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Shakespeare and Dante: Demonic Agency as Literary Theory
January 26, 2012
Shakespeare and Dante: Demonic Agency as Literary Theory William Shakespeare’s Portrait by John Taylor, 1610
Shakespeare and Dante Demonic Agency as Literary Theory
January 2012 November 2011
Chapter One “Double-Meaning Prophesier: Catholicism in Shakespeare” The Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from Him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must render an account. (Hebrews 4:12-13, TJB) The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. (Eph. 6:17, TJB) Father… I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word…
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I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me… Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word; That they may all be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also me be one in us. (John 17:1-21, KJV) I knew a man in Christ… How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter… And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:2-7, KJV) As man is the best of animals when perfected, so is he the worst of all when sundered from law and justice… when devoid of virtue, man is the most unscrupulous and savage of animals. (Aristotle, Politics, I.i.12) Man’s life is a day. What is he?/ What is he not? A shadow in a dream Is man: but when God sheds a brightness,/ Shining life is on earth/ And life is sweet as honey. (Pindar, Pythian 8.93-97, trans. Bowra) If America does not yet have great writers, we need not look for the reasons elsewhere: literary genius does not exist without freedom of mind, and there is not freedom of mind in America. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. I, § 267) What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith… The spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own, without bias. The spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded. The spirit of liberty is the Spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but never quite forgotten. (Learned Hand, American Jurist, 1944 Address in Central Park, New York)
1. Criticism, Θεωρία and Πραξις
In his essay ‘Ideological Criticism and Pluralism,’ presented at the Special Session of the Modern Language Association on “The Role of Ideology in the Criticism and Metacriticism of Shakespeare” (Washington, 1989), Richard Levin took position against neo-Marxists literary critics who reject the idea that “one can attain objective knowledge of a literary text” alleging that “interpretations are always determined by the interpreter’s ideology and so are never objective.” To counter a critical stance that would make any form of criticism impossible and undermine the very notion of criticism, Levin discussed his idea of “perspectivism or pluralism,” which “does not deny the possibility of objective knowledge of the text.” Such pluralistic perspectivism “affirms that the various approaches can attain such knowledge in their own terms, since they are not ‘intervening’ to ‘produce’ different objects, but are only different ways of viewing the object.” Only a pluralism grounded in reciprocal respect and intellectual honesty allows for scholarly dialogue: it “enables us to live together and talk to each other, because we can understand and respect our different approaches.” In this way, criticism retains its fundamental ability to assess the validity and truth of statements and interpretations. This is especially relevant in dealing with certain types of criticism that are popular today, which criticize all theological approaches to literature claiming that they are ‘dogmatic.’ Such critics belong to the most disparate schools of thought – from feminism to neo-Marxism, from New Historicism to skepticism. Nevertheless, they share and agree on a basic antireligious agenda that informs their interpretation, and which they tend to impose not only on other independent critics, but also on their students and department colleagues, thus creating a climate of tyranny and forced consent in the academic environment, which is in fact intended for the free development of the individual. This is what De Tocqueville calls the “tyranny” or “despotism of the majority” (Democracy in America, Vol. I, §257 ff.), and what he says about the overt and covert threats to free-thought and intellectual honesty in the 19th century also rings very true for the current politics of academic publishing and hiring. In his epoch-making political treatise, De Tocqueville addresses the notion of dogma and the necessity of dogma for the proper functioning of human reason: we can therefore appropriately consider his reflections à propos those critics who are used to indicting the theological approaches to literature for being ‘dogmatic.’ In ‘The Principal Source of Beliefs among Democratic Peoples,’ De Tocqueville very reasonably states that “one cannot make it so that there are no dogmatic beliefs, that is to say opinions which men accept on trust without debate.” Indeed, “[t]here is no philosopher in the world so great that he does not believe a million things on the word of others, and who does not assume many more truths that he has proven,” including the very dogma of the sovereignty of people on which democracy is based. The reason why man cannot dispense with dogma is given by his limited condition – limited in terms of intellect, as well as time and opportunity: man cannot demonstrate “all the truths that he makes use of each day,” but must accept previous truths based on the authority and demonstrations of others, assume them as the foundation for his own and progress in this way, by building upon tradition.
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On the other hand, it is deplorable that such critiques directed against theology come from positions – Marxism, feminism, New Criticism and other formalisms, deconstruction, New Historicism, skepticism, etc. – which are heavily ideological per se. In this light, feminism dogmatically assumes that abortion is a woman’s civil right, when in fact others might consider that the freedom of one individual stops where the life and freedom of the other begins. In the same anti-critical way, Marxism and neo-Marxism are dogmatically grounded on the idea that the spirit of man is the ‘product’ of material culture, even in spite of the fact that the development of monotheism in the West shows how the actual direction is from thought to matter – a direction proved, inter alia, by the history of Marxism itself. Again, New Criticism and other formalisms would dogmatically consider the work of art as an independent artifact, wholly insulated from the historical moment in which it was composed, as well as from the personal history and intentionality of the author – without considering that the reason why Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, for instance, could not have been written by Plato or Aristotle has to do with precise historical factors, with the personal history and character of the author, as well as his intentions in writing his opus. In the same way, deconstruction dogmatically asserts that “the history of truth… has always been… the debasement of writing, and its repression outside ‘full’ speech,” and proposes an agenda whereby any text – but especially the Bible – must be perverted and forcibly made to say the opposite of what it explicitly maintains. Indeed, if it is true that deconstruction “imploded” in a meta-critical moment of truth, if the age of deconstruction has ended for good, and if the “ideological roots” of deconstruction were exposed by those who did not gain from the distribution of its literary spoils, it is also unfortunately true that the damages done to the humanities will require many years to repair and overcome.
New Historicism, closely allied to neo-Marxism and equally claiming a pseudo-scientific validity for itself, has recently been exposed and shown to partake in those very ideologies it purported to debunk. Speaking about our need to become aware of “effective history” or Wirkungsgeschichte, Hans-Georg Gadamer describes the new historical approach in terms of “naïveté” and a generalized failure of self-analysis: “historical objectivism shows its naïveté… Real historical thinking must take account of its own historicity;” and: “historical objectivism conceals the fact that historical consciousness is itself situated in the web of historical effects… it preserves its good conscience by failing to recognize the presuppositions… that govern its own understanding, and hence falls short of reaching that truth which, despite the finite nature of our understanding, could be reached.”
Gadamer’s epistemologically sound approach is also realistically constructivist, and in itself it constitutes an authoritative critique of another common trend in contemporary criticism: skepticism, which in the field of Shakespearean studies finds its believers and devotees in personalities such as Stanley Cavell, Graham Bradshaw, John Cox and Millicent Bell. Apparently, few people manage to appreciate the logical impossibility of skepticism, which makes it a living paradox and a contradiction in terms: the professed certainty, in other words, that there are no certainties. Whenever one reads declarations on the alleged, oxymoronic ‘skeptical faith’ of Shakespeare, one truly wonders how they were arrived at. “[S]kepticism has come to be
Shakespeare’s assumed position,” announces Cox. In the same way, Cavell describes his ‘conviction’ itself as constituting evidence – “my conviction, or evidence” – for he has received an “intuition of the occurrence of skepticism in Shakespeare.” Apparently, Descartes-like, he had a “clear and distinct perception” of the reality of skepticism in Shakespeare: but how did he reach it and whence did he obtain it, since “we cannot achieve certainty in our knowledge of existence on the basis of senses alone, hence on no human basis”? According to Cavell, his conviction constitutes evidence, but at the same time, his conviction is also an “intuition,” and “an intuition… does not require evidence.” And it is upon such super-human intuition that he grounds all his subsequent speculation about Shakespeare’s alleged skepticism – a logically flawed procedure in itself, which becomes all the more paradoxical when he admits that he does not “command the learning to argue seriously on historical evidence that… skepticism finds its way into Shakespeare’s words.” In this way, he builds a deeply flawed argument and denounces it – all on the same page. If this is what is being marketed as scholarship – and if this is what is being taught to students as an instance of sound logic and argumentation – it is not surprising that the humanities, and literary studies in particular, have recently been under attack and increasingly find themselves in the position of having to justify their very existence.
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Indeed, Cavell and other skeptics never mention the fact that, from the point of view of logic, sentences like: “It is impossible to know the truth,” or: “There is no objective truth” are always false, in that they present themselves as categorical assertions which are predicated on their own negation, hence the logical impossibility of skepticism. In truth, the skeptical position is not technically a ‘dogma’ anymore, but already an ‘ideology,’ which is to say, an instance of Marxian false conscience in which the speaker is aware of the untruth he is putting forward, but does it nonetheless. And in this light, it is also possible to recognize the disingenuous misreading of tradition to serve one’s ideology, as when Cavell cites Descartes as an instance of skeptical philosopher, trying to erase the fact that Descartes places God, and the innate idea of God and self, at the foundation of his entire philosophy:
nam… unitas, simplicitas, sive inseparabilitas eorum omnium quae in Deo sunt, una est ex praecipuis perfectionibus quas in eo esse intelligo […]Superest tantum ut examinem qua ratione ideam istam a Deo accepi… nec etiam a me efficta est, nam nihil ab illa detrahere, nihil illi superaddere plane possum, ac proinde superest ut mihi sit innata, quemadmodum etiam mihi est innata idea mei ipsius. […]Et sane non mirum est Deum, me creando ideam illam mihi indidisse, ut esset tanquam nota artificis operi suo impressa.
Descartes states that he is aware of God as a supreme being “who possesses all those lofty perfections, of which the mind may have some slight perception” without fully understanding them: and from the awareness of such perfection derives the logic certainty that God “cannot be a deceiver” (“satis patet illum [Deum] fallacem esse non posse”) inasmuch as deception (“fraudem”) cannot be part of the perfect Being, who is free from all defect. In this way, Descartes grounds his system of thought on the logic certainty of God, the perfect Being who is not a deceiver: human perceptions and intuitions can be reliable if and
because they are supported by God and by the idea of God in man.
