Shakespeare, Four Centuries On

Here is Alexi Sargeant writing at First Things:

[Yesterday], April 23rd, [marked] an important anniversary: four hundred years since the death of William Shakespeare. Or, at least, four centuries on from the traditional date of Shakespeare’s death, dated backwards from his funeral on April 25th, 1616. Similarly, Shakespeare’s birthday is not precisely known, but is commonly assigned to April 23rd, 1564, extrapolated back from his baptism on the 26th (and, likely, assigned to the same day as his death to give his life’s span the pleasing symmetry of art). So, like so much we think we know about the greatest writer in the English language, the precise dates of Shakespeare’s birth and death dodge away from us, flitting into the dark backward and abysm of time.

Much has been written in the pages of First Things about the Swan of Avon, often by writers trying to shed light on those things Shakespeare kept shadowed. What did the Bard really think about politics? Religion? Was Shakespeare a secret Catholic? Shakespeare’s Cicero says of omens, “Men can interpret things after their fashion,/ clean from the purpose of the things themselves.” Are scholars searching for a Catholic Shakespeare falling prey to this temptation? The problem, as ever, is knowing which of Shakespeare’s many vivid and opinionated characters speaks for the writer. Or, of course, if any do. (Did my Julius Caesar quote there represent a warning from the Bard, or just from me?)

Robert S. Miola cautions against this “biographical fallacy,” the idea that we can neatly discern Shakespeare’s own stance by plucking individual passages out of plays to adorn our pet theories. He reviews Joseph Pearce’s The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome, with a critical eye towards such leaps of wishful thinking…

Read more: First Things

Image credit: