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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Investigating Shakespeare's Hidden Catholicism
Shakespeare: Secretly Catholic.
Shakespeare's early comedies take a resolutely lighthearted view of the sectarian struggle, portraying an optimistically happy outcome; the plays and poems of the mid-1590s reflect the increasing persecution, but recommend patience rather than rebellion, repeatedly staging the ideal Catholic scenario of a successful rescue attempt from abroad.

After the death of his first patron, the dissident Lord Strange, Shakespeare's hidden plays reveal the influence of the opposition party of the Earl of Essex, a magnet for Catholic as well as Puritan dissenters. This involved a change of course; rebellion was now an option.

"Hamlet" is on one level a play addressed to the influential but timorous "don't knows" of Elizabeth's England: those who loathed the Cecils but shrank from outright rebellion.

The 1601 Essex rebellion was expertly defused, and Shakespeare's remaining plays appeal for toleration directly to the monarch -- or, in the case of King James I's son, Henry, to the heir to the throne -- or else address a dispirited Catholic resistance movement, divided and weakened by pressure from without and within.

Like the resistance leaders, he now stresses inner, spiritual solutions to the Catholic dilemma rather than direct political action. He remains committed to the end. The hidden level of the finale of "The Winter's Tale" pays unmistakable homage to the Mass and to those who preserved it under persecution.

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