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August 28, 2005


Albertus M

Now I love Shakespeare and I love Catholicism, and I have not read this latest effort, but... there is a very long and colorful history of people finding elaborate codes in Shakespeare, and all the ones I have read up till now seem to be, how to put it, earnestly eccentric.

I'm willing to allow the possibility that Shakespeare may have been a closet Catholic (or at least raised as one), but the thesis that he put coded messages in his writing about it seems not far removed from the bizarre ideas of some recent novel I came across a year or two ago about this Italian painter dude who supposedly put all these secret signs in his artworks about Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene. It was hilarious -- you should see it!


Now I haven't yet read the book, but the comparison to the Da Vinci Code is an unreasonably low blow. Da Vinci relied on an idiotic conspiracy theory among other things- there is nothing of the kind being alleged here.

It would hardly be surprising if, presuming Shakespeare was Catholic, he injected political messages into the subtext of his plays. Dissenting artists have done so in many regimes.

Ronald Van Wegen

He (Shakesparrow) certainly had to steer a careful course between the two religions which he obviously di well. If he was so brilliant (and he was) then it's quite possible that he put symbols in his work which spoke/speak to "all time". Symbols which are only now being understood as the Catholic "Resurgence" continues apace! One more "thing" to wonder and question. As if there weren't enough of those already.


If you crack the code Amy uses in her weblog you will fing a wonderful recipe for a lemon pound cake.


find :-)


The fact of the matter is that traditionalist author and speaker Dr. David White of the U.S. Naval Academy, who is a recurring guest on Hugh Hewitt's radio program, has been pointing this out for more than fifteen years.

He's given conferences to the SSPX's North American seminary on several Shakespeare works in which he repeatedly emphasizes the man's closeted Catholic sensibilities.

Tim Ferguson

There was some discussion last year on the Recusant yahoo group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/recusant/) - look in the archived messages from about January 2004 - concerning a shoing on PBS of a British miniseries that took the somewhat the same line, at least with regards to Shakespeare's Catholicism.
There are some interesting books on the subject - such as Peter Milward's "The Catholicism of Shakespeare's Plays".
It would be wonderful if research was able to demonstrate that Will was "one of us"

Donald R. McClarey

I suspect that Shakespeare in the Great Beyond is greatly amused by this and all the other speculation that ceaselessly, and usually fruitlessly, goes on about him.

Rich Leonardi

Amy et al.,

I blogged about this topic last month and a number of interesting posters stopped by. Kevin Miller linked to a pan of Asquith's book published by the Weekly Standard.

The hints, codes and structure of "Merchant of Venice" at least suggests that Shakespeare had Catholicism firmly in mind when he wrote it.

Rich Leonardi

Also, there a handful of interesting reviews of "Shadowplay" posted on the Amazon website.


Seems to me that I saw this subject on a PBS broadcast series on Shakespeare several years ago. The host covered the pros & cons, filmed at sites connected to Shakespeare & Catholicism.

Cheeky Lawyer

John Finnis no quack of a scholar has been probing Shakespeare in these recent years. While I am not sure he comes to the strong conclusions found in this book I am certain that he'd say that it is hardly like the Da Vinci Code.

Christopher Johnson


I think that PBS show might have been In Search of Shakespeare, a BBC documentary hosted by Michael Wood. This Protestant thinks that Wood made a pretty good case. And if you haven't seen it, I'd highly recommend it because Wood's documentaries are very interesting and very entertaining.

Matthew of Beauvais

Could it be that the plays...are just plays?

John Farrell

I'm willing to believe, based on Park Honan's recent bio of Shakespeare, that he was sympathetic to Catholicism, if for no other reason than that his father was still a closet Catholic. And let's face it, Shakespeare's generation was only one (maybe two) removed from the Catholicism of England before Henry VIII's fateful break. It is also pretty clear that Shakespeare helped co-write a sympathetic play about St. Thomas More.

For what it's worth.


OK, but since we all know (thanks to Joe Sobran's wonderful book, Alias Shakespeare) that Shakespeare was in all actuality the nom de plume of the Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere (and himself a not very well closeted homosexual), how does this work exactly?

