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Thomas International Center
February 2006


Ralph McInerny


To Be or Not To Be



A few years ago I came across a book entitled Claudel thomiste? and began it with some skepticism. For all of my life long love of Claudel, I thought the book would be an exercise in far-fetched interpretation. Not at all. The author made a strong case for the continuing influence on the great French poet of his early reading of the two summae of Thomas. Of late, there has been a spate of books dealing with the Catholicism of Shakespeare. Clare Asquith's Shadowplay is the most detailed and convincing presentation of the bard in his relation to the faith. Inspired by her experience watching Soviet readings of Chekov and their coded political message, Asquith was inspired to look for the same thing in Shakespeare. And she finds it. Hers is a magnificent, painstaking and finally persuasive book.

One had learned from Belloc and Chesterton to suspect the official version of what had happened under Henry VIII and Elizabeth; the real story of how the faith had been repressed in England was ignored. Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars is an earlier detailed account of the confiscation of Church property and the stifling of the Catholic reaction. One can almost think that the reformers were even harsher on England  than they were on Ireland. There were martyrs, there were heroes of resistance, and there were the more equivocal cases of people like Shakespeare who trod a fine line between apostasy and fidelity. Asquith enables us to read plays, early, middle and late, in a new way. Her treatment of Julius Caesar and Hamlet is particularly convincing.

It is ironic, given the current state of religion in England, to be reminded of  days when the faith was taken seriously enough to risk one's life for it. Perhaps in a few years, with the continuing Islamification of the island kingdom, this story would again be suppressed. Thank God the story is being told while there is still time.


Ralph McInerny