Friday, February 23, 2007

Two Reviews pertaining to English Catholicism

I wanted to draw readers attention to two books, which while not liturgical, I think would be of interest.

The first book was written by Fr. Peter Milward, S.J. and is titled, Shakespeare the Papist, published by Sapientia Press. ($27.95. ISBN1-932589-21-X. Link to Product)

Recently, Clare Asquith made headlines with her own book on this subject, but Fr. Milward has been another important entity in this discussion about William Shakespeare and the theory that he may have secretly been a Catholic. Early on he wrote a book, published by the Saint Austin Press, The Catholicism of Shakespeare's Plays. Shakespeare the Papist is similiar to this original smaller work, but gives a more dense consideration of the subject.

Fr. Milward begins the book by introducing the basic question that drives the considerations of the rest of the book: was William Shakespeare a recusant Catholic? Milward sets the scene of Elizabethan England and the dangers for any professed or discovered Catholic, and particularly priests. He considers the Shakespeare's own family and also the possibility of Catholic connections with the likes of St. Edmund Campion or others.

After making this general consideration, Milward proceeds to analyze various aspects of each of Shakespeare's plays to analyze them for Catholic content. In so doing, Milward is forced to consider some aspects of Shakespeare's plays which might, at first glance, appear to speak against his thesis. Milward, however, does a good job critically examining these problems and gives possible explanations -- while still acknowledging the difficulties for what they are. Whether difficulties or no, Milward makes a compelling argument for an underlying Catholic message and influence.

The essential beauty of a book of this sort is two-fold. On the one hand, one gains insight into an interesting thesis that looks at an interesting, if dismaying, period of English Catholic history. In the second instance, it also provides an opportunity to become more familiar with Shakespeare's plays themselves, with some of their basic themes.

I would propose that any Catholic interested in literature would be extremely intrigued by this particular volume, and it would be an interesting exercise, the next time you are set to see one of Shakespeare's plays, to read the particular summary of Milward for that play. One might just see the play in a new and possible light.

The second book I wished to draw your attention to is published by Gracewing, Faith and Fortune by Madeleine Beard. (Link to Product)

This particular title considers both the prejudices against the Catholic faith in England of the 19th century, and the journey of certain of the English aristocracy back to their Catholic roots.

What is of liturgical interest in this title is that in the course of the book, Madeleine Beard takes readers through some of the experiences of English aristocrats abroad, escaping the cooler English winters for those of the milder Meditteranean. This brought many of these individuals into contact with an uninterrupted Catholicism whose liturgy and piety had continuous growth through the centuries -- unlike its then state in England as a persecuted minority. As such, readers are treated to interesting descriptions of papal Masses, processions and piety of 19th century Italy, Spain and the Catholic continent generally -- which, I have personally found to be of great liturgical interest.

What one gets out of the book will vary, though for myself, this cue as to the liturgical life and popular practices as Rome, Spain and such was particularly of interest. Others will find of greater interest the stories of conversion, or insight into the politics and polemics that English Catholics and English Catholic converts faced.

All said, a very unique and interesting book.

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