Reviewed by HUGH ROSS WILLIAMSON
A. L. ROWSE
William Shakespeare, by A. L. Rowse (Macmillan, 45s.).
ICHARD DAVIES, a Gloucestershire clergyman writing about seventy years after Shakespeare's death. stated that Shakespeare "died a Papist". Sir Edmund Chambers saw no reason to doubt this and, defending Davies against the suggestion that he was merely repeating gossip, said that "what little is recorded of him suggests that he was a man of scholarly attainments", adding "it was by no means unusual for a seventeenth century Catholic to be buried in his parish church."
Dr. Rowse, in his much publicised but unimportant new book on Shakespeare, says "Shakespeare died, as he had lived, a member of the Church of England."
His reason for this statement Seems to be that Shakespeare made his will in accordance with the regular Protestant formula: "I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting .."
This particular matter has been discussed by previous writers and it has been established that there was no "regular Protestant formula". "The only merits" is carefully not 'only the merits' (which would indeed imply the heretical idea of sole fide) with "only" used in the sense, quite usual at that time, of "unique".
In treating of Shakespeare's
parents, Dr. Rowse omits to stress their life-long Catholicism. Shakespeare's marriage by a Catholic priest can indeed be inferred by those sufficiently observant to connect the reference on page II, "At Temple Grafton, John Frith was on oh] priest and unsound in religion" with the reference at page 57 to the wedding "either at Worcester or more probably at Temple Grafton".
But, in Dr. Rowse's treatment of Shakespeare's Biblical knowknowledge, the scales are so heavily weighted that it would be impossible for the ordinary reader to realise his use of the Catholic -Rheims----version.
Thus, and in other instances too many here to enumerate, Dr. Rowse's committed anti-Catholicism shows itself and results in a portrait of Shakespeare and his times which is gravely misleading. Dr. Rowse's own guesses as to the probable date of the Sonnets and the identity of the rival poet (Marlowe) are not particularly happy and not at all convincing.
In his datints, for example, the "anchor-sonnet ' is 124, which speaks of the poets love as being not "subject to Time's love or to Time's hate" and has the concluding couplet
To this I witneas call the fools of Time, Which die for goodness, who have liv'd for crime.
Dr. Rowse interprets this as referring to the deaths of the Jesuits, Fr. John Cornelius, Fr. Robert Southwell and Fr. Henry Walpole,
"in the winter of 1594-5". Fr. Cornelius was executed at the beginning of July, 1594, and Fr. Walpole in April, 1595. This isincluding the inadmissability of the interpretation on every ground-a fair sample of Dr. Rowse's method.