Sunday, November 02, 2003

The Sunday Times

Two articles of interest turned up in The L.A. Times today. The first was in the Travel section and relates the author's tour of sites related to the Gunpowder Plot and its participants. It's worth a look for anyone with an interest in the English recusants of the period. There are some nice pictures, too. A shame they couldn't make them a bit bigger as they did in the print edition.

The second article I can't cite here as it'll cost me (and you) $4.95 to look at it on line. The article is in the book review section and is a review by Robert Giroux of Michael Wood's new book, "Shakespeare". Giroux - unlike the reviewer in the Amazon link just cited - concentrates on the discussion of Shakespeare's Catholicism and an exigesis of his very difficult poem, "The Phoenix and the Turtle".

The most important news concerns the "secret" life of John Shakespeare, our poet's father, who was long regarded as either a jolly farmer or an uneducated butcher. Wood establishes that in 1564, when William was born, John was a well-to-do citizen of Stratford - the town bailiff (equal to mayor), as well as a glove maker, wool dealer, real estate investor and money-lender. A contemporary Stratford doucment lists John as a "gentleman", but by the late 1570's he was in deep financial trouble, owing to the family's Catholicism. He was no longer dealing in the town's affairs and had stoped attending church, ostensibly to avoid arrest for his debs. John was a recusant: He had refused to give up his religion or to fake it by attending Protestant services at least once a year, as required by Queen Elizabeth's new law. When he was bailiff, John had been ordered to whitewash the church murals of ancient saints and symbols, and when he did nothing about it for a year, his troubles began. He wife, the former Mary Arden, was also a recusant; so were her well-born relatives, including Edward Arden, head of the family, whose estate, Park Hall, was a "safe house" for recalcitrant Catholics.

Threads of Catholicism run through all of Shakespeare's life. A subsequent list of recusants in 1606 lists "Susannah Shakespeere", William's daughter among those still loyal to the Catholic Church. William was cousin to St. Robert Southwell, the Jesuit martyr and Southwell appears to have dedicated a poem to his cousin, "W.S." William's patron, the Earl of Southampton was a Catholic.

Wood's most fascinating find, according to Giroux, is his publication of the explication of the meaning of "The Phoenix and the Turtle" done by Professors John Finnis and Patrick Martin. Their view is that the poem concerns the love story of the recusant couple, Anne and Roger Line. Roger died in exile and Anne was martyred for the faith and is now Saint Anne Line.

Wood's book is now the latest addition to my ever-growing want list.

The last bit of news comes from a 17th century Protestant clergyman, the Rev. Richard Davies, who wrote: "William Shakespeare dyed a papist." As Michael Wood puts it, "Davies had no reason to lie, and plenty of reasons to know."