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Religion Around Shakespeare

Series: Religion Around
Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Religion Around Shakespeare
    Book Description:

    For years scholars and others have been trying to out Shakespeare as an ardent Calvinist, a crypto-Catholic, a puritan-baiter, a secularist, or a devotee of some hybrid faith. In Religion Around Shakespeare, Peter Kaufman sets aside such speculation in favor of considering the historic and religious context surrounding his work. Employing extensive archival research, he aims to assist literary historians who probe the religious discourses, characters, and events that seem to have found places in Shakespeare’s plays and to aid general readers or playgoers developing an interest in the plays’ and playwright’s religious contexts: Catholic, conformist, and reformist. Kaufman argues that sermons preached around Shakespeare and conflicts that left their marks on literature, law, municipal chronicles, and vestry minutes enlivened the world in which (and with which) he worked and can enrich our understanding of the playwright and his work. Religion Around Shakespeare is the inaugural book in the Religion Around series. Books in this series examine the religious forces surrounding cultural icons from all facets of world history and contemporary culture. By bringing religious background into the foreground, these studies will help to give readers a more complex understanding and greater appreciation for individual subjects, their work, and their lasting influence.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-06249-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iv-v)
    (pp. vi-vii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    I am not a literary historian, and what follows is not another interpretation of several of Shakespeare’s plays. For decades I have been studying the religious cultures of late Tudor and early Jacobean England, particularly what Alison Shell now calls the “fierce internal debate” that “beset” the established church, which was having problems as well “see[ing] off challenges from outside.”¹ What I do in this book is give everyone interested in reading, watching, interpreting, or performing the plays a good look at the religion around Shakespeare. Circumstance is my subject.

    Historians have long been at work on the religionof...

    (pp. 7-46)

    Historian Patrick Collinson suggests that “the succession was the question of questions” in late Tudor England, and I think he is quite right. For Shakespeare, who seems uninterested in the worship of—or administration of—churches around him, religion likely became newsworthy only when the whether and how of its survival in the realm happened to relate to that “question of questions.”¹ Other English subjects lavished attention on the fate of their churches, the content of their sermons, and the controversies about their liturgies. They formed factions and registered protests, enlivening the religion around the realm and around Shakespeare. So...

    (pp. 47-86)

    Identifying some of the religions around the realm—the last chapter’s task—was not at all as challenging as deciding which features of each likely surfaced in the conversations of ordinary yet alert subjects. Retrieving the religion around Shakespeare—this chapter’s assignment—would be easier if it were not so difficult to locate him, particularly in the years after he finished formal schooling and, later, as he moved about London and Southwark. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire in 1564, educated there in the 1570s, and married nearby. Of that we can be sure. He was in London or...

    (pp. 87-88)

    The church got nothing in Shakespeare’s will; the academy has been a busy beneficiary. Historians have been left plenty of passages in the plays—characters and conflicts as well—that seem to be symptoms of or clues to the playwright’s piety. What Leah Marcus describes as “a fierce desire for decoding” the drama, which playgoers find forever fresh but which summons scholars to recontextualize, results in rival interpretations of Shakespeare’s religious devotion. Literature on his confessional commitments keeps piling higher. Much of it suggestively identifies what Shakespeareexplores; much of it, I think, unconvincingly details what Shakespeareendorses

    Once an...

    (pp. 89-122)

    Predictably, the “powder plot” got the government to tighten security. James’s English subjects, save the nobility, were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the new king’s regime—and the nobility’s exemption ended after Henry of Navarre, King Henry IV of France, was assassinated in 1610. Oath takers swore to “abhor, detest, and abjure as impious and heretical this damnable doctrine and position that princes [who are] excommunicated and deprived by the pope may be deposed or murdered by their subjects or any other.”¹ James looks to have had a clause denying the pope’s spiritual jurisdiction omitted, prompting historian...

    (pp. 123-156)

    We have already come across Stephen Egerton preaching at Blackfriars. He was in that pulpit before Shakespeare came to London and still there in 1596 to oppose James Burbage’s plans to transform the great hall into a theater. He was preaching at Blackfriars when Shakespeare succeeded in 1608 where Burbage had failed. And, consistently, as the players and playgoers filled the great hall of the former priory, Egerton’s sermons sized up the realm’s reformed church and found it wanting. In 1589, he berated the queen’s religiously reformed counselors for failing to advocate aggressively further changes in liturgy and polity. But...

    (pp. 157-186)

    Literary Historian Stephen Greenblatt recently time-traveled to the streets of London and conjured up an “unprecedented concentration of bodies jostling, crossing and recrossing the great bridge, pressing into taverns and theaters and churches.” He suggests that the clutter may be the “key to the whole spectacle” of crowds in Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies. To be sure, the playwright prowled around Plutarch, Stow, and Holinshed to learn more about “fickle changelings and poor discontents” who nourished passions for “hurleyburly innovation.” But Greenblatt maintains that “the sight of all those people—along with the noise, the smell of their breath, their rowdiness...

    (pp. 187-200)

    Archival excavations and speculation now tempt us to accept that Robert Devereux’s partisans commissioned the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, to perform his “great deposition play,”Richard II, early in 1601.¹ Possibly, the idea was to get Londoners to acquiesce in a regime change, for Devereux, the Earl of Essex, was just then assembling friends to stage a demonstration that, at the very least, might discredit his adversaries at Court—maybe even pry the crown from his queen.² The players refused at first. Shakespeare and his colleagues may not have thought that the profits would justify the expense of reviving...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 201-222)
    (pp. 223-245)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 246-256)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)