Joseph Pearce points to the Bard’s purchase of a house known as a “notorious center for recusant Catholics” in London.
Pearce, known for his biographies of Catholic converts and others, said in an interview with America magazine that Shakespeare was, “beyond any reasonable doubt,” at least a “Catholic in sympathy” and “to one degree or another a practicing, recusant Catholic.”
Recusant Catholics were those who, in the time of the English Reformation, remained loyal to the pope and the Roman Catholic Church and who did not attend Church of England services.
For Pearce, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicism was his purchase of the Blackfriars Gatehouse in London in 1612, just before he retired and went back to Stratford-Upon-Avon.
“This was a notorious center for recusant Catholic activity in London,” Pearce told America’s Fr. Sean Salai. The gatehouse “had remained in Catholic hands from the dissolution of the monasteries to Shakespeare’s purchase of it 80 years later, and Shakespeare insisted that John Robinson—whose brother had left that same year to study for the priesthood at the English College in Rome—should remain as the tenant, indicating that the house would continue to be used as a center of Catholic recusant activity. There can be no real denying that Shakespeare purchased the house to remain in Catholic hands and indeed his own hands, which were Catholic.”
In addition, Pearce noted, the Bard’s family was one of the most notorious recusant families in the country: some of his relatives were executed for their involvement in so-called Catholic plots, and his father was fined for his Catholic recusancy.
“So he was certainly raised militantly Catholic,” the author stated. “It’s been presumed in some circles that he lost his faith when he came to London and started writing the plays, but as I show in my book The Quest for Shakespeare and as other authors have shown, all the evidence shows that Shakespeare retains his Catholic faith during the 25 years or so that he’s writing the plays and sonnets.”
Pearce said he would like to write a separate book on each of Shakespeare’s plays, “because I think the evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicism really emerges when you go scene-by-scene, not plucking lines out of context.”
“What we really need are dozens of new books looking at the plays from the perspective of Shakespeare as a Catholic,” he concluded. “That’s far too big a job for one person, but I do think we need a whole new field of young scholars taking up the challenge to actually go through the plays. Every time I visit a play, new aspects of Shakespeare’s Catholicism leap up at me, so it’s very exciting and much remains to be done.”
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