says, the book is simply poor research.

    Miola ends with a cautionary aphorism: “Dante was a Catholic; Milton was a Protestant; Shakespeare was a dramatist.”

    You’ll have to let us know what you think after you read it!

  • Oh no! Another book for my “to read soon” list. That list is getting way too long. wink  I read Asquith’s book and found it intriguing, but not persuasive, perhaps because of the very problem Mr. McDonald points out.

    Since I want Shakespeare’s Catholicism to be true, I am trying to be very careful of blind acceptance of the theory.

    Pearce’s new book sounds like just the sort of thing I’d like to read on the subject. To borrow Pearce’s metaphor, perhaps, as often happens when our family puts a jigsaw puzzle on the table to work on together, Pearce will be the one to come in after everyone else has been working awhile and put the crucial missing pieces in place.

    Thanks for the link, Melanie.

  • I haven’t read Miola’s review of Pearce, but I’d read something by him previously in which he basically dismissed the spiritual testament of John Shakespeare and some other evidence, and seemed unimpressed with the work of Peter Milward.

    Pearce’s book is based completely on secondary sources, and he makes no other claim. It’s basically an organized assembly of all the extant data in order to make the case, without the speculative flights of fancy of some other writers. (Even Greenblatt has an extended—and improbable—fantasy of a meeting between Campion and Shakespeare, and Greenblatt is a major figure in mainstream Shakespeare studies.)

    There’s no question from his style and approach that Pearce is doing a kind of “apologetics”. He’s presenting the evidence as it stands and making a case. It’s a very Chestertonian approach.