Several Shakespearean scholars read the failed Gunpowder Plot in the subtext of Macbeth. Did he sympathize with the conspirators?
Aleteia/EN expert board member Joseph Pearce, in his marvelous The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome, recalls for us, first of all, how many of the Plot’s conspirators were relatives of Shakespeare and how they devised their strategems in inns and houses familiar to the Bard (see Chapter 14).
Not that there is any evidence to suggest that Shakespeare himself had a hand in the Plot. But could he have sympathized with it? Father Peter Milward, S.J., in his The Catholicism of Shakespeare’s Plays, does not suggest this much, though he interprets Macbeth against the backdrop of the possibility that the Plot was a ploy of the deeply anti-Catholic government agent Sir Robert Cecil, intended to stir up public hatred of Catholics.
But Clare Asquith, in her Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, will have none of it. For her there is no other possibility than that recusant Catholics were behind the Plot, and that their terrorism was nothing short of a disaster for the cause of religious freedom for Catholics in England. As for Macbeth, Asquith contends that at the center of the play “lies a deeper drama that uses the discredited idiom and theology of the old religion [Catholicism] to set the crimes of tyrants and iconoclasts, as well as terrorists, against a backdrop of merciful judgment” (p. 220)–a backdrop, Asquith argues, crafted by Shakespeare from his in-depth knowledge of the tradition of medieval mystery plays.
A heinous act of terror. The enduring possibility of God’s mercy.
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen” (Macbeth, Act I, scene iii, line 38).
If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.
Here are some numbers:
- 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
- Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
- Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
- Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
- Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
- We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)
As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.
Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!