For this reason, Cavell cannot claim that the skepticism he has in mind – “how to live at all in a groundless world” – is the same as the philosophy of Descartes, who was very far removed from such materialistic conceptions. Cavell’s counterfactual statement is that Descartes ‘raises questions’ about “God’s existence” and ‘the immortality of the soul,” when in fact that is the precisely the foundation of Descartes’s philosophy. Descartes does not raise questions about the existence of God: he observes that His existence is a fact, and builds the edifice of his speculation upon it. Even Cavell is obliged to contradict himself, as he must admit that “[i]n Descartes’s thinking, the ground, one gathers, still exists, in the assurance of God.” But, he adds, Descartes’s “very clarity about the necessity of God’s assurance in establishing a rough adequation or collaboration between our everyday judgments and the world… means that if assurance in God will be shaken, the ground of the everyday is thereby shaken.” This is precisely the point: for Descartes, the ground is not shaken but solidly established in God – regardless of Cavell’s opinion about it. It is therefore a deeply flawed and ideological procedure to read the text of Descartes ‘against the grain’ so as to make it say the opposite of what is intended; it is a flawed procedure to put the legitimate author under erasure in order to foreground a critic who has no respect for and therefore is completely unrelated to him. By projecting his own ideology on the text, this sort of critic virtually ‘devours’ it for his own gain and consumption.
It is necessary to consider the issue of skepticism in contemporary literary criticism. The fact that that is the most popular stance in current debates, virtually in any field, also explains why so much scholarship has lost, or rather, relinquished its own raison d’être. Skepticism is the underlying ideology of many critics today, who combine it with one or more of the many factions and denominations now available on the academic market: deconstruction, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, feminism, and so on – whose only common denominator is an a priori anti-religious attitude. Such academic schizophrenia is aptly epitomized in Habermas’s definition of a “fragmented consciousness” as a condition of the will that “blocks enlightenment by the mechanism of reification.” And indeed, like the “autonomous subsystems” that colonize the lifeworld, these newly devised and utterly foreign strands of thought predate on the literature of the past as “colonial masters,” forcing “a process of assimilation upon it” in the name of rationality and scientificity. As the autonomous subsystems growing on the lifeworld, they too need to be “stripped of their ideological veils.” What makes their position indefensible and untenable is the logical impossibility of skepticism itself, which clearly appears when the skeptic critic has to support his own thesis: indeed, he is skeptical of everybody else’s position, but he passionately believes in his own. To consider a philosophy more sound and more worthy of reflection, let us see how Habermas’s thought on the interrelatedness of faith and rationality can help us overcome the impasse in which the humanities currently find themselves. In The Dialectics of Secularization, Jürgen Habermas conducts a dialogue with Joseph Ratzinger on the “essential complementarity of faith and reason.” His “starting point” is an awareness of the limits and the derivative origin of what is commonly understood as ‘reason’: “when reason
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reflects on its deepest foundations, it discovers that it owes its origin to something else. And it must acknowledge the fateful power of its origin… the reason that becomes aware of its limitations thus transcends itself in the direction of something else. […] But more is involved here than respect: philosophy has good reasons to be willing to learn from religious traditions.”
Habermas is here referring to the metaphysical origin of philosophical thought in Greece, as well as to the “mutual compenetration of Christianity and Greek metaphysics” that informs and characterizes Western speculation. He observes that the idea of ethical and moral values is indissolubly linked to that of the transcendental, and that religiosity and “religious fellowships” make a “functional contribution… to the reproduction of motivations and attitudes that are societally desirable.” This is all the more necessary because “the markets and the power of bureaucracy are expelling social solidarity… from more and more spheres in life.” Indeed, democratic governments have come to realize that the deep forces that guide citizens in their political choices and orientation belong to realm of religion and morality: they are, in certain respects, both pre-political and post-political: “[t]hus, it is in the interest of the constitutional state to deal carefully with all the cultural sources that nourish its citizens; consciousness of norms and their solidarity.” It is this social awareness that Habermas defines as characteristic of a ‘post-secular’ society. He remarks that “religion is holding its own in an increasingly secular environment,” and society would do well to recognize its importance as well as its own dependence upon the constructive informing principles of all legitimate religions.
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In order to coexist and prosper, faith and reason must acknowledge their relatedness and mutual dependence, and must develop themselves within an atmosphere of tolerance. In this context of relatedness, Habermas discusses at length the necessity of tolerance for civil society in his Between Naturalism and Religion: “Tolerance protects a pluralistic society from being torn apart as a political community by conflicts over worldviews. […] Refraining from discrimination, and hence showing equal respect for everybody, is what is called for in the first instance toward those who are different, rather than the tolerance called for by those who think differently.” Tolerance and mutual respect are the preconditions for an intellectually honest and fruitful scholarly debate among critics, but even before that, critics must respect their authors and tolerate the fact that they too may believe in and operate according to ideas that are altogether different than their own.
Northrop Frye asserts so much when he discusses the need for criticism to employ the same schemes of reference as the literature they consider, which often belongs to a remote and distant past, without projecting on it some idiosyncratic, contemporary thought-systems that are completely alien to its own presuppositions and aims: “criticism deals with literature in terms of a specific conceptual framework. The framework is not… something outside literature… This latter gives us, in criticism, the fallacy of what in history is called determinism […] It would be easy to compile a long list of such determinisms in criticism, all of them, whether Marxist, Thomistic, liberalhumanist, neo-Classical, Freudian, Jungian, or existentialist, substituting a critical attitude for criticism, all proposing, not to find a conceptual framework
for criticism within literature, but to attach criticism to one of a miscellany of framework outside it. The axioms and postulates of criticism, however, have to grow out of the art it deals with.”
Early in his career, Frye came to the realization that the ‘great code’ of Western literature is the Bible: an infinite source of inspiration for the greatest artists in our tradition. Therefore, all his subsequent work de facto revolved around the Bible: “I soon realized that a student of English literature who does not know the Bible does not understand a good deal of what is going on in what he reads: the most conscientious student will be continually misconstruing the implications, even the meaning. So I offered a course in the English Bible as a guide to the study of English literature, and as the most efficient way of learning about it myself.”
The Bible, says Frye, has influenced Anglo-American literature from the Anglo-Saxons to contemporary writers; it has exerted such influence on Western imagination “as a unity,” with a unifying pattern of symbols, metaphors and extended metaphors in form of allegories, as well as a polysemous sense that generally requires deep hermeneutical work. In his study, Frye considers the Bible not only as a work of literature, as is commonly done today, but as inspired writing of a particular kind: because “the Bible is just so obviously ‘more’ than a work of literature.”
As hermeneutical approaches, he chose the ones he saw as relevant and meaningful for poets: medieval typology on the one hand, and “certain forms of Reformation commentary” on the other. In this way, he tried to explain why and how poets drew inspiration from Sacred Scripture. For his analysis, he did not consider the Jewish or Islamic Bible, but the Christian one – even discounting the differences between the Catholic and Protestant translations – since it is the Christain Bible which exerted the greatest influence on Western literature. Frye is adamant that “there is no… excuse today for scholars who, in discussing cultural issues originally raised by the Bible and still largely informed by it, proceed as though the Bible did not exist,” and he finds it necessary that a non-specialist in Biblical studies call attention to the relevance of the Bible for literary criticism. Frye’s suggestion – that literature be discussed in terms of its inner frames of reference and that the Bible be recognized as one of the major sources of inspiration for Western literature – seem so basic and commonsensical that one may be tempted to take it for granted. But in fact, Frye’s position was heavily criticized in his day, and it is has almost been silenced in ours, buried beneath the same heap of irrational, nonsensical theory that is suffocating the humanities – as Joyce would say: the “mudmound” or “mounding’s mass” of “the litter” is smothering “the letter.” One of the best instances of institutionalized senselessness was Jonathan Culler’s attack against the “Eurocentric pieties” and the “complicity of literary study with religion,” which was immortalized in his polemic pieces ‘A Critic Against the Christians’ Pieties.’
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and ‘Comparative Literature and the
His intemperate outbursts have been reasonably countered by , and to these critics I will refer in
Roy Battenhouse and James M. Kee the following discussion.
