Saturday, July 23, 2011

More about the Catholic Shakespeare

The National Catholic Register recently featured two on-line stories about the Portsmouth Institute Conference held in June this year. The subject was Shakespeare's Catholicism. (My husband and I had thought about attending the 2010 conference, all about Blessed John Henry Newman, but my father's health was too uncertain at the time. It was a good thing we did not book flights, hotel, and the conference because we would had to cancel everything, since he died during the week before the conference.)

The first article was titled "Shakespeare: Closet Catholic? The Portsmouth Abbey conference considers clues of ‘papist’ playwright theory."

The author references the work of Father Peter Milward, SJ:

Scholars like Jesuit Father Peter Milward, a professor of English Literature at Japan’s Sophia University for most of his priestly life, have labored for decades to penetrate Shakespeare’s cleverly disguised critique of the monarchy’s near-totalitarian effort to identify and suppress Catholic resistance.

Father Milward, who delivered the conference’s keynote address, contended there was enough evidence to establish that Shakespeare was a Catholic. Some scholars, however, merely proposed that his plays provided rich commentary on the religious controversies of his day.

The second article, "Shakespeare's Secret Faith: A literary sleuth unmasks looks at the Bard’s Catholicity", continued the emphasis on Father Milward:

Father Milward began to explore the complex religious controversies of Shakespeare’s day and suspected that the playwright employed rich themes and word play to move beyond the plays’ surface reality to the truth of things. In this way, the Bard could protect himself and his legacy from the crown’s aggressive persecution of Catholic “traitors” — known as “recusants.”
“When a country that was almost entirely Catholic is forced to take on a new religion in just 50 years, it gives people a bad conscience. They are forced to say that they believe what they don’t believe. Shakespeare wrote about that,” noted Father Milward.

The priest was recently in the United States to give a keynote address at the Portsmouth Institute’s “The Catholic Shakespeare,” a conference held at Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island that attracted British and American Shakespeare scholars.

More about the conference and the speakers here.


  1. It states that Fr.Milward has been investigating Shakespeare's being Roman Catholic for a half-century. I would love what he has to say in extenso, as I love his work on Gerard Manley Hopkins. That said, the late Fr. Joseph Kernan SJ, who taught the course on Shakespeare at Georgetown University in the early 1960s also emphasized that the Bard was clearly Roman Catholic.

  2. Phil, thanks for the comment--I agree, I would like to study with Father Milward. I have not read his works on Hopkins--what are they?