Frank James Mathew.

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were liable to a fine if they buried their dead anywhere else.
No Catholic would have been reluctant to choose a grave in
Holy Trinity Church at the foot of the Altar where the Mass
had been said for hundreds of years.

Shakespeare had a right to a grave in the chancel of Holy
Trinity Church because in 1605 he bought a share in the
leasehold of the tithes. It is probable that this place was
renowned for a particular holiness, for it was the custom to
bury the dead there for a time and then remove their bones
to a Charnel-house, and this seems to have been only done
when a church had some unusual privilege, as when it was
believed that some of the earth in it had been brought from
Jerusalem. This custom may explain why he protected his
last rest with those Verses,

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here :

Blest be the man that spares these stones.

And curst be he that moves my bones.

And it may be that the curse had more effect than he wished
when (according to Dowdall) it prevented the burial of his
widow and his two daughters with him, for the depth of the
grave, seventeen feet, suggests that room was left for them

If we knew nothing about his private affairs it would be
easy to infer from his Plays that he began as a Catholic. He
wrote in them not merely with reverence for Friars and Nuns
in a time when they were banned by the Law, but also with
an intimate knowledge of the Catholic Church, which can
only be recognised by students who share it. Some of his



Catholic phrases have been misinterpreted, as, for instance,
when Schmidt in his Shakespeare Lexicon said that JuHa's
words in The Two Gentlemeri of Verona, " I see you have a
month's mind to them," referred to a woman's longing for
a particular food. The " month's mind " was merely the
name first used for the month of remembrance during which
daily Masses were offered for the souls of the dead, and now
applied to the Mass said for them a month after death.
Because the phrase meant a short remembrance it came to
mean a passing affection, as when (according to the State
Papers) John Chamberlain wrote to Dudley Carleton in 1 613 :
" There is whispered that Count Henry of Nassau hath a
month's mind for my lord of Northumberland's daughter."

Even when Shakespeare has been commonly taken as
showing ignorance of Catholic ways he was correct, as when
he wrote of Evening Mass in Verona, for Mass was some-
times said in the evening (as is recorded in Martene's De
Antiquis Ecclesiae Ritibus, printed in 1699), though this
custom had been disapproved by Pope Pius the Fifth, who
died in 1572.

This knowledge and attitude are all the more notable
because they are not seen in the writings of other men who
were Catholics during part of their lives, such as Lodge and
Donne and Ben Jonson. This knowledge may be partly
explained by the fact that his mind dwelt in the Past. Though
he mirrored his times he never set his stories in them, unless
we can take The Merry Wives of Windsor (in spite of its use
of Falstaff's name) and the Induction to The Taming of the
Shrew as intended to belong to his day. If nearly all his
Plays sprang from the Traditional Stage they were rooted
in the Catholic times.

Froude wrote in his History of England : " Shakespeare's
Plays were as much the offspring of the long generations who
had pioneered his road for him as the discoveries of Newton
were the offspring of those of Copernicus." And Carlyle
wrote in his Lectures on Heroes : " In some sense it may be
said that this glorious Elizabethan Era with its Shakespeare,
as the outcome and flowerage of all which had preceded it,
is itself attributable to the Catholicism of the Middle Ages.
The Christian Faith, which was the theme of Dante's song,



had produced the Practical Age which Shakespeare was to
sing. For ReHgion then, as it now and always is, was the
soul of Practice, the primary vital fact in men's life. And
remark here, as rather curious, that Middle Age Catholicism
was abolished, so far as Acts of Parliament could abolish it,
before Shakespeare, the noblest product of it, made his

It was easy then to dwell in the Past, since London was
little changed and Stratford was less. London Bridge was
still garnished with grinning heads, pecked by the crows,
prisoners still went to the Tower, and the gabled houses
stooping above the cobbled streets were the same ; while in
Stratford-on-Avon the people lived mainly as their fathers
had done for hundreds of years, spreading rushes on the floors
of their rooms and using no forks (according to Coryat) and
disliking all changes and very little affected by the invention
of printed books, which few ever opened. Thirty years before
Shakespeare was born the Pilgrims were still riding to Canter-
bury as they had done in Chaucer's Catholic days. So he
could have learnt all about the Catholic customs in his boyhood
at Stratford without adopting that Creed.