Culler’s attack right from the beginning establishes a rather puzzling superimposition between nationality and religion, as if one were the product
of the other – or vice versa. Hence, in his mind, comparative literature should ‘deflate’ “the partisan pretensions of nationalistic critics” and the “association of literature with national character,” as well as the institution of religion in general and the “pieties of nationalisms” in particular. Culler claims that the supra-national perspective of comparative literature should adopt an a priori anti-religious stance to guarantee political correctness, and ensure not that noone is left out, but that no-one is let in. And in fact, he deplores the recent “striking revival of interest in the sacred,” whereby comparative literature is seen as contributing to “the legitimization of religious discourse.” As specimens of dangerously religiously-bent scholars, he cites Northrop Frye, of course – but also, very tongue-in-cheek, Geoffrey Hartman and Harold Bloom. Indeed, he laments, our comp. lit. departments nowadays have “Marxists, Lacanians, deconstructionists, and feminists” in overplus, “but seldom anyone who actively attacks religion.” Culler is dismayed at the sacrilegious violation of his discipline, since the “critique of religion,” he submits, is “the proudest heritage of comparative literature studies.” It is (perhaps) by virtue of its “critical demystificatory force” that the discipline has even been able to exert a constructive influence on “the thought and discourse of Western culture.” And this is precisely the core of the article: Culler intends to legitimize a combined attack on religion not because literature, in his view, is alien to religion; but because he sees religion as providing an “ideological legitimation for many reactionary or repressive forces in America today.” In other words, comparative literature should ‘debunk’ “Christian mythology” not for intrinsic reasons, because Western literature has nothing to do with Christianity; but for political reasons that are completely extrinsic to literature and literature departments, and are instead connected to what he calls the “politics of criticism.” Literary criticism has a political function: and for this reason it should receive attention and funding from the academy as well as other political-economic institutions. At the same time, Culler is the first to recognize the impracticability of his agenda when dealing with canonic authors like Milton, for instance, who are evidently influenced by Christianity. Milton’s Paradise Lost – he suggests – should be framed in light of the creational “myth” it presupposes: “Perhaps when teaching Paradise Lost we ought not to draw back from suggesting that this account of creation is a myth, and initiating discussion of its implications.” We wonder at the remarkable mystical insight of Culler, who has been granted infallible knowledge that the Biblical account of creation is indeed nothing but a mythical fantasy. And at the same time, we wonder at the reaction of Milton’s spirit, who since then must have been walking the corridors of the MLA at night, shaken out of his grave by the thought that he is indirectly financing an outrageous number of ungrateful, disrespectful and insolent people who could not care less for what he (Milton) really believed in life, but rather teach their students to regard his source of inspiration, Christianity and the Christian Bible, as a personal idiosyncrasy, a Puritanical delusion, “a curious, irrelevant survival” even in our society. To offset such critical folly, Roy Battenhouse and James M. Kee, among others, have expounded many reasonable arguments which, to judge by the current condition of comparative literature studies, have gone unheeded. In his article on postmodern thinking and religion, for instance, Kee calls deconstructionists to be truly faithful to their own Heideggerian premises, which include a critique of metaphysics as well as of the modern subject existing within language: “Since Derrida has always insisted that the critical subject of the modern epoch is situated in the differential web of language, deconstruction’s critique of metaphysics applies to this subject’s pretensions to autonomy.” is difficult to imagine how the subject that exists in the “postmodern
hermeneutical situation” could be able to appropriate the religious traditions of humankind to disown and deny them, since that in itself would be a “modern metaphysical gesture.” The subject that experiences an existential aporia, says Klee, cannot claim a negational “metaphysical mastery” of this sort, but must accept that the mode of being of Being comprises concealment as well as unconcealment, absence and presencing, theophanic “emergence and withdrawal.” Heidegger’s Gelassenheit, an opening to the mystery of Being, is an invitation to articulate the dialogue involved in the relationship between humanity and divinity, in which poetry predisposes the mind to “an encounter between thinking and its other” within a “dialogical situation.” It is only in the dialogue between being and Being that a negotiation is possible between lēthē and alētheia, “between euporia and aporia, between blindness and insight.”
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Roy Battenhouse, on the other hand, points out that “Shakespeare has a more mystery-laden sense of history and a more complex understanding of human nature” than today’s many neo-Marxist critics who anachronistically backproject their ideology on an Author who was completely alien to it, thus obtaining puzzling results especially in terms of teaching efficaciousness: “A fair question to ask of any critical method is how valuable its results are,” and their “worth for education.” Without referring to the Christian ethos of transcendence and self-sacrifice, he reminds us, it is impossible to explain to a “class of undergraduates” how “benevolent love” can overcome a will to power that allegedly determines every human activity: how is it possible to explain “the surprise of [Cordelia’s] choosing to return good for evil;” or “the surprising act, by a nameless servant, of resisting at the cost of his life the blinding of Gloucester;” and also “the surprise of a deathbed repentance by an Edmund who had formerly espoused only a will to power”?
The only way to give an account of the numerous “surprises” in Shakespeare’s writings, which are utterly unexplainable in human terms, is to see and understand them within their proper scheme of reference, which is to say, Christian theology. For the reasons we will discuss in the second section of this chapter, devoted to the historical and personal evidence of Shakespeare’s time and life, Christianity was the strongest force present and active in Renaissance Europe, both at the social and at a deeply personal level in people’s life. It is not possible to arrive at a sound understanding of Shakespeare’s art without reference to Christian theology and the Christian Bible, which represent the greatest sources of inspiration for the artist. The question to consider now is how to establish a fruitful relationship between theology and literature, and how to convey this relatedness to students and readers. To answer the first theoretic question, we will discuss the work of Terence R. Wright, especially his Theology and Literature; while for the second pragmatic question, we will remember Northrop Frye’s experience with his classes, as described in his Anatomy of Criticism.
While his emphasis is mainly on Anglo-American literature, Terence Wright acknowledges the essential role of religion and theology in Western Art. He articulates his theoretical and practical goal as an exploration of “some of the literary forms adopted by faith,”
a “critical reading of texts” in which
theology and literature “meet and act upon each other.” In this light, Wright analyzes the literary texts in the form in which they stand and
evaluates their “theological significance” utilizing the specialized hermeneutical tools of the two-thousand-year old critical tradition that revolves around the Sacred Scriptures, including the writings of scholars and theologians such as the Church Fathers, St. Augustine, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Dominic, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas Aquinas among the most prominent. It is by virtue of this insight that Wright is able to “claim a more serious theological role for [Shakespeare’s] plays, insisting on their potential to explore and to supplement Reformation discussion on the nature of evil.” This is indeed one of the main and most sublime aspects of Shakespeare’s art, which is also a sublime study in the portraiture of evil, not dissimilar from Machiavelli’s The Prince: a universal debunking of the evil ways of power, for the benefit of the virtuous ones who desire to avoid it and live according to God’s Law – as Desdemona affirms: “God me such uses send/ Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend!” (Othello, V.i.103-104) Only through an appropriate use of Christian theology is it possible to recognize and discuss this essential feature of Shakespeare’s art, which would be altogether unintelligible in a relativistic universe, without the presence of God to establish an ultimate difference between good and evil as moral and ontological forces.
Wright thus defines his perceptive theological approach
to literature not as “theological poetry” but rather as “poetics of faith.” At the end of our discussion in this chapter, we will see how it is possible to rephrase his definition as a ‘faithful poetics’ – a poetics, that is, which will be faithful to the layered textual meaning and to the authorial intentions.
As for the second, pragmatic part of the discourse on theology and literature, i.e. its application to the real life situation of teaching undergraduates and graduates alike – given that teaching is still and always will be the justification for and raison d’être of literary studies – let us remember Northrop Frye’s experience with his university courses on Western literature and the Bible: “The academic aim is to see what the subject means, not to accept or reject it. The greater majority of my students understood this principle at once: those who had difficulty with it showed an invariable pattern of resistance.” And he explained such resistance as a character trait of our epoch, highlighting the fact that “there are fewer mental blocks in studying religious traditions outside our own.”
In other words, a volume on ‘Buddhist Shakespeare’ such as James
Howe’s 1994 original publication is likely to meet more interest and openminded reception than a study on Catholic Shakespeare – even if there is no historical or biographical reason to suspect that Shakespeare may have been a crypto-Buddhist himself. And it is, in this light, quite telling that Howe’s discussion of Buddhist themes in Shakespeare should bring to the reader’s attention precisely those articles of Buddhist theology that are common to Christianity: an ethos of egolessness, self-denial and even “self-hatred” as renunciation of desire (p. 129); the key role of empathy and compassion (p. 96 ff.); brotherly forgiveness and peace (p. 27 ff.); and the fundamental importance of religious Art, i.e. images, for human understanding (p. 200 ff.)
Following the example of Northrop Frye and Terry Wright, my duty in the following sections of this first chapter will be to illustrate how a reading of
Shakespeare according to the principles of Christian theology is able to shed light on some of the fundamental themes of his sublime art, such as demonic agency and the theological doctrine and existential reality of victim souls. A careful study of the Sacred Scriptures and an application of Biblical hermeneutics are essential for such literary-theological approach, and essential it is that such study be conducted according to the basic principle of respect both for the spirit and the letter of the Bible. As Frye reminds us, “the Bible is just so obviously ‘more’ than a work of literature.” The Bible is and has been considered for more than two-thousand years a work inspired by God: the poets who in their turn were inspired by it understood it in this way, and the critics whose duty is to enlighten their Art must also consider it as divinely inspired, if they want to develop an understanding of their authors’ inspiration and Art. It is vital to remind ourselves of the necessary attitude of respect in studying and interpreting the Bible: in the same way as we respect Shakespeare as a valuable, universal artist, we must also respect his source of inspiration, the Christian Bible, as a valuable, universal book that needs to be considered according to its internal frame of reference. The first principle of such referential scheme is that the Bible is a work of divine inspiration: there is no point in applying skepticism or deconstructionist reversal to it, for in that case we would be discussing an idea without referential meaning in reality, a book that does not exist in the actual world but only in our mind: a figment of our own imagination. I am here referring to recent examples of Biblical ‘commentary’ from selfappointed specialists such as Harold Bloom, whose 2005 Jesus and Yahweh: the Names Divine is not a work of rigorous scholarship but a manifesto of scholarly fraud: an example of how it is possible, in today’s decayed and diseased academy, to publish a collection of mystifications and counterfactual statements and get away with it because of the greed of the people involved. Greed or covetousness is a desire for worldly riches above and beyond one’s merit, which has infected humanity since time immemorial: and greed is the only rationale for the astonishing lack of competent peer-review in the case of publications such as Bloom’s reversal of the Sacred Scriptures. Greedy are the owners and boards of directors of vanity presses such as Riverhead; and greedy are the university administrations that capitalize on the notorious renown of a scholar in order to attract more paying students, who are offered the American dream in the form of a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich:” it does not matter in the least if the book is but an ideological mystification – if it comes from a rich scholar, it must be good. Indeed, neither the presses nor the university administrations give a second thought to the accuracy and truthfulness of the information in print: this is not their aim. Their aim is to appeal to a relatively large section of the public composed by rebellious youth or young adults with intellectual aspirations. This sort of public is the product of our decayed televised and massified society, raised and colonized by the media with a systematic anti-religious indoctrination that leads them astray with examples of institutionalized vice, only to leave them hopeless and unable to resolve their inevitable sense of guilt for indulging in such vice. Books like Bloom’s have the important function to appease that sense of guilt: systematically cheated by the media and the academia, these young pseudo-intellectuals are given, with the seal of the institution, a false sense of legitimation for rejecting God and religion in favor of massified pleasure. And in fact, the drift of The Names Divine is to instill in the readers a generalized, bitter resentment against God: Bloom’s blasphemous suggestion is that God Himself has betrayed the covenant with humanity, because He is a tyrant and a sadist with a flair for ironic narratives, ambiguity and misreadings. Rather than a faithful representation of Yahweh,
conducted according to scholarly methods, this is obviously a disingenuous self-projection of Bloom himself. In so doing, Bloom betrays not only his origins – by offending the sensibility of the whole Jewish people with blasphemous fabrications about the nature of Yahweh. But he also insults the majority of the world population, composed of Christians, Muslims and Jews, who share their faith in the same God. All this could happen because of the corrupt practices of publishing houses and university administrations exploiting the good faith of readers and students: for indeed, who among Bloom’s colleagues and employers has ever protested for his systematic lack of scholarly rigor and competent peer-review?
