First Things Review

22 04 2014

The May edition of First Things – ‘America’s most influential journal of religion and public life’ – has a nice review of Tragic Muse.

Thumbs up:

‘fascinating book … what Dodwell does in the book is elucidate connections – in the network of clandestine Catholics; between players, playhouse owners, and landlords with one another and with Line’s family – and in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry – that make at least possible, and in my view plausible, his postulation that Anne Line was ‘Shakespeare’s tragic muse’’

Thumbs down:

‘His thoughts on Anne Line and The Tempest are regrettably elliptical’

It is in the ‘briefly noted’ section (behind a paywall in the online edition) and is by William Tighe, an historian who has specialized in Tudor and Stuart Britain. His doctoral thesis (Cambridge) was on the Gentlemen Pensioners at the court of Queen Elizabeth, and he has published on various 16th and 17th century subjects so he is in a pretty good position to make an assessment.

The one real criticism he makes: ‘His thoughts on Anne Line and The Tempest are regrettably elliptical’. I am not entirely sure what the problem is but perhaps he is implying that my thoughts do not really go anywhere, that I am somehow chasing my own tail. If so, he has a point. Although I am quite clear that Stephano’s ‘Mistress line’ (IV.i) in The Tempest is a reference to Anne Line, how this fits into the play as a whole was obscured from my mind by the dark clouds and lashing rain of incomprehension (despite seeing the force of arguments that it was a signing-off play and a psychomachia). With Cymbeline or ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’, it is quite different – I feel confident that I can see the whole work and show how the parts make up that whole – but with The Tempest the big picture eluded me. More recently though, I have been given pause by the following comment from Hugh Richmond (Emeritus English prof at Berkeley) :

The Tempest has long been recognized as directly deriving, in part, from Montaigne’s essay “Of Cannibals” (including Gonzalo’s famous speech) in which Montaigne prefers the values of the Cannibal tribe (of which Caliban is an anagram) to those of contemporary Europeans. Cannibal is a variant of Carribal (or Carribean), a name derived from the indigenous inhabitants of that region. Montaigne suggested that eating dead people was not as bad as the tortures inflicted on the living in the European religious wars.

If the theme of religious toleration is central to the play, and central to the argument is that point of Montaigne’s about the inhumanity being perpetrated in the name of religion, the hanging of Anne Line fits this precisely, as do the macabre allusions to the horrors inflicted on the two priests who died with her (‘jerkin under the line’ and references to the quartering process).

Shakespeare’s Catholicism

As part of his review, Tighe provides a summary of evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicism that bares repeating:

And Shakespeare? Evidence has been mounting over the past thirty years to support the following claims, none of them uncontested, and presented here in order of descending agreement: that Shakespeare came from a strongly Catholic family; that in all of his works he refrains from disparaging Catholic practices and beliefs, or abusing the papacy, which all would have gone over well with his audiences had he done it; that many of his plays and poems display a sympathetic attitude towards, or at least a nostalgia for, Catholicism; that he may have studied in a Lancashire Catholic gentry household (as “William Shakeshafte”) in the early 1580s, or abroad in a Catholic educational establishment; even that on three occasions in the mid-1580s he may have registered as a visitor to the English College in Rome; that he appears to have avoided making his Easter Communion in the Church of England during the years that he resided in Southwar[k] (where unusually good records of communicants have been kept and preserved); and that “he died a papist” (to cite Richard Davies, writing some decades after Shakespeare’s death).

Not a bad list, but the big miss in my opinion is the John Speed quote from 1611: ‘this papist and his poet, … the one ever feigning, the other ever falsifying the truth’. The ‘poet’ here is believed to be Shakespeare, and the ‘papist’ is Nicholas Doleman, a pseudonym of the chief Catholic propagandist of the day, the Jesuit exile Fr Robert Parsons. This hostile comment from the Protestant Speed slams Shakespeare as a ‘papist’ but it is often overlooked or underestimated because Shakespeare is not actually named in the text.