It is probable that Stratford, like many other country
places, remained Catholic for several years after Queen
Elizabeth ceased to profess that Religion in 1558. The
Vestments kept in Holy Trinity Church were not destroyed
till 1 571 ; John Brethgirdle, who succeeded a Marian Priest
as Vicar in 1560, had no licence to preach and was unmarried,
and after his death in 1565 there seems to have been no Vicar
till 1569. And Simon Hunt, who was the master at the
Grammar-School from 1571 to 1577, became a Jesuit in 1578.
Sir Sidney Lee thinks that Shakespeare " probably made his
entry in 1571," and probably left the Grammar-School in
1577, when he was thirteen. If this is right, Shakespeare was
taught only by Hunt.

Though we have no trace that he was named in any
Recusant List this can prove nothing, for a great many
Catholics escaped or avoided that unpleasant distinction. Ben
Jonson, for instance, though he professed the Catholic Creed
so publicly that he appointed himself to represent the rest
of the Catholics when he denounced the Gunpowder Plot in



Westminster Hall in 1605, does not seem to have figured in a
Recusant List or to have been troubled in any way except
when the Wicked Earl of Northampton (who died a Catholic)
threatened to prosecute him for Popery in revenge for a
thrashing administered to one of his servants.

We know that Shakespeare's two daughters had BibHcal
names which were not often used in Catholic families, and
that both married men who seem to have been inclined to be
Puritans. Susanna, the elder, married John Hall, a physician,
who if he was a Puritan was a tolerant one, for he had many
CathoHc patients ; and Judith married Thomas Quiney
without a licence in Lent, and was excommunicated for this
soon after Shakespeare's death. Still, his daughters' probable
Creed cannot prove Shakespeare's since, for instance, the
third Earl of Southampton brought his sons up as Protestants
though he did not become one till 1609. But it may show
that if he was a Catholic at all he was tepid, like the Earl of

When his daughter Susanna died in 1643 somebody wrote
in her epitaph, which is still to be seen in Holy Trinity Church,

Witty above her. sex, but that's not all.
Wise to Salvation, was good Mistress Hall :
Something of Shakespeare was in that, but this
Wholly of him with whom she's now in bliss.

This seems to assert that Shakespeare had not been wise to
Salvation, and it probably means that he had not professed
his son-in-law's Creed. This may mean that he stood apart
from all the Religions or that the Vicar of Sapperton was
right when he recorded of him in a note written before 1708,
that " he died a Papist." It does not seem probable that the
Vicar of Sapperton would have asserted this unless he believed
it ; but we do not know what evidence would have satisfied
him. Even if this statement was true it would not prove that
Shakespeare lived as a Catholic, since in those days many
people (including some, such as Penelope Devereux and the
Earl of Northampton, who were never remarkably religious)
became Catholics at the end, when the risk of persecution
was over.

If his daughters both married men who were inclined to



be Puritans, we can infer that he was not hostile to the
Puritan Creed, and this seems borne out by the fact that a
preacher was entertained at his house in 1614. Since the
Corporation of Stratford was mainly Puritan then, this
preacher was probably a Puritan one.

Sir Sidney Lee writes, " Shakespeare's references to
Puritans in the Plays of his middle and later life are so uniformly
discourteous that they must be judged to reflect his personal
feelings " ; but this is a mistake. In the fourth Act of ^he
Winter''s Tale the Clown says that the shearers are " Three-
man song-men all, and very good ones ; but they are most of
them means and bases ; but one Puritan amongst them and
he sings psalms to a hornpipe." In the first Act of The Merry
Wives of Windsor Mrs. Quickly says of John Rugby, " An
honest, willing, kind fellow, as ever servant shall come in
house withal, and I warrant you no tell-tale nor no breed-bate ;
his worst fault is that he is given to prayer ; he is something
peevish that way : but nobody but has his fault ; but let
that pass." In the first Act of AlVs Well that Ends Well the
Clown says, " If men could be contented to be what they are,
there were no fear in marriage ; for young Charbon the Puritan
and old Poysam the Papist, howsome'er their hearts are
severed in Religion, their heads are both one." And in the
second Act of Twelfth Night Maria says of Malvolio, " Marry,
Sir, sometimes he is a kind of Puritan " ; Sir Andrew Ague-
cheek says, " Oh, if I thought that, I'd beat him like a dog " ;
Sir Toby Belch says, " What, for being a Puritan ? Thy
exquisite reason, dear Knight " ; and Sir Andrew replies,
'' I have no exquisite reason for it ; but I have reason good
enough " ; and Maria rejoins, " The devil the Puritan that
he is, or anything constantly, but a timc-pleaser."

