A Jesuit Shakespeare?


Shakespeare’s religious beliefs are the subject of an ongoing scholarly debate. In 1616, the year Shakespeare died, the Jesuit press at the College of St. Omer—then in the Spanish Flanders but now in France—published an edition of poems by the Jesuit martyr Robert Southwell in which the preface, ‘The Author to his loving Cousin,’ was altered to read, ‘To my worthy good cousin Maister W.S.’ from ‘Your loving cousin, R.S.’ Scholars are now wondering whether the recipient of the poems was William Shakespeare.

In a new Heythrop Journal article, Andrea Campana notes that recent studies showing the decisive influence of Southwell’s poems and prose on Shakespeare’s language and the distinctive Jesuit message of Catholic perseverance in Shakespeare’s work, as well as a biographical connection between Shakespeare and the network of secretly Catholic families sheltering Jesuits in hiding, make it likely that the early Jesuit missionaries played a role in the making of the Shakespearean canon.

“The article, which proposes the Jesuit theologian and controversialist John Floyd (1574-1649) as the editor of the press at St. Omer most likely to have written the dedication, was published amid a flurry of excitement over the recent discovery of a First Folio at the site of the former Jesuit library in St. Omer,” said Ms. Campana. “In combination with the extensive quotation of Shakespearean plays by Floyd in his political writings, even before publication of the plays in some cases, and before the death of Shakespeare, the discovery strengthens arguments not only for the use of Shakespeare’s work for Jesuit instructional purposes but for a real and tangible biographical relationship between the playwright and the Jesuits.”

The article “If a Jesuit Pope, Why Not a Jesuit Shakespeare? There’s Something in Air ….” will appear in an upcoming issue of The Heythrop Journal. You can also access it via Wiley Online Library.

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