It is necessary to consider this question carefully in light of the much debated ‘death of the humanities’ afflicting our departments today, and before dealing with the influence of Christianity in Shakespeare’s plays. Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, is a vital force in Shakespeare’s art. There are historical as well as biographical reasons why this is so, and we are going to analyze them also in relation to the textual evidence of the plays. But our discussion will – unlike recent fashions of Biblical misappropriations – be faithful to the spirit in which the Scriptures were composed and read by inspired artists like Shakespeare.
2. The State of the Religious in Reformation Evidence
In his Lectures on Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841), Thomas Carlyle discusses the ‘Hero as Poet’ with reference to Shakespeare. His words were prophetic of the current developments in Shakespeare studies:
In some sense it may be said that this glorious Elizabethan Era with its Shakespeare, as the outcome and flowering of all which had preceded it, is itself attributable to the Catholicism of the Middle Ages. The Christian Faith, which was the theme of Dante’s Song, had produced this practical life which Shakespeare was to sing. For Religion then, as it now and always is, was the soul of Practice; the primary vital fact in men’s life. And remark here, as rather curious, that Middle-Age Catholicism was abolished, so far as Acts of Parliament could abolish it, before Shakespeare, the noblest product of it, made his appearance. He did make his appearance nevertheless. Nature at her own time, with Catholicism or what else might be necessary, sent him forth; taking small thoughts of Acts of Parliament. King-Henrys, Queen-Elizabeths go their way; and Nature too goes hers.
Carlyle recognizes that the genius of Shakespeare was the product of the Catholic culture of the Middle Ages, with its public and private education revolving around the Sacred Scriptures; its religious theater of mystery- and miracle-plays; its conception of the divine rights of kings and of temporal power as originating from the Majesty of God; its highly symbolic and allegorical Art; its religious architecture; its divinely inspired literature. As Kim F. Hall writes in her much-admired critical edition of Othello, “religion was the dominant means by which early moderns understood and ordered
Religion was not only a matter of private worship, but had an essential social role in providing the foundation and justification of temporal political power, ordering the relationships among individuals and social groups. It is for this reason that King James VI & I could advocate the principle of the divine right of kings in his The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598) and Basilikon Doron (1599), where monarchical power is conceived of as an extension of the apostolic succession initiated by Jesus Christ, as He established the foundation of His Universal Church with Peter.
In the Basilikon, especially, whose 1603 London edition enjoyed great success and sold thousands of copies, James devotes the first book to the description – ostensibly for the edification of his son, heir to the throne; but primarily to promote an image of himself as a responsible, God-fearing monarch at the beginning of his mandate – the description of the Christian king’s duties toward God: it was the king’s duty to love and fear the Omnipotent God, to study the Sacred Scripture attentively, and to spend time in prayer to give thanks to God for His bountiful gifts. As the monarch represented the Head of the State, his example was meant to serve as a model of behavior for all respectable citizens, his subjects. James’s other publications also give witness to the key role that religion and theology performed both socially and politically: in The Lepanto (1591), for instance, James extols the surprising Christian victory over the Ottoman Turks in one of the most famous and crucial battles in history: at Lepanto, in 1571. As noted in Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577), one of the main sources for Shakespeare’s use of recorded history, the Christian victory at Lepanto was greeted with enormous enthusiasm in London: “there were bonfires made through the City, with banqueting and great rejoicing, as good cause there was, for a victory of so great importance, to the whole state of the Christian common wealth,” (4.262).
Christian theology and religion were of capital importance to the English monarch, who commissioned “a more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures in the English Tongue” so that “the Church of England shall reap good fruit thereby.” James was praised by the translators for being “the principal Mover and Author of the work,” as well as “the wonder of the world” for his “zeal… toward the house of God” which “doth not slack or go backward, but is more and more kindled, manifesting itself abroad in the farthest parts of Christendom, by writing in defense of the Truth… and every day at home, by religious and learned discourse, by frequenting the house of God, by hearing the Word preached, by cherishing the Teachers thereof, by caring for the Church, as a most tender and loving nursing Father.”
Among the writings that King James produced “in defense of the Truth,” perhaps the most prominent is his Daemonologie, in forme of a Dialogue, divided into three Bookes (1597), where he elucidates the main principles of Christian demonology from an Anglican perspective which distances itself from orthodox Catholicism only in the refutation of exorcism as an efficacious means to combat demonic agency in human life. For the most part, James is faithful to the theology of his famed predecessors, the prominent Catholic intellectual Jean Bodin, whose De la Démonomanie des Sorciers (Paris, 1580) became an instant classic; and of course the Dominicans Krämer and Sprenger with their Malleus Maleficarum (1486), which would become the most influential text for the trial and punishment of many real witches and maguses,
and the persecutions of many more victims in the 16th and 17th centuries.
As noted by Giovanna Silvani in her 1997 commented edition, James’s Daemonologie had a remarkable influence on contemporary English culture, especially the theater – and in fact, Shakespeare drew inspiration for Hamlet from the passage, in Book III, Ch. I, where the king rightly identifies the ghosts and spirits walking at night as demons, since the souls of the deceased cannot come back from the kingdoms of the afterlife:
PHILOMATHES – And what meanes then these kindes of spirites, when they appeare in the shaddow of a person newlie dead, or to die, to his friendes?
EPISTEMON – When they appeare upon that occasion, they are called Wraithes in our language. Amongst the Gentiles the Deuill used that much, to make them beleeue that it was some good spirite that appeared to them then, either to forewarne them of the death of their friend; or else to discouer unto them, the will of the defunct… And this way hee easily deceiued the Gentiles, because they knew not God: And to the same effect it is, that he now appears in that maner to some ignorant Christians. For he dare not so illude anie that knoweth that, neither can the spirite of the defunct returne to his friend, or yet an Angell use such forms.
Given the immense popularity of the king’s writings, it is conceivable that Hamlet represented much less of a mystery for contemporary audiences that it does for us. Indeed, from the words of James, we learn that Prince Hamlet – upon which character generations of critics have projected their own ambitions to immortal genius – is likely to have appeared to Renaissance audiences as an ‘ignorant Christian,’ who does not know that such apparitions always have a demonic origin.
If Christianity was such a powerful force in the public and private life of Renaissance England, the process of Reformation was the most powerful ‘primal scene’ and the greatest trauma both in England and in Europe. In the 1530s, King Henry VIII (1509-1547) decided to reject the authority of Rome concerning his divorce from Catherine of Aragon: he therefore instituted a new Church of England with himself as its Head. More than six hundred Catholic monasteries were dissolved under his reign, both to enrich himself and to buy the support of the aristocracy for his own policies. At his death in 1547, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, and after him John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, reigned for his then ten-year-old son Edward VI (1547-1553). Important changes took place during their regencies: Acts of Parliament were passed in 1549 and 1551 imposing Protestant religious uniformity; the clergy were allowed to marry; two Acts of Uniformity, in 1549 and 1552, prescribed Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer as the only legitimate form of worship; while the Catholic Mass was replaced with Protestant sermons as the focus of Sunday service. The politics of persecution against Catholics started in this period. It was briefly reversed during the short reign of Mary I (15531558), and finally reestablished against Catholics by the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603), and the first of the Stuarts, James VI & I (1603-1625). It was during Elizabeth’s reign that the foundations of the Church of England were secured, “protestant in all places of authority, but Catholic in sympathy
among large sections of the lesser clergy and the people.” At the same time, many English subjects who remained faithful to Catholicism, so-called ‘recusant’ Catholics, suffered dispossession, imprisonment, torture and brutal death by execution in order to give testimony to their faith. As Christopher Devlin remarks, in his Hamlet’s Divinity, the Protestant Reformation was from its inception accompanied by a propagandist version of history in writers such as Pierre Bayle (1550), John Foxe (1570) and John Speed (1611), who accused Shakespeare of being a Papist: “by Shakespeare’s time there was already a Protestant version of England’s past which was rapidly gaining ground.” This version of history is now coming to be seen as basically flawed, and contemporary historiography in the field of English Reformation proposes a more realistic view of the Reformation as a slow process, mainly imposed from above, and generally very painful for the vast majority of the population.
It is therefore
not surprising that “English audiences were still Catholic or well disposed toward Catholicism.”
David Beauregard, who discerns “positive evidence of Catholic theology” in Shakespeare’s plays, reminds us that – together with the exclusion of direct allusions to the Name of God and contemporary religious controversies – ethics became a mandated theme in theater as a means to “represse vyce and extol vertwe,” so that “the formal purpose and the moral images of drama still carried considerable theological force.” Necessarily, ethics implied “theological notions of sin, repentance, providential order, natural law, an afterlife” as well as ideas of “Purgatory, penitential satisfaction, pilgrimage, and religious life.” All these theological themes and images, and many more, are well represented in Shakespeare’s plays in a way that contemporary theater – and contemporary ‘art’ in general, with its materialistic bias – would never allow or tolerate: “[b]ut such was not the case in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Fortunately for Catholic Shakespeare, there was considerable overlapping in terms of theological doctrines held in common by Catholics and Protestants: this, in addition to the fact that some “latitude and tolerance” could reasonably be expected from London officials and supervisors of the theater, allowed Shakespeare to circumvent censorship and express his faith in a mediated way, which is the poetic way par excellence, namely: metaphor, rich polysemy and linguistic ambiguity. The image of the playwright as a lay priest – a “priest of eternal imagination,” as Joyce would only half-jokingly say – has recently been discussed by Jeffrey Knapp, who argues for a self-fashioning of theater people, ‘Shakespeare’s Tribe,’ into “a kind of ministry” acting mainly under-cover, inasmuch as “[f]ear of church and state repression generated caution.” According to Knapp, “English theology and ecclesiology shaped the drama at a fundamental level,” aiding the institutionalization of theater and the professionalization of players and playwrights as a “community of practitioners” who could use their art to conceptualize and mediate a content that was relevant to the most pressing reality of contemporary history – in the case of Shakespeare, how to maintain one’s faith in times of terror.