The details about John Rugby suggest that he was probably
drawn from some one at Stratford for a local performance
since they have no effect in the Play, and there is nothing to
show that he was a Puritan ; John Marston, for instance,
called the Catholics " Peevish Papists." The three allusions
to Puritans are put in the mouths of two Clowns and an idiot.
Even Sir Andrew cannot furnish a reason, and he says later,
" It must be with valour, for Policy I hate : I had as lief be a
Brownist as a Politician."



The Brownists were Separatist Puritans called after Robert
Browne, who was imprisoned in England in 1581 and 1584
and in Scotland in 1583 and excommunicated in 1586 but
then submitted and became Rector of Achurch in 1591. The
Politicians were the time-pleasers who were indifferent in
Religious affairs. Their name was borrowed from France
(where it was first used about 1568, and applied to the men
who were neither Huguenots nor opposed to them), and they
were described hy Thomas Stapleton in his Sermo Contra
Politicos as " polite and civil, elegant and gentleman-like,
prudent and wise, turning Religion into Policy and making a
mock at zeal." Shakespeare may have been thinking of them
when in the fourth Act of King Lear he made the King say.

Get thee glass eyes.

And like a scurvy politician, seem

To see the thing thou dost not.

Elsewhere in his Plays, as when in the First Part of King Henry
the Fourth he made Hotspur say.

Never did bare and rotten policy

Colour her working with such deadly wounds,

and in the first Act of Troilus and Cressida he made Ulysses

They tax our policy and call it cowardice.

Policy meant crafty discretion. If it was safe to deduce
his private opinions from the talk of his Characters we could
conclude that he liked the old zeal of the Catholics and the
young zeal of the Puritans, who suffered with them, better
than the time-serving indifference of the wise Politicians.
In those days the Catholic and the Puritan martyrs rivalled
one another in courage and the devout men of those Creeds
had a great deal in common ; for instance, no Puritan sur-
passed the austerity of the Monks of the Charter-House.
The Penal Laws which harried them both were mainly the
work of Politicians, such as Lord Burghley, who had pro-
fessed three Creeds, King Henry the Eighth's and King
Edward the Sixth's and Queen Mary's (with a particular



zeal because he was terrified) before he decided to establish
a Compromise.

If, as I think, the later Tragedies show that Shakespeare
was then attracted hy the Stoic Philosophy (which may be
why Ben Jonson's Crispinus proclaimed that he was a Stoic),
this would have brought him in touch with the Catholic
and Protestant Puritans. But there is no sign of this mood
in the Poems written by him when he was young. Susanna
Hall's Epitaph and the apparent note of doubt in his Tragedies
are the sole signs that he was not a Catholic first and a Puritan
afterwards, for Davies' tradition only dealt with his death-

There were many such changes then. The Recusant
Lists of 1592 (which included some Puritans) prove that
there were prominent Catholics in Warwickshire then, but
do not give us the number. All the Lists of this kind omit
many who were certainly Catholic : for instance, the English
Protestant's Plea stated that none of the leaders of the Gun-
powder Plot had ever been included in them. We know
that in 1596 Worcestershire was more notably Catholic and
the Puritans were increasing in Warwickshire. In that year
Thomas Bilson, who was Bishop of Worcester then, wrote
to Sir Robert Cecil : " I have viewed the state of Worcester
Diocese, and find it, as may somewhat appear by the par-
ticulars here enclosed, of the quantity as dangerous as any
place that I know. In that small circuit there are nine
score Recusants of note, besides retainers, wanderers and
secret lurkers dispersed in forty several parishes, and six
score and ten households. . . . Besides, Warwick and the
parts thereabout are freighted with a number of men
precisely conceited against Her Majesty's Government Eccle-
siastical." The Catholics had been increasing in Worcester-
shire because Father Edward Oldcorne (who was executed
in 1605 and was called by them the Apostle of Worcestershire)
had been living at Hindlip near Worcester since 1588 ; and
their numbers had grown in Warwickshire between 1588
and 1592 because Father Henry Garnet had been hidden
there then. In 1605 Warwickshire was a Catholic stronghold,
and was a centre of the Gunpowder Plot for that reason
and because it was near Catholic Wales. Father John



Gerard said that Sir Everard Digby had retired into War-
wickshire " as into a place of most safety." And when
Shakespeare died Warwickshire was notoriously Puritan.
It may be that the independence which made the people
there cling to the old Creed or return to it made them prefer
Puritanism after the tragedy of the Gunpowder Plot in
the same way as the Welsh remained Catholic for a long time
and turned to Dissent.

