Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare, 1592-1604

Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare, 1592-1604

Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare, 1592-1604

Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare, 1592-1604

Synopsis

Texts and Traditions explores Shakespeare's thoroughgoing engagement with the religious culture of his time. In the wake of the recent resurgence of interest in Shakespeare's Catholicism, Groves eschews a reductively biographical approach and considers instead the ways in which Shakespeare's borrowing from both the visual culture of Catholicism and the linguistic wealth of the Protestant English Bible enriched his drama. Through close readings of a number of plays-- Romeo and Juliet, King John, 1 Henry IV, Henry V , and Measure for Measure --Groves unearths and explains previously unrecognized allusions to the Bible, the Church's liturgy, and to the mystery plays performed in England in Shakespeare's boyhood. Texts and Traditions provides new evidence of the way in which Shakespeare exploited his audience's cultural memory and biblical knowledge in order to enrich his ostensibly secular drama and argues that we need to unravel the interpretative possibilities of these religious nuances in order fully to grasp the implications of his plays.

Excerpt

In the late seventeenth century Richard Davies, Archdeacon of Coventry, claimed that Shakespeare had created the character of 'Justice Clodpate' in order to satirize 'Sr Lucy' who had had him whipped for poaching. Davies also stated that Shakespeare 'dyed a papist'. The Archdeacon's unreliability as a witness (his inability to distinguish between Justice Shallow and a character created by Shadwell over three-quarters of a century later) is one example of the difficulties that bedevil any attempt to prove Shakespeare's Catholicism. Nonetheless the idea has found its advocates since the Victorian period, and has recently become one of the most popular and hotly contested areas of Shakespeare studies. Peter Milward, E. A. J. Honigmann, Richard Wilson, Stephen Greenblatt, and Clare Asquith are among those who have lately suggested that Shakespeare's own beliefs underlie his trademark ambiguity of tone and the romance world of chantry chapels and wayside crosses inhabited by many of his characters.

This book, however, attempts to engage with the religious nuances in Shakespeare's plays in a less sectarian manner. Shakespeare's dramaturgy includes traces of Catholicism's visual emphasis but it also embraces the rich verbal stimulus of Protestantism's focus on the Word. This book is entitled Texts and Traditions because it argues that Shakespeare enriched his plays through appropriating both the linguistic wealth of the English Bible and the theatrical splendour of liturgy, images, and mystery plays from England's recent Catholic past. Rather than find the clue to these appropriations in his own biography, this monograph aims to articulate the way that Shakespeare's verbally sophisticated, embodied drama engaged with the religious culture in which both he and his works were embedded; a culture which, as recent historical research has suggested, assimilated rather than destroyed much of its Catholic past. This less confessional approach enables a focus which is not directed at Shakespeare's beliefs but at the interpretative possibilities that his engagement with religious culture opens up within his plays.

This work grew out of an Oxford D.Phil. and I would like to thank my supervisors Peter McCullough and Emma Smith, for their . . .

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