From the Archives: Shakespeare

POST BY RSomerset

Photo showing three pamphlets about Shakespeare
Pamphlets on Shakespeare

The discovery, in December 2014, of a hitherto unknown First Folio of the works of Shakespeare at St Omer, likely to be an overlooked part of the library of the Jesuit College that ultimately came to Stonyhurst, has added to the already lively debate around the playwright’s religion. 

The controversy has seen a growing corpus of works arguing that the Bard was a Catholic; a thesis seen by its proponents as a revisionist counterbalance to the prevailing academic orthodoxy that, some have claimed, perpetuates the “smothering [of] the Bard’s “treacherous” popery in the interests of a nationally acceptable patriotic iconography” (see article in Catholic Herald).

Whether Shakespeare was Catholic or Protestant, the continuing lack of conclusive evidence one way or the other would suggest that certainty in this regard will remain elusive, although circumstantial evidence will, no doubt, continue to fuel a not insignificant industry. Perhaps the more important consideration is whether this lack of certainty has any bearing on an individual’s enjoyment of Shakespeare’s work, and that is surely up to the individual reader or audience member.

Therefore, in honour of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death it seems appropriate to revisit the judgement on this matter of the former Archivist of the British Province of the Society of Jesus, Thomas McCoog SJ, published in Thinking Faith in 2011.

Whilst the Jesuits in Britain Archives holds no primary material relating directly to Shakespeare, it does hold seventeenth century material relating to the British Province, notes and works of scholarship on Shakespeare by later Jesuits, and modern pamphlets concerned with Shakespeare and the Elizabethan age. If you would like to make an appointment to view any of this material please contact the Archives.

William Man, Archives Assistant