Catholic Shakespeare Evidence from Rome

The literature on Shakespeare being a Catholic keeps mounting. Clare Asquith’s book Shadowplay along with the scholarship of Fr.Peter Milward started the ball rolling, then Joseph Pearce’s excellent, The Quest for Shakespeare gathered all the evidence together in a rollicking good read and the PBS documentary In Search of Shakespeare made it visual.

Now some mysterious evidence has emerged in the Venerable English College in Rome. You can read the article here and the Times reports here. They have found some documents that might have Shakespeare’s name on them, indicating that during his ‘lost years’ from 1585 – 1592 he was in Rome, and if in Rome was he studying for the priesthood? Probably not since the entries are in a guestbook. It could be that if this is Shakespeare, it consolidates other evidence that he remained a Catholic and that he was networking through the Catholic contacts on the continent.

A leather parchment kept by the college is signed by “Arthurus Stratfordus Wigomniensis” in 1585, “Shfordus Cestriensis” in 1587 and “Gulielmus Clerkue Stratfordiensis” in 1589. The college believes these signatures are: “(King) Arthur’s (compatriot) from Stratford (in the diocese) of Worcester,” “Sh(akespeare from Strat)ford (in the diocese) of Chester” and “William the Clerk from Stratford”.

What makes the quest so intriguing is that the evidence for Shakespeare’s life is so scant, and in this particular area it is very scant indeed, but the times were dangerous. To be a Catholic in England was considered an act of treason. Catholics had to disguise their identities. If the names in the register at the English college were cryptic maybe they had to be so that real identities would not be revealed. Walsingham’s spies were infiltrating the seminaries on the continent with fake converts (one of whom was probably Shakespeare contemporary and playwright Christopher Marlowe) Therefore Shakespeare would not only have disguised his name and hometown, but done it differently on three different visits. It’s all very juicy conspiracy theory stuff, and yet that was the situation the Catholics were in. They were members of an underground church. They had to destroy or disguise evidence and ‘keep it secret keep it safe.’

As it happens, I’ve produced the outline of a screenplay called The Shakespeare Plot. In it Shakespeare is a secret Catholic in Elizabethan England and is all tied up with spies, disguised priests, torture chambers priest’s holes, executions and other juicy stuff. Think Man for All Seasons meets Shakespeare in Love. Some people in California seem to be interested.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Shakespearian movie deal? Oh no, don't get too famous Father, you may neglect all your faithful blog followers, you'll have to start a fan based one….and remember Mel Gibson! These things can take peculiar turns.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08353696433987975754 Karen

    I would certainly hope that you would write a book, as well. Sounds like something I'd want to read. A movie would have to have a good plot and really good period costuming to keep me captivated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03892529674664589034 Jeff Miller

    Screenplay? How about a novel. That is a book I would buy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02487748842744745860 Steve

    "He cannot thrive,Unless Her prayers, whom Heaven delights to hear,And loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath, Of greatest justice."All's Well That Ends Well.That was written by a good Catholic boy!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08906131174326742939 Patricius

    This is very interesting but the reference to the diocese of Chester is curious. Stratford was in the diocese of Worcester (Vigorniensis)as it had been in pre-reformation times and, interestingly, it was to Worcester that application was made for a special licence for the marriage of William Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway. As a native Vigornian I take an interest in such things!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Yes, but there is evidence that WS was resident at one of the great country houses of a recusant family in Lancashire. Would that have put him in the ancient diocese of Chester? I think so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08906131174326742939 Patricius

    Possibly, Father,however, the diocese of Chester was not ancient but "new foundation"- that is to say it was one of the half dozen new dioceses created at the reformation by Henry VIII. Its cathedral was the former Abbey of St Werburgh although it may have had a real bishop during the reign of Queen Mary.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13173059707881271764 Jakian Thomist

    Several non-Catholic writers have also acknowledged that Shakespeare was Catholic. "The Shakespeares and The Old Faith" written by non-Catholic John Henry de Groot is also an excellent read on the mattter.It is published by Real View Books with a postscript by Fr. Stanley Jaki. It can be viewed at http://www.realviewbooks.com/catalog0.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01038498107096197056 Edward Elkins jr.

    You know its believable . Here's something you might find interesting. Did you know the first Rock band to ever record a christian rock song was catholic. Well two members were catholic , one was baptist, the other was episcopalean or something. The very first rock and roll mass was performed in the trinity episcopalean church in morgantown WV . Those liberal anglican's!!. Darn hippies wrote their own mass. Back in 1968. However a protestant would never tell you the first christian rock recorded was catholic. The wrote their whole liturgy in rock music and travelled performing hippie rock and roll mass services. Mind Garage look them up at http://www.mindgarage.com/index.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13954574912456427100 Cole Matson

    I'd see that film. Also the Space Trilogy given the Avatar treatment. If I had the funds, I'd be one of your first investors. I hope you have time to spec that script. Please continue to pursue these screenplays, Father, and I'd love to provide whatever help an indie actor can, even if it's only moral support and prayers.Happy Christmas,Colehttp://colematson.com