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9 responses

25 04 2014
William Tighe

Fair comment. I thought of mentioning the Speed quotation in my brief review, but I had been unaware of it prior to reading your book, and did not have the time to search out the context, and the basis for identifying Speed’s “papist” as Doleman/Parsons. Certainly, though, if the young Shakespeare had been part of St. Edmund Campion’s “entourage” in 1580/81 he would have been acquainted with Fr. Parsons.

14 05 2014
Andrea Campana

Shouldn’t it be obvious that there was a personal connection, based on the diary of Persons stating that he and Campion had been “most hospitably received” in the house of Arden during their travels?

15 05 2014
mcdodwell

It is obvious that the possibility is there, that’s for sure. Speed may have suspected that there was such a connection but I doubt if he had any more firm evidence than we have today.

25 04 2014
mcdodwell

Well, hello William Tighe. I am glad that you found the book interesting, it has been fascinating doing the research. The identification of the ‘papist’ is clear as Speed tells us in a side reference that he is ‘ND’ author of ‘Three Conversions’ (This was Robert Parson’s reply to Fox’s Protestant polemical version of history). The context of the quote is Speed’s discussion of the reign of Henry IV. The Protestant Speed wants to defend the reputation of the Lollard Sir John Oldcastle, so when he refers to ‘this papist and his poet’ he is being dismissive of those who have most prominently dissed Oldcastle – Parsons does so in scholarly fashion in Three Conversions, and Shakespeare does so through his character Falstaff, ‘old lad of the Castle’. Speed specifically mentions ‘players’, so his ‘poet’ really has to be Shakespeare: there are no other candidates. The interesting question is whether Speed links Parsons and Shakespeare just because of their attitude to Oldcastle or whether he is hinting at a more personal connection, that as you point out, could well date back to 1580/81.

14 05 2014
Andrea Campana

Also, Martin, I am wondering why neither you nor William Tighe mentioned the very famous actor Edward Alleyn in relation to Anne Line’s Alleyn kinsmen? Wouldn’t that have been a path linking Anne and Shakespeare? (There were a few ties between Alleyn and WS.)

15 05 2014
mcdodwell

Believe me I have looked for a link but haven’t found one. Except that Edward Alleyn was associated with the Lord Admiral’s Men and the Mrs Gage arrested with Anne Line was given bail after an intervention on her behalf by the Lord Admiral. Which proves that it was a small world but not much else!

15 05 2014
Andrea Campana

Edward Alleyne’s father-in-law was theater entrepreneur and impresario Philip Henslowe, and his mother was from a decidedly Catholic recusant family. I guess the question is whether he was related to Sir John Alleyne, the twice-appointed Mayor of London who was the uncle of Anne’s mother. (Edward had a brother named John.) Edward Alleyne’s career began with the Earl of Worcester’s Men, an acting company later associated with Henslowe that traveled to Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-on-Avon in the early 1580s. Also, Alleyne and perhaps Shakespeare were associated with Lord Strange’s Men. By the early 17th century, Worcester’s Men, which at times included the Shakespearean actor Will Kempe, had passed from William Somerset, the 3rd Earl of Worcester, to his son, Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester. The fourth Earl, a politically active Catholic beneath a conforming Protestant veneer, played a dangerous game: he was politically close to the Queen, serving as Elizabeth’s Master of the Horse, while sheltering numerous Jesuit priests at his home of Raglan Castle. You mention in the book that Anne reportedly attended Mass at the Earl of Worcester’s London house.

15 05 2014
mcdodwell

Yes – all good stuff. Sir John Alleyne, the Lord Mayor of London, had a mistress called Elizabeth Jay, about whom we know very little. But apparently Henry Garnet’s mother was a Jay – I would love to know if there was a connection there.

16 05 2014
Andrea Campana

I believe Henry had sisters named Margaret, Eleanor, and Anne and a brother named Richard. His mother after being widowed married a man named Hone, judge to one of the sheriff’s courts in London. When he and Southwell first landed, the authorities believed he was travelling under the alias of Allen. That’s all I know! One of the Jesuits is currently editing the letters of Garnet.

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