In those days the bigotry which afterwards sundered
Englishmen had not become prevalent. For instance, about
1618 John Donne, who was then one of the King's Chaplains
though he had begun as a Catholic, wrote to Sir Toby
Mathew, who was one of the sons of a Welsh Archbishop
of York but had become a Catholic when he was aged thirty :
" That we differ in our ways, I hope we pardon one another.
Men go to China both by the Straits and by the Cape. I
never misinterpreted your way, nor suffered it to be so,
wheresoever I found it in discourse. . . . This letter doth
therefore only ask your safe-conduct for these others of mine,
which are to follow, as the most constant testimonies of my
love." And Toby Mathew remained Francis Bacon's dearest
friend and companion, his " alter ego," after his change.
Neither did his change keep him from being Strafford's
intimate friend, nor did it make him a bigot, for in the Preface
to his Collection of Letters, edited by Donne's son in 1660,
he wrote : " There are not to be seen in the whole World
either better Catholics or better Protestants than in England."

Shakespeare may have thought with John Donne that
men go to China both by the Straits and by the Cape, or
he may not have been concerned with such things because
he lived in his dreams till (if Davies was right) he called for
a hidden Priest on his death-bed. In either case he could
have lived amicably with Puritan neighbours. If he was
ever a Puritan or inclined to be one and yet ended a Catholic
he was imitated in this by John Milton, according to Milton's
brother Sir Christopher, whose word has been doubted by
Mr. Mark Pattison and others because he made the same
change though this does not seem a good reason for refusing
to trust a statement made by a Judge. If he was a Catholic
in the troubled days after the Gunpowder Plot, these would



have given him reasons for keeping his belief to himself, and
this may account for his later hesitation or reticence. But
there is no proof that he ever shared the Religion of Mon-
taigne and Cervantes.

If he was ever a Catholic, this would explain, for instance,
what caused the marriage-bond of 1582 (if it is genuine and
connected with him) and how he came in touch with the
young Earl of Southampton, and why he was godfather to
one of Ben Jonson's children in Jonson's Catholic days, and
why he incurred blame for his silence when other Poets
lamented Queen Elizabeth, as from Chettle, who wrote in
his England^ s Mourning Garment in 1603,

Shepherd, remember our Elizabeth

And mourn her Rape done by our Tarquin, Death,

and why he wrote in one of his Sonnets,

My body being dead.
The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,

for only Catholics and Rebels could see a chance of the execu-
tioner's knife, the penalty of Treason, and why he took the
Catholic view of Oldcastle, and why three Acts of King Henry
the Eighth were written from the Catholic standpoint, and
why he wrote the last lines of the Epilogue to The Tempest,
which may refer to the Catholic doctrine of Indulgences,
and if they mean anything must be a plea for prayers after
Death, вАФ

And my ending is despair.

Unless I be relieved by prayer.

Which pierces so, that it assaults

Mercy itself, and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardoned be.

Let your indulgence set me free.

Also this would help to explain his darker mood in the
times after the Gunpowder Plot when so many Catholics
abandoned their Creed, some in shame, some in despair,
as is recorded for instance in a private report sent to Rome
in 1614 by Father Richard Blount, who was the Superior
of the Jesuits then, " I suppose you are informed of our


occurrents here : the state of CathoHcs most miserable :
many fall away ; those that stand ruined in their temporali-

He had other reasons for darkness at the end of his life
if he cared anything at all about England. Year by year
all the prospects of his Country were darkened. In 1614,
one of the years in which he visited London, the Addled
Parliament gave the signal for the contest which caused the
Great Civil War and in the next year, the last he was to
finish, Somerset and his wife were arrested for the murder of
Overbury. It may be that he could have written with Dray-

I find this age of ours marked with this fate
That honest men are still precipitate
Under base villains. . . .
To tell my Country's shame I not delight.
But do bemoan it I am no Democrite.