Amusedly ....

(I post partly in jest, though I should say that I am convinced by Sobran's argument that de Vere is the actual Shakespeare.)

Plato's Stepchild

Shame on all of you for falling for this, and ignoring the fine Catholic scholarship on this: (I'll fix the font colors momentarily)


James Kabala

fbc: For an alternative view, go to the meticulously detailed Shakespeare Authorship Page.


Were Elizabethan Englishmen all that clear themselves as to whether or not they were Catholics? Looking back, we make very clear distinctions between who was Roman Catholic and who was waht we would call Anglican, but were laity that clear in their own minds about what they were? Wouldn't it have been as hard to reform all vestiges of Catholicism out of the Elizabethan generation as it was to reform vestiges of, for example, pre Columbian religon
out of the native American populations?

John Farrell

James, that is a great page. (I wish they would update it more frequently.)Joe Sobran's book seems to have disappeared without a trace, but there are a couple of new books out now, reviewed here.

The whole authorship "question" strikes me as more like a parlor game than a serious controversy.


Christopher Johnson:

Yes, that was it. Thanks!

Josiah Neeley

Speculation about Shakespeare being Catholic is hardly new. G.K. Chesterton, for example, discusses the idea, and says that he finds it convincing. I am inclined to agree, though I admit it would be hard to mount a convincing case for this via the comments box.

Albertus M

It would hardly be surprising if, presuming Shakespeare was Catholic, he injected political messages into the subtext of his plays.

I agree.

But that is not the claim -- this spoke of "a network of crossword puzzle-like clues" and a "daring code" that only this person has now "cracked."

Google on Shakespeare cipher code to see the history of this sort of thing: the web references to encodings in Shakespeare are only slightly shorter than the pages of various conspiracy theories involving the Knights Templar.

Given that, I suggest it is probably sanity to reflexively doubt anyone who proposes that Shakespeare's plays contain "a network of crossword puzzle-like clues" about anything -- even if it were mundane topics like the English royal family or Shakespeare's love life.

Josiah Neeley

I think it's a mistake to take the "code" language too literaly. I haven't read Asquith's book, but from what I've read about it she doesn't seem to be arguing, qua John Nash, that there are encrypted messages in the plays, so much as that they contain subtle allegory and allusions to then current events. The plays contain coded messages, but only in the sense that the Crucible contained coded messages about McCarthy, or that the new Star Wars movies supposedly contained coded messages about the Bush administration.


Aw c'mon people, I'm surprised at y'all. It's as clearly visible as the nose on your faces. Shakespeare was just the latest in the long line of descendents from the Jesus and Mary Magdalene union. His plays were secret code to the Templars on how and when to dupe someone like Dan Brown into writing that Da Vinci Code book to cover their tracks.

john c

Still dead, eh? Take that you horse!


According to Asquith, Shakeseare didn't have elaborate secred codes in his plays, but allusions which would be understood by the Catholics of his time, but not by us hundreds of years later. When you read the book, it is much more reasonable than the idea of secret codes in the Bible. We forget how persecuted the Catholics were under Queen Elizabeth because that's not the way history has been taught. Also, the use of allegory was a common way of writing in that time.

alias clio

Where's Sandra M. when we need her? (But she's a medievalist, and tho' not her equal in scholarship, I'm an early modernist...)

I haven't read Asquith's book, and so far seen only positive reviews, so I don't know whether it's any good. But I can tell you this much: First, the claim that Shakespare was born a Catholic, although by no means universally accepted, is not considered "cranky". The claim that he remained a Catholic is less widely accepted, but has some respectable backers. The novelty of Asquith's claim is her suggestion that Shakespeare might have "encoded" references to, and commentaries upon, events affecting Catholicism in England.

Is her claim plausible? Hard to say without reading the book, but I would think it is at least possible. The late 16th century was as obsessed with codes (and conspiracies) as we are, and flirting with danger by means of public allusion to political events, "hiding in plain sight", was commonplace. Has anyone posting here ever read John Bossy's biography of Giordano Bruno?