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3. Catholic Shakespeare: Biographical
One of the most naïve scholarly clichés is the one concerning the ‘paucity’ of information about Shakespeare’s life: it is in fact true that we know quite a lot. As Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor point out in their 1988 edition of the Complete Works for Oxford UP, “[o]ne of the ungrounded myths about Shakespeare is that all we know about his life could be written on the back of a postage stamp.” On the contrary, there remains a wealth of information about Warwickshire’s and Lancashire’s society; about Shakespeare’s mother and father; his extended family and relatives; his family’s and his own financial management, purchases, mortgages and debts; as well as official documents marking salient moments in his own life and the life of his family, such as the record of sacraments taken or missed at the local parish and, most importantly, his father’s spiritual testament, which Shakespeare devoutly quoted in what he knew would become his most celebrated play, Hamlet. From all these records, a cohesive picture emerges of the human and political network to which he belonged, and most scholars now agree that all the evidence we possess points to a continuity of Catholicism in the Shakespeare family. As Stephen Greenblatt briefly summarizes, Shakespeare “was probably brought up in a Roman Catholic household in a time of official suspicion and persecution of recusancy” and he was “haunted by the spirit of his Catholic father.” Indeed, the scholars who discuss or have discussed Catholicism in Shakespeare are numerous, and here we can only reference a few of them: George Wilkes, Roy Battenhouse, Christopher Devlin, Peter Milward, David Beauregard, Frank Brownlow, Gary Taylor, E. A. J. Honigmann, Eric Sams, Ian Wilson, Margarita Stocker, Dympna Callaghan, Richard Wilson and Ruben Espinosa, among others, all contend that Shakespeare was a Catholic and that his faith had a significant influence on his Art.
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On the other hand, there is still great resistance, both psychological and political, to the idea of Catholic Shakespeare, and the reasons for this state of affairs are not always transparent. In his exceptionally well researched and much acclaimed Secret Shakespeare, Richard Wilson denounces “one of the most naïve myths of literary biography, which is that of the dramatist as a hero of Protestant England and favorite of the Queen.” Wilson argues that the idea of “the playwright as an Anglican spokesman” is an academic delusion: “[t]he construction of a Shakespeare in love with Protestant empire serves the ideological function of annexing the plays to the dominant Anglo-Saxon discourses.” Wilson also cites the work of Alison Shell, to the effect that “opposition to the recovery of Elizabethan recusant culture arises in the contemporary academy from some very impure motives: ‘Responses to current Catholicism seem to determine whether one welcomes or shuns it as a subject for historical enquiry… When non-Catholics consider early modern Catholicism, their attitude is inevitably colored by their views on Catholicism now.’” To fully understand Shakespeare’s art it is therefore necessary to respect the author, and allow him to be himself – as Kastan suggests, inherently ‘other’ than, and different from, our contemporary selves. This attitude of respect for ‘Shakespeare as Other’ will be kept in mind in all the following discussion about the biographical evidence speaking for his Catholic faith.
All historians and critics agree that the place of Shakespeare’s birth, Stratford
in Warwickshire, was a renowned center of Catholic recusancy. Patrick Collinson describes it as “essentially a Catholic stronghold down to the middle of the sixteenth century;”
Antonia Fraser speaks of it as “the town at the
center of the recusant map of England;” and according to John E. Neale, Shakespeare’s Stratford was a “A bastion of middle-class church papists, encircled by Calvinist landowners such as the Lucys and Grevilles.”
During the 1570s and the 1580s, in particular, Warwickshire was the center of fervent Catholicism with the arrival of seminary priests from Douai – funded and supported, among others, by the Hoghton family. Edmund Spenser, who was himself resident in Lancashire and near Hoghton in 1576-77, commented that the priests had to face a “long and dangerous travel… knowing peril of death awaited them, and no reward or riches were to be found.” The 1580 Jesuit mission was particularly important, as it included Fr. Edmund Campion, who later became a martyr of the faith; and Jesuit priest and pamphleteer Robert Persons, who provided Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare, with the copy of the Catholic Spiritual Testament drawn by Saint Carlo Borromeo. The religious atmosphere of the region explains why Shakespeare’s schoolmasters at the Stratford grammar school were Catholic: Simon Hunt “went on to become a Jesuit;” John Cottom “was the brother of Thomas Cottom, a Catholic priest who was arraigned and executed in 1582 with the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion;” and the third schoolmaster, Thomas Jerkins, “had likely been tutored in rhetoric by Campion at St. John’s College, whose founder had strong Catholic sympathies.” After being awarded a fellowship at St. John’s, Jerkins left without taking orders, “an action which suggests Roman Catholic sympathies.”
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In discussing the religious background of William Shakespeare’s parents and extended family, the majority of critics and historians focus on his father, John – which generates a lot of controversy, because the abundant evidence of his Catholic faith is usually dismissed with “lofty scorn” by those who have a vested interest in presenting Shakespeare as the Queen’s poet and a champion of Protestantism. What we should consider, instead – and this is where biographical research should start – what we should consider is the fact that for the generation of Shakespeare’s grandparents – Mary’s own parents, born between the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century – it would have been absolutely unconceivable to marry their daughter to a Protestant, also considering that Mary’s family, the Ardens of Park Hall, were one of the most respected, aristocratic Catholic families in the region. The ancestors of the Ardens had received lands from William the Conqueror, and their origins could be traced back before the Norman Conquest. Mary was the favorite daughter of her father Robert Arden and, upon her marriage with John, she was bequeathed his most valuable possession, the Wilmcote estate: which tells us that Robert Arden must have been pleased with John Shakespeare as his son-in-law, in spite of the fact that he was of yeoman stock, while Mary belonged to the gentry. This would not have been possible if John, besides coming from a lower social class, had also been a Protestant. The reverse was the case: Robert Arden was pleased with John as a Roman Catholic in good standing, and he must have felt secure entrusting him with
the care of his most cherished daughter. As Christopher Devlin points out, the Arden household “became a headquarters of the Counter-Reformation during Shakespeare’s teenage years.” In 1583 Edward Arden, the head of the Arden family, was “implicated in one of the most disgustingly bogus plots of the period… a shameless attempt by Leicester to extirpate his family. Lucy sat on the Commission which indicted him for high treason. The trial was shifted to London, probably on account of his popularity. He was executed a Tyburn, a martyr in everything but the title.” The son-in-law of Edward Arden – John Somerville, hence the bogus name ‘Somerville Plot’ – was also accused and arrested: he was tortured on the rack and died while he was at the Tower of London. The persecution of the Arden family continued during the 1580s and 1590s,
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also by the local Puritan magistrate Sir Thomas Lucy.
Perhaps the most prominent among Shakespeare’s relatives was poet and martyr Robert Southwell (1561-1595), author of the renowned An Humble Supplication to Queen Elizabeth. His volume of poems, titled Saint Peter’s Complaint (published out of the country in 1616), was addressed to his cousin William Shakespeare in the salutation “To my worthy good cousin, Master W. S.” The injustice suffered by Southwell, his martyrdom under Queen Elizabeth, and the scandalous hypocrisy that surrounded the persecution of Catholics must have exerted a powerful influence on Shakespeare’s mind as a young man. Learned in the Scriptures, he must have perceived a strong similarity between the tragedy of Southwell and the Passion of Jesus Christ at the hands of the Pharisees, the Temple priests of Jerusalem called to recognize and hail Him as the Messiah. In a Renaissance culture saturated with references to Biblical typology, Catholic Shakespeare must have detected a common element in the odyssey of the Jewish people, coming out of Egypt and persecuted by the Egyptian Pharaoh, and the tragic fate of Catholics in England, living in a regime of propaganda and terror: forcibly ‘converted’ or else dispossessed, incarcerated, brutally tortured, raped, and savagely killed. It is a great blind spot of Reformation historiography that this immense burden of human suffering is systematically belittled, if not outright erased and denied in so many publications on the topic.
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In his book on John Donne, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art, John Carey tries to remedy this state of affairs with a detailed description of the dire conditions in which English Catholics had to live, torn between a political loyalty to their country, which for the vast majority of them was never questioned; and the painful realization that their faith made them aliens in their our nation. Carey’s realistic descriptions have sometimes been received, once again, with affected revulsion by critics and historians interested in presenting a Protestant view of English history, in which Shakespeare figures as the mouthpiece of Protestantism. Nothing farther from the truth: that early experience of injustice and oppression, the persecution of Catholics, was the most traumatic as well as the most defining event in Shakespeare’s life, against which he had to fight with all the arms provided him by his generous heart, sharp intellect and courage – as Joyce would suggest, “silence, exile and cunning.” As Richard Wilson writes, “John Carey’s study of Donne describes… the tragedy of an entire generation of Elizabethan writers born into families which had prospered until 1558 under the Catholic Mary… This book is therefore about how Shakespeare’s muteness on the persecution of his family and friends relates to the conditions in which he wrote.”
