Thursday, July 28, 2016

Campion and Shakespeare Meet

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written a play about William Shakespeare and St. Edmund Campion. Its title, Shakeshafte, refers to the name mentioned in the annals of Hesketh Hall in Lancashire and the Jesuits in Britain are highlighting performance this week. In interviews about the play Williams says he believes Shakespeare was a Catholic and seems to accept one theory about Shakespeare's "lost years" as fact:

As part of his look into Shakespeare’s life and work, Dr Williams has also concluded The Bard was probably a Catholic.

He said of the play: “We know they both stayed at the same house in Lancashire. I found this a wonderful idea to play with: what might a Jesuit martyr and Shakespeare have said to each other?”

Regarding the ages-old debate over Shakespeare’s religion, Dr Wiliams says he now agrees with rumours that Shakespeare may have been a secret Catholic at a time when Queen Elizabeth I was spearheadeding a brutal repression of the catholic faith.

Dr Williams said: “Shakespeare knows exactly where he does, and doesn’t, want to go, in matters of church and state. He deliberately puts some of his plays right outside the Christian, Tudor/Jacobean framework.

“For instance, King Lear takes place in a pre-Christian Britain. Again, some people argue that Cymbeline is about a rupture with Rome, leading to a reconciliation. I think Shakespeare did have a recusant Catholic background. My own hunch though is that he didn’t go to church much.”

The Dylan Thomas Theatre describes the play:

It is 1581 and the Protestant queen, Elizabeth I, is half way through her long reign, but not all her people are happy to turn from their Catholic past and obey the Protestant regime.

Talk of Catholic invasions and assassination of the queen is rife and those of the “old religion” live in fear and ever watchful spies.

This is the setting for “Shakeshafte” by Rowan Williams when Edmund Campion, a Jesuit priest travelling incognito from one household to another, meets a young Will Shakeshafte who has been hidden at the request of a schoolmaster in Stratford!

Based on some truth, gossip and rumour, it is an exciting play, full of suspense and drama and Rowan has used his poetical and philosophical gifts to create Will’s depth of thought and feelings about human relationships and to elaborate on the personal choices that he has to make.

This production commemorates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

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