In researching my dissertation, I found extraordinary accounts of anonymous pamphlet wars, plays written by command to put down some dangerous new political group (so much for rebel artists), codes, spying, and every kind of "disinformation".

Servant-spies might be set to watch over potential dissidents in Catholic (or Protestant) households, depending on the state religion. Moliere's Tartuffe is said to be an attack on the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, sponsored by Louis XIV. Church leaders might discredit hated factions or rivals by seizing manuscripts and having them altered to contain heresies. Corpses of the recently deceased might be dug up and brought to some other resting place in order that it might have the benefit of the relics, in case the person turned out to be a saint.

Asquith's conclusions may be mistaken, but there's nothing intrinsically wacky about them.

Gene Branaman

"OK, but since we all know (thanks to Joe Sobran's wonderful book, Alias Shakespeare) that Shakespeare was in all actuality the nom de plume of the Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere . . ."

Really? I've seen & read much convincing material to the opposite.

john c

([Sandra]'s a medievalist, ... I'm an early modernist...).

I'm a late riser. Can I help?

john c


John Farrell

Gene, you're right. Oxford is among the weakest of the candidates who could 'sub' for W. S. (starting with the inconvenient fact that he died before Shakespeare finished writing the plays).

Gene Branaman

". . . (starting with the inconvenient fact that he died before Shakespeare finished writing the plays)."

See, I thought so! But I didn't have the time to check it out to make sure. Excellent. Thanks, John!

James Kabala

John Farrell:
I first stumbled across the Shakespeare Authorship site a couple years ago, and you're right that it seems to have been rarely, if ever, updated since. Maybe the people behind it thought that they had refuted every possible Oxfordian claim and could move on with their lives. Unfortunately, they were wrong: I saw a new, thick pro-Oxford book just the other day. It had somehow won the endorsements of Derek Jacobi and the co-founder of the prominent Shakespeare Festival in Lenox, Mass, but not, as far as I can recall, of any scholars.


Asquith models her theory on the sort of extra meanings that writers under Soviet domination used. (And which Russian writers apparently still enjoy using on occasion, since they and the readers are up on the game, and since they feel that saying certain words outright (like "peace") have been devalued by their misuse in propaganda. Someone who talks about a thing slantwise can be trusted.

This is not to say that they're totally against normal use of language. (I still remember a touching essay about Bujold, and how wonderful it was that she could write the word "honor" without blushing.) They just have to work their way back into it by winning their readers' trust, and by gaining confidence that the government won't arrest them tomorrow for a little straight talk today.

When I read the first Tanya Grotter book, it took me ages to see why I felt I was missing something. I finally figured out what was entirely obvious to a Russian: the evil witch Chuma was not just or even mostly a parody of Voldemort, but was a parody of the Soviet Union itself! Tanya was not Harry Potter with a sex change; she was born the same year as the new Russia and shared the best and worst characteristics of her nation. (And was constantly being oppressed by her evil vampiric politician uncle...heh.) So of course the whole book was obsessed with what it meant to be Russian, and who was included and excluded from that. But it was also a ripping yarn and a funny Harry Potter parody. To a Russian, this was just as natural as the different layers of jokes in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and they couldn't imagine someone my age not getting it from the start.

(Me, I spent a lot of time banging my head against the desk, as I'd thought this extensive and devious of a hidden theme only existed in an English teacher's imagination....)


Hello! Months too late on this one BUT... I watched Clare Asquith on 'World Over Live' on Friday last and she piqued my interest so I ordered her book from Amazon.

I found what she said very plausible having have read Duffy's 'Stripping of the Altars' and 'The Voices of Morebath' --- which I highly recommend. It seems that the three books do go hand in hand.

I am not comfortable with 're-writing history' based on 'the winners write the history' but there are facts and events that have not been covered about the Tudor (Anglican 'Reformation') up until fairly recently. The recusants were numerous (maybe even the majority?) among the 'regular' people in England. In London proper it was different.

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