In their analysis, both
Carey and Wilson rightly focus on the fact that for all the poets born in the Reformation period – names of the caliber of Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and John Donne – religious persecution was the defining life-event, whose terror shaped their minds as well as their Art. With persecution came a vast array of criminal activities such as spying, false accusations and defamation, of course, which the government justified as ‘legitimate’ for reasons of state security. The system of spying – “inspired by Burghley and led by Topcliffe” – implied a climate of mistrust among citizens, now unsure which neighbor to trust, and which to avoid for fear of harassment: “Spies, some of them renegade priests and Catholics, gave the authorities advance warning about where masses were to be celebrated. Catholic households were commonly raided… In their private life, Catholics were inevitable a prey to blackmail and intimidation. They could not claim redress for personal injuries, or retrieve money owed to them.” These data, so carefully collected and realistically portrayed in Carey, should constantly be kept in mind when reading Shakespeare, whose mind was shaped in and by terror: “Some readers may ask what all this has to do with Donne’s poetry, but I imagine they will be few. It would be as reasonable to demand what the Nazi persecution of the Jews has to do with a young Jewish writer in Germany in the 1930s. Donne [and Shakespeare before him] was born into a terror, and formed by it.” Which is why, as Wilson insightfully remarks, “Shakespeare’s faith is like… his own Blackfriars property, with its secret passageways and priest-holes built to defy the grandest inquisitions.”
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On his father’s side, Shakespeare was also firmly established in Catholicism. The evidence speaking for his father’s Catholic faith is vast, and yet we hope to contribute to it in this chapter by adding an observation about his Spiritual Testament which has not yet been adequately discussed by the critics. John Shakespeare was a wealthy businessman at least until the 1570s, when he started experiencing some financial troubles after the passing of edicts instigating the persecution of Catholics. After 1576, he suddenly ceased to attend Stratford Corporation meetings, until he was finally relieved from the corporation itself.
Later, in 1592, he was reported for “obstinately” refusing
to “resort to the church,” pleading “fear of process of debt.” The report itself, as noted by F. W. Brownlow (1989), was nothing but a list of recusant Catholics, drawn by a Protestant commission headed by Thomas Lucy, who received by the government the order to ascertain the religious conformity of Warwickshire “with a special eye to Jesuits, priests and recusants, for not coming monthlie to the churche, according to hir Majestie’s lawes.”
Apart from John’s marriage to Catholic Mary Arden, which in and of itself proves his Catholic faith, John’s Spiritual Testament was recovered at the end of the 18th century in the house of his descendants, the Harts – the same house of Henley St were William was born and raised with his family. As Devlin remarks, “Malone, the great eighteenth-century Shakespearean, pronounced it genuine… But no one else supported him and the document was neglected for a hundred years. The truth was that Victorian Protestant England simply could not swallow it.” The controversy continues now, mainly due to the fact that it is a nuisance to the Protestant academic establishment. The Testament was a prayer as well as a testimony of faith which had been
formulated by the Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Borromeo, and was very popular at the end of the 16th century. It was brought to England by the numerous Jesuit missions of the 1570s and 1580s, and John Shakespeare likely received it by Persons and his missionary brothers Campion and Sherwin. As a prayer, it was intended for frequent recitation in the family, hence we can infer that young William often heard his father read it before his family members: “The devout person who will make use of this spiritual writing, for the good of his soul let him read or hear it often… And when he shall fall sick, let him renew by reading, or hearing read, this Testament in presence of others.”
The Testament is certainly genuine, and the fact that Shakespeare quotes it in what would become his most famous play, Hamlet, is definite proof of it. The first to notice the relation between John Shakespeare’s last will and his son William’s masterpiece was George Wilkes, referring to the haunting presence of the father in the life of the son. At the same time, Wilkes did not indicate a precise linguistic reference in Hamlet – which we will try to do now. In the opening section of the testament, we read:
Section I. In the name of God, the Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost, the most holy and blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the holy hosts of archangels, angels, patriarchs, prophets, evangelists, apostles, saints, martyrs, and all the celestial court and company of heaven; I, John Shakespeare, an unworthy member of the Catholic religion, being at this, my present writing, in perfect health of body, and sound mind, memory, and understanding, but calling to mind the uncertainty of life and certainty of death, and that I may be possibly cut off in the blossom of my sins, and called to render an account of all my transgressions, externally and internally, and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever, do, in the holy presence above specified, of my own free and voluntary accord, make and ordain this, my last spiritual will, testament, confession, protestation, and confession of faith, hoping hereby to receive pardon for all my sins and offences…
The expressions “cut off in the blossom of my sins” and “called to render an account of my transgressions” are quoted in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Act I, scene V, vv. 74-79, in the Ghost’s first speech to the Prince: “Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand/ Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched,/ Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,/ Unhouseled, dis-appointed, unaneled,/ No reck’ning made, but sent to my account/ With all my imperfections on my head.” Remarkably, the precise quote “cut off in the blossom of my sins” is inserted in the same context of ‘accountability’ and Catholic remedies to sin before death. Hence, John Shakespeare enumerates “sacrament, penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever;” while the Ghost counts the aids he did not receive at the moment of death: “Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled,/ No reck’ning made.” The reference here is of course to the practice of examination of conscience, and to the Catholic sacraments of confession and extreme unction. As Wilkes first suggested, the memory of his father’s often-repeated words remained inscribed in William’s heart, even as he worked at the London Globe: “Remember thee?/ Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat/ in this distracted globe. Remember thee?/ Yea,
from the table of my memory/ I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records… And thy commandment alone shall live/ Within the book and volume of my brain/ Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, yes, by heaven.” (Hamlet, I.v.95-104)
It is also significant that when John Shakespeare died in 1601, he was buried on September 8: the day on which the Catholic Church celebrates the birthday of the Blessed Virgin – not Elizabeth, but the real one. Having been raised by devout Catholics, in a town and region which was one the centers of Catholic resistance, William Shakespeare maintained his faith bound to the affection he felt for his noble family and origins: in an epoch in which faith was essential, respecting the Catholicism of his ancestors also meant respecting his identity as a human being with strong ties to his house. Shakespeare loved his family: which is why, for instance, he petitioned for a coat of arms. It was certainly not out of ambition – in fact, as with another universal genius of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, many have pointed out Shakespeare’s humility, without which he could not have written one line. It was rather his concern for the future of his family, his daughters and successors, which prompted him to do all that was in his power to secure their wellbeing. Among the biographical information evidencing his Catholic faith, few sources mention the fact that he did not receive communion within the Church of England: “Examination of the communion rolls of the parish of St. Saviour in Southwark, carefully kept during the period Shakespeare lived there, revealed that the poet did not take communion in the Church of England, a fact suggesting that like his father and daughter he did not conform.”
Also relevant is the much-maligned fact that he and his wife Anne Hathaway received their marriage license only six months prior to the birth of their first daughter, Susanna, in May 1583. As Christopher Devlin and M. D. H. Parker have suggested, there is no reason to assume that they had broken their vows and consummated their marriage before the ceremony. Parker maintains that there was a Marian priest at Temple Grafton, John First, who may have celebrated the Catholic rite, since he “had escaped deprivation owning to age, harmlessness and the well-known shortage of new men,” and like “Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, [he was] interested in the art of healing, being able to cure sick birds.”
Recent scholarship has focused on the so-called ‘lost years’ of Shakespeare’s biography, discussing the possibility that William may have been employed as a schoolmaster at the Catholic household of the Hoghtons in Lancashire, with whom John Cottam, schoolmaster at Stratford from 1579 to 1581, had family and economic ties. The theory was first advocated by Oliver Baker (1937), supported among many others by E.K. Chambers (1944) and Peter Milward (1973), and later expanded by Ernst Honigmann (1985) and Richard Wilson (2004). At Hoghton Tower, William went by the name of ‘Shakeshafte,’ a variant previously used by his grandfather Richard, and which served him as a nom de guerre as it was the custom with recusant Catholics at the time. To confirm this observation, Shakeshafte ‘disappeared’ immediately after Alexander Hoghton, the head of the Hoghton family, bequeathed his property in 1581. Cottam and Shakeshafte were named his legatees, and his neighbor Sir Thomas Hesketh was invited ‘to be friendly unto Fulke Gillam and William Shakeshafte now dwelling with me, and either take them into his service or
help them to some good master.’ According to Honigmann, Sir Hesketh employed Gillam, but he probably recommended Shakeshafte to the Stanleys, and it was through them that Shakespeare began his career in London around the year 1590. When Shakespeare appeared in London, it was with pro-Catholic patrons: Lord Strange first, and then the young Earl of Southampton. And after coming back to Stratford toward the end of his life, for the considerable price of £140 he bought Blackfriars Gatehouse, frequently visited by Jesuits – at least three times: in 1561, 1598 and 1605. With its secret passageways, it was also a renowned safe haven for Catholics, located as it was near the palace of the French Ambassador. Beauregard remarks that, given the high price paid for such an ancient structure, it is very unlikely that Shakespeare bought it as an investment: rather, this strategic purchase was his own way to help the cause of freedom of conscience, offering refuge and protection to Catholics in London. Shakespeare placed Blackfriars in Catholic hands with John Robison and his wife, and his own daughter Susanna carried on the tenancy until 1639. After Shakespeare’s death in 1616, Richard Davies, Vicar of Sapperton and later Archdeacon of Coventry, recorded the testimony of surviving witnesses attesting that Shakespeare “dyed a Papist” (MS. Oxf. 31577). Devlin remarks that this authoritative evidence “has been indignantly rejected. But it is good evidence; and we have the cautious but firm and fair conclusion of Sir E. K. Chambers that there is no valid reason for rejecting it.”
The last piece of biographical evidence in support of Shakespeare’s Catholicism has to do with the controversy surrounding the theatrical representation of John Oldcastle as Falstaff in the Henry plays. This problem has been insightfully dealt with by Christopher Devlin in Hamlet’s Divinity. Devlin starts his reflection focusing on the fact that very few scholars ever mention how “Shakespeare was seriously accused in his lifetime of being a pro-Catholic propagandist.” John Speed, Protestant historian of the 1611 Histoire of Great Britaine, accused Shakespeare of being the ‘Papist’ poet of Jesuit Father and pamphleteer Robert Persons: “this Papist and his poet, of like conscience for lies, the one ever feigning and the other ever falsifying the truth.”
