The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome

By Beauregard, David N. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2011 | Go to article overview

The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome


Beauregard, David N., The Catholic Historical Review


The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome. By Joseph Pearce. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2008. Pp. 216. $19.95. ISBN 978-1-586-17224-4.)

The question of Shakespeare's Catholicism has recently reinvigorated the increasingly rarefied field of Shakespeare studies. The Bard's religion is perhaps the last remaining central topic of interest to a nonspecialist audience.

In The Quest for Shakespeare Joseph Pearce sets out to "assemble the considerable body of biographical and historical evidence that points to Shakespeare's Catholicism" (p. 10). Thus what he has produced here is not a biography of Shakespeare, but a sequence of biographical and historical topics that pertain to the great dramatist's alleged Catholicism. The overall case is convincing. Against the academic skeptics who defensively call for positivistic evidence and raise objections, Pearce rightly argues from what Cardinal John Henry Newman called "converging probabilities,"1 a more sensible criterion given the nature of historical evidence about Catholics of the time. He takes us through Shakespeare's background; his family connections; his father's Catholic Spiritual Testament; his Catholic schoolmasters; the literary links with Marlowe, Greene, and Chetile; St. Robert Southwell's reference to his "cousin, Master W. S."; his purchase of the Blackfriars gatehouse; and his will. All of these elements have been explored over the course of the last century. Pearce provides nothing new, but he usefully summarizes past scholarship. Along the way he provides a good deal of historical context and interesting, if sometimes loose, speculation in a readable and lively style.

Less satisfying are the two short appendices, preludes to a second book on the evidence from the plays. …

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