There were other things which may have prevented his
finding an unusual happiness at the close of his days. Life
had been dear and it was passing away, and he was about to
leave his wife and his children. Cervantes died on the same
date as he did, the twenty-third of April, 1616 (though not
on the same day since England kept the old style), and wrote
from his death-bed to the Conde de Lemos : " Ayer me
dieron la Extrema Uncion, y hoy escribo esta : el tiempo
es breve, las ansias crecen, las esperanzas menguan, y con
todo esto llevo la vida sobre el deseo que tengo de vivir."
And it may be that Shakespeare found no greater cause to
be glad in those April days when he knew that never again
would he watch the Spring come to the winding shores of
the Avon.

Besides, the work to which he had given his life seemed
to be fruitless, for much of it had not even been printed,
and in these altered times the' Stage was degraded and the
Puritans, who were rising to power, hoped to destroy it.
Even in Stratford the Corporation which met in the Guild-
hall close to his house declared that Plays were unlawful
and tried to discourage Players from visiting their respectable
town in February, i6n-i6i2. In the year of his death a



neighbouring town, Henley in Arden, disobeyed the King's
licence by forbidding the Players to perform in its Town-
hall. If Shakespeare was honoured in his home when he
died, it was in spite of the fact that he had been a writer of
Plays. It is improbable that he ever imagined what renown
he had earned or that he would have valued it much, for
what is the use of laurels when one is dead ? And if the
Droeshout Engraving resembles him he looked on the World
pallidly without consolation.

When Heminge and Condell dedicated the Folio of 1623
to their official patron, the third Earl of Pembroke, who was
then the Lord Chamberlain, and to his brother, the first
Earl of Montgomery (of whom Clarendon stated, " He
pretended to no other qualifications than to understand Horses
and Dogs very well") they wrote: "When we value the
places your Highnesses sustain we cannot but know their
dignity greater than to descend to the reading of these trifles ;
and while we have named them trifles we have deprived our-
selves of the defence of our Dedication." We have no reason
to doubt that this expressed their opinion of the Plays in the

Except Francis Meres' tribute in Palladis Tamia, which
meant little for he was lavish in praise, we have no record
that anyone of any importance took Shakespeare's Tragedies
seriously while he was alive. And apart from the Laudatory
Verses prefixed to the Folio of 1623 or printed in John Ben-
son's edition of the Poems of 1640, which meant little because
they were usual, we have no record that anyone who knew
him imagined that they were more than entertainments
adapted to the taste of the Pit, " the vulgar's element " as
Scoloker called them. It is probable that Beaumont referred
to them when he wrote to Ben Jonson,

If thou hadst itched after the wild applause
Of common people, and hadst made thy laws
In writing such as catcht at present voice,
I should commend the thing, but not thy choice.

Coleridge wrote, " Beaumont and Fletcher sneer at
Shakespeare with a spite far more malignant than Jonson."



John Webster in his Address to the Reader prefixed to
the White Divel, printed in 1612, named Shakespeare after
Chapman and Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher and merely
praised " the right happy and copious industry of M. Shake-
speare, M. Dckker and M. Heywood." Camden said nothing
of him in his Britamiia, and in his Remains concerning Britain
mentioned him at the end of a list of ten Authors. John
Ford never praised him, even w^hen he tried to revive the
Chronicle Histories in his Per kin Warbeck, printed in 1634,
and the Prologue to that Play seems to blame Shakespeare's
way in such Histories as King Henry the Fourth when it says,

nor is here
Unnecessary mirth forced to endear
A multitude.

John Davies, when he wanted to praise him, called him
" our English Terence." Even Milton, though he paid him a
tribute in a Sonnet in 1630, wrote two years later in U Allegro,

Then to the well-trod Stage anon,
If Jonson's learned Sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakespeare, fancy's child,
Warble his native woodnotes wild.

Since the scantness of Drayton's praise and the arrogance
of Ben Jonson's opinion may be partly explained by quarrels
with Shakespeare, these other verdicts deserve greater atten-
tion and they help to explain why Heminge and Condell
called the Plays trifles.

We have no means of knowing whether Shakespeare
agreed with them. We might infer that he did if we could
conclude that he never thought of printing his Plays, for

Online LibraryFrank James MathewAn image of Shakespeare → online text (page 32 of 35)