What is usually, and conveniently, erased in this context is the fact that Shakespeare’s derisive and scathing representation of Falstaff as an overweight “white-bearded Satan” – a hypocrite and a criminal misquoting the Bible to support his deviousness – was too destructive for the Protestant establishment, who were even trying to anoint him as the first martyr for the Protestant cause. But after Shakespeare’s mimesis, it became a mission impossible: the common people coming from the theater simply would not believe such historical forgery anymore, and Speed “found his picture of Oldcastle blown to pieces by rude laughter.” He did his best to rescue the version of history fabricated by Bayle and Fox in his Book of Martyrs, in which Oldcastle was hailed as a “morning star of the Reformation;” and he vented his resentment against Robert Persons accusing him of displaying Oldcastle as “a Ruffian, a Robber, and a Rebel.” Very meaningfully, Speed also acknowledged Shakespeare’s artistic authority in complete accordance with that of Jesuit Persons, who was speaking from a theological perspective:
And his [Persons’s] authority, taken from the stage-players, is more befitting the pen of his slanderous report than the credit of the judicious, being only grounded from this Papist and his poet, of like conscience for lies, the one ever feigning and the other ever falsifying the truth.
With such an effective self-portrait, we conclude this section on the analysis of the biographical evidence, and start evaluating the textual marks of Catholic faith in Shakespeare.
4. Catholicism in Shakespeare’s Plays: an Evidence
Introduction to the Textual
In his Catholicism of Shakespeare’s Plays, Peter Milward observes that Shakespeare expressed his opinions through his Art as if “in disguise, at a remove from his real meaning,” exactly like Duke Vincentio, a powerful figura of the Artist, is said to act in Measure for Measure: “His giving out were of an infinite distance/ From his true-meant design,” (I.iv.53-44) and like the clown Lance, perhaps a play on his own surname Shake-spear, announces: “Thou shalt never get such a secret from me but by parable” (Two Gentlemen of Verona, II.v.34-35).
The pervasive influence on Shakespeare of Christian theology and religion – and of Catholicism in particular – has been extensively discussed in literature. To develop an idea of the current scholarship, a good place to start is Battenhouse’s anthology of commentary on Shakespeare’s Christian Dimension (1994). Our goal in this section is not so much to summarize what has been said so far, but rather to focus on some the most significant themes that unite Shakespeare with Catholicism: the mediaeval tradition of mystery plays; the influence of the Biblical sublime; the pervasiveness of Biblical typology and Christian symbolism in the political and religious discourse as well as in the arts; the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mother of God and Muse of Christian inspiration; the centrality of the dogmas of Purgatory, indulgence and prayer for the dead; and, lastly, the key role of Catholic sacraments like confession, and sacramentals like the Scapular of Mount Carmel, in Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps the most prominent academic who commented on the enduring legacy of medieval religious plays on Renaissance Theater is Erich Auerbach. In the ‘Adam and Eve’ chapter of Mimesis, Auerbach elaborates Dante’s learned explanation of typology found in his Letter XIII, To Cangrande della Scala, in which the poet explicates the four levels of Biblical exegesis taking as an example a passage in Psalm 113: “In exitu Israel de Egipto, domus Iacob de populo barbaro, facta est Iudea sanctification eius, Israel potestas eius.” The reason why Auerbach discusses religious plays in connection with typology is clear: Medieval religious plays revolved around a markedly typological reading of human history, which dominated throughout the Middle Ages and was still prominent in the 16th and 17th centuries. Auerbach sees a fundamental similarity between liturgy and theater, or between liturgical and theatrical drama: the tragedy of God’s Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection is daily reenacted in the Mass in a way that is reminiscent of the
modalities of secular dramatic art itself. Auerbach most importantly defines the Biblical sublime as a particular stylistic trait of the Scriptures, which was fundamentally new and revolutionary if compared to the tradition of the classics: the Bible, according to Auerbach, united sermo gravis and sermo remissus in a perfect harmony of from and content. The Biblical sublime is thus characterized by an unfathomable simplicity, which is the mirror image of God’s Unfathomable Simplicity, since God is One (Simple), Infinite and infinitely complex. God’s sublime is, in human terms, a paradox: a coincidentia oppositorum where the infinitely great can be found in the infinitely small, and vice versa – exactly as in the mystery of the Eucharist, where the boundless Creator of the Cosmos is present in bounded particles of bread and drops of wine. This dialectic of ‘unity of opposites’ characterizes, according to Auerbach, both the Biblical sublime and the medieval religious plays that derive inspiration from it:
The medieval Christian drama falls perfectly within this tradition [of the Bible’s sublime simplicity]. Being a living representation of Biblical episodes as contained, with their innately dramatic elements, in the liturgy, it opens its arms invitingly to receive the simple and untutored and to lead them from the concrete, the everyday, to the hidden and the true – precisely as did the great plastic art of the medieval churches which, according to E. Mâle’s well-known theory, is supposed to have received decisive stimuli from the mysteries, that is, from religious drama. […] The scenes which render everyday contemporary life… are then fitted into a Biblical and world-historical frame by whose spirit they are pervaded… the spirit… of the figural interpretation of history. This implies that every occurrence, in all its everyday reality, is simultaneously a part in a world-historical context through which each part is related to every other, and thus is likewise to be regarded as being of all times or above all time.
In this way, the humility of everyday life and the majestic movement of universal human history both fit into a typological interpretation of reality whose mystical center is the Incarnation and Passion of God: who brings us the possibility of redemption after the tragedy of the original sin. Because God is and acts outside Time, typology is active both before and after the Incarnation: “[b]efore His appearance, there are the characters and events of the Old Testament… in which the coming of the Saviour is figurally revealed. […] After Christ’s Incarnation and Passion there are the saints, intent upon following in his footsteps, and Christianity… Christ’s promised bride, awaiting the return of the Bridegroom.” The drama of human history thus acquires meaning in relation to the liturgical drama of Jesus Christ: “this great drama contains everything that occurs in world history. In it… there is no basis for a separation of the sublime from the low and every-day, for they are indissolubly connected in Christ’s very life and suffering. Nor is there any basis for concern with the unities of time, place, or action, for there is but one place – the world; and but one action – man’s fall and redemption.” For medieval audiences, every episode of Sacred History implied the whole, which was always “borne in mind and figuratively represented” each time. Auerbach is careful to remind us that the mystery plays as representations of this vision of history are a powerful dynamic force, both religious and socio[cxxxi]
political, “from the fourteenth century on.” This derivation from late medieval theater is exceptionally important for Shakespearean criticism, since the Author has been over the centuries myopically accused of transgressing the classical, i.e. Aristotelian, unities of time and place, if not of action – while in fact, he was being faithful to the more powerful tradition of Christian drama in which Aristotle himself found meaning as one of the apexes of natural light before Revelation. Numerous are the instances of Biblical typology in Shakespeare. One of the most revealing is the role of Adam in As You Like It, the faithful old servant of outcast Orlando – himself a Christological figure. The fact that Shakespeare wanted to interpret this apparently secondary role says a lot about the quasireligious, quasi-liturgical significance of secular theater in the Renaissance: every time he reenacted Adam, the first man, Shakespeare took upon himself the condition of the entire humanity – a tragically fallen humanity, but renewed by the Sacrifice of God in the Passion. Shakespeare’s Adam does not betray his master, but he offers him the talents he has spared: his savings of a lifetime, but also symbolically the author’s artistic gifts understood as gifts from God. Shakespeare’s Adam knows no intemperance, and has the strength, finally, to be faithful to God and to give back the gifts he received from God Himself, in a symbolic recirculation of Love:
I have five hundred crowns./ The thrifty hire I saved under your father… Take that, and He that doth the ravens feed,/ Yea providently caters for the sparrow/ Be comfort to my age. Here is the gold./ All this I give you. Let me be your servant. Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty,/ For in my youth I never did apply/ Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood,/ Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo/ The means of weakness and debility. Therefore my age is as a lusty winter,/ Frosty but kindly. […] Master, go one and I will follow thee/ To the last gasp with truth and loyalty. (II.iii.39-71)
Thus, Christian typology also explains the mysterious quality of ‘universality’ that has so many times been attributed to Shakespeare’s sublime art – beginning by himself, in the figure of an usurped king: “Thus play I in one person many people” (Richard II, V.v.31) and then by Ben Jonson, “He was not of an age, but for all time;” by Pope: “He writ to the people;” by Samuel Johnson: “His characters… are the genuine progeny of common humanity;” and by that elegant summarizer of other people’s thoughts that was William Hazlitt: “The striking peculiarity of Shakespeare’s mind was its generic quality, its power of communication with all other minds – so that it contained a universe of thought and feeling within itself. […] He… had in himself the germs of every faculty and feeling. […] He was like the genius of humanity.”
Always in the tradition of medieval mystery plays, Passion scenes abound in Shakespeare – and it is significant that in many of them, the Christological role of Victim is performed by selfless and generous women. In this way, for instance, Desdemona’s ultimate sacrifice has the power to redeem Othello at the last moment, compelling him to an examination of conscience, repentance and a salvific declaration of faith in Christ before his self-execution; Hamlet’s drinking of the poisoned chalice in the final duel scene reminds us of Jesus’s Christ bitter Chalice of the Passion; and King Lear’s lamenting the death of his loving daughter Cordelia has rightly been compared by many to
Michelangelo’s Pietà (1475-1564). But the one Passion scene that is almost never mentioned in this context is the one in Richard II (I.iii), in which father and son are tragically separated by civil war – a situation easily comparable to the Reformation: John of Gaunt. I thank my liege, that in regard of me He shortens four years of my son’s exile […]
King Richard II. Thy son is banished upon good advice, Whereto thy tongue a party verdict gave. Why at our justice seem’st thou then to lour?
John of Gaunt. Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour. You urged me as a judge; but I had rather You would have bid me argue like a father. O, had it been a stranger, not my child, To smooth his fault I should have been more mild: A partial slander sought I to avoid, And in the sentence my own life destroy’d. Alas, I looked when some of you should say, I was too strict to make mine own away; But you gave leave to my unwilling tongue Against my will to do myself this wrong.” (I.v.209-235)
In this highly symbolic scene, the theological and the personal are unified, as it often happens in Shakespeare. At the personal level, John of Gaunt represents John Shakespeare, the glove merchant, who was tragically separated from his son William in the ‘lost years,’ due to the persecution of the local Protestant authorities; at the same time, Gaunt also represents the author, who for the same reason was later separated from his beloved son Hamnet. Together with the personal, self-referential meaning, we also have the theological reference to God the Father separated from His Son by the tragedy of the original sin – “Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour” – in atonement for which Jesus Christ became Innocent Victim for the salvation of humanity. In this exceptional scene, the Father is represented not only as a person, but as a suffering person, tragically suffering for the infinite pain suffered by His Son, with whom He is One in the Spirit. This superimposition of interpretive levels is only possible because the Christian God is a Personal God. In this light, not only does Jesus Christ incarnate to become the New Adam, a Man; Jesus Christ also calls Himself
“the Son of Man,” meaning that through His Incarnation, because He is One with the Father, God the Father also makes Himself Man, in a new communion with a redeemed humanity: “Father… I pray not for the world,” says Jesus, “but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine… They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth… That they may all be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also me be one in us.” (John 17:1-21)
On the essential theme of the pervasiveness of Biblical references in Shakespeare, many critics have started working with alacrity, but much remains to be done. At the same time, even in plays unanimously recognized as more resonant with Biblical echoes than others, not all references have been recorded and discussed. Such is the case with Measure for Measure. The play is a powerful political allegory based on the powerful Chapter Seven of the Gospel of Matthew. It is remarkable that the majority of critics so far have limited themselves to applying the first two verses – “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” – to the hypocritical condemnation of the genuine love between Claudio and his bride-to-be Juliet, by a corrupted ruler who hides his perversity, and in a decadent Vienna full of houses of prostitution. But in fact, many more parallels can be detected between the two texts. Matthew 7 is first of all the record of Jesus Christ’s warning against and denunciation of hypocritical appearances: of those who seem virtuous and make loud protestations of virtue, but are in fact interested to serve their own base passions – exactly like Shakespeare’s Iago. To all these, Jesus commands: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye,” v. 5. His injunction to men is to treat others as they would want to be treated themselves: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets,” v. 12. Indeed, few chapters before, in Matthew 5, Jesus had warned men not only not to kill, but not even to call their brother “fool,” for this would cause them to be “in danger of hell fire.” Being Shakespeare well-read in the Scriptures, we should consider his deep pain and scandal at the succession of murderous English monarchs, especially Elizabeth: the supposedly virtuous ‘Virgin’ Queen who had forcibly ‘converted’ or else persecuted, dispossessed, imprisoned, tortured and murdered her own subjects, including Shakespeare’s beloved cousin Robert Southwell – all in the name of True Religion. With Jesus, Shakespeare could rightly exclaim: “Thou hypocrite!” For Shakespeare certainly remembered Jesus’s definition of ‘power as service’ in the washing of the apostles’ feet:
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. […] A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; As I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13:13-34)
The meaning is clear: if all men are required to love and serve one another, this is especially true and necessary for monarchs, whose right to sovereignty is only justified, in the eyes of God, by the desire to love and serve their subjects: precisely as the Lord God demonstrated in humbling His Divinity to wash his apostles’ feet. Therefore, in condemning the deadly hypocrisy of Angelo in Measure for Measure, Shakespeare truly condemned the hypocrisy of another seeming angel, Elizabeth, who dared call herself a ‘Christian Monarch’ and make a show of innocence as the ‘Virgin’ Queen, while at the same time scandalously disobeying the most basic commandments of the founder of Christianity. It is against wolves in sheep’s clothes like Elizabeth that Jesus Christ warns his disciples in Matthew 7: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit,” vv. 15-17. Jesus is adamant: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,” v. 21. Only those who heed and obey His commandments will be saved. God commanded reciprocal love: not piracy and the exploitation of slave trades; not the iron gauntlet; not machines to compress the human body to death; not death by hanging, castration and disembowelment. Indeed, it is not enough to make protestations of faith – when one’s actions belie those very protestations. As Isabella reminds Angelo, if he abuses his God-given power by oppressing the weak, he very dangerously puts himself against the Will of God. He has no right to persecute others for weaknesses caused by the same original sin in which all humanity collectively participates:
Merciful heaven/ Thou rather with sharp and sulphurous bolt/ Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak/ Than the soft myrtle. But man, proud man,/ Dressed in a little brief authority,/ Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,/ His glassy essence, like an angry ape/ Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As makes the angels weep. […] Go to your bosom;/ Knock there… If it confess/ A natural guiltiness… let it not sound a thought upon your tongue/ Against my brother’s life.” (II.ii.117-145)
Having experienced persecution in his own family and against his own person because of the faith of his fathers, Shakespeare had tangible proof of Elizabeth’s murderous hypocrisy, and in Measure for Measure he represented her moral corruption with the character of Mistress Overdone, the bawd and owner of many houses of prostitution in the city as well as in the suburbs of Vienna. Her dialogue with Pompey, which we will discuss immediately after, is strictly connected to the following passage in the Gospel of Matthew:
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that
heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7: 24-27)
The symbolism of the rock as Peter is clear: only the houses built on the solid foundation of the rock of Peter will stand against the elements. The keys of Christianity are given by Jesus Christ to Simon Peter, not to Joseph of Arimatea – a medieval lore fabricated with an aim to validating the division of the Church in the eyes of the simple and the naïve. Shakespeare translates Jesus’s parable of the rock in the language of tragicomic dramatic art by comparing the Protestant Reformation to a mortal prostitution of the soul, establishing a parallel between Mistress Overdone and Pompey on the one hand, and the Virgin Queen Elizabeth and her counselors on the other, much more interested in the personal than in the common wealth:
Pompey. […] You have not heard of the proclamation, have you? Mistress Overdone. What proclamation, man? Pompey. All houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down. Mistress Overdone. And what shall become of those in the city? Pompey. They shall stand for seed: they had gone down too, but that a wise burgher put in for them. Mistress Overdone. But shall all our houses of resort in the suburbs be pulled down? Pompey. To the ground, mistress. Mistress Overdone. Why, here’s a change indeed in the commonwealth! What shall become of me? Pompey. Come; fear you not: good counsellors lack no clients: though you change your place, you need not change your trade; I’ll be your tapster still. Courage! there will be pity taken on you: you that have worn your eyes almost out in the service, you will be considered.
This deeper analysis of Shakespeare’s text is only possible by critically considering the Biblical text in its entirety as the main source of inspiration for the Author: much remains to be done, but examples such as Measure for Measure indicate the richness that is possible to attain by means of an accurate, synoptic reading of Shakespeare and the Bible.
Another important clue to Shakespeare’s Catholic faith is the ubiquitous presence of figurae Mariae: of figurations and mediated representations, that is, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Muse of Christian inspiration. Protestant Reformation tried to suppress the veneration of the Mother of God, but that was so ingrained in the hearts of people, and Her role had such a great influence on religious and artistic discourse, that – as Ruben
Espinosa rightly suggests – “we would be hard pressed to believe that the swift erasure of the physical markers of the cult of the Virgin Mary in postReformation England translated to an equally precipitous erasure of that Marian influence from England’s cultural psyche.” Because Christianity revolves around the mystery of the Incarnation of God, which itself revolves around the Virgin’s Fiat, erasing the veneration of Mary was not only “an onerous undertaking,” but evidently impossible without perverting the significance of Christianity itself. And in fact, in both pre-Reformation and post-Reformation Christianity, “the Virgin Mary remained.”
Mary’s “religious and gendered influence” was vast and profound in Shakespeare’s culture, and also deeply embedded in the Shakespearean text. Considering the interconnectedness of the theological and theatrical discourses at the time, her diverse roles and attributes could resonate with a large variety of characters. Her relation to the Triune God is exceptional: She is the beloved Daughter of the Father; the Virgin Mother of the Son; and the most chaste Spouse of the Holy Spirit. In relation to humanity, Mary is the most perfect of creatures: the New Eve, the embodiment of humility and meekness, and the model to which every human being should aspire. In relation to the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, She is the Mother of the Church, which She generated through unspeakable suffering by participating in the sacrifice of Her Divine Son. Eschatologically, in God’s providential plan for human history, She is appointed by the Father to crush Satan, the ancient serpent, at the end of times.
Among the many Marian symbols, variously employed in literature and in the arts, we signal: the Mystical Rose; the Tabernacle; the Arc of the Covenant; the Gate of Heaven and Ladder to God, as in the maxim “Ad Jesum per Mariam”; the Moring Star and the Rainbow, indicating renewed peace between Heaven and earth; the glorious Woman of the Apocalypse crowned with stars, clothed with the sun and standing on the moon. But Mary, the bravest and strongest of creatures, is also symbolically depicted as a most powerful army deployed for battle, while Her appointed arm is the Rosary: which She elected as the humblest and most powerful weapon to defeat Satan.
Espinosa recognizes Mary’s influence on Shakespeare in characters such as Portia (The Merchant of Venice); Ophelia (Hamlet); Isabella (Measure for Measure); Desdemona (Othello); Cordelia (King Lear), Marina (Pericles) and Hermione (The Winter’s Tale) – to which we can add Titania (A Midsummer Night’s Dream); Hero (Much Ado About Nothing); Rosalind (As You Like It); Helen (All’s Well That Ends Well); Imogen (Cymbeline); Miranda (The Tempest) and Emilia (The Two Noble Kinsmen). At the same time, many ‘secondary’ female roles in the plays also bear resemblance to Mary, such as Emilia, the shipwrecked mother and Abbess in The Comedy of Errors; the generous and enlightened Countess in All’s Well That Ends Well; Princess Thaisa in Pericles (where the duel scene of her wooing echoes the Temple priests’ selection of Joseph as husband of Mary); faithful Queen Catherine in Henry VIII, and of course Mary appears under the many disguises provided by Greek mythology in a time of religious terror, especially Diana, goddess of chastity (e.g. Pericles); Juno, queen of the gods; Ceres, goddess of agriculture; and Iris, goddess of the rainbow as symbol of peace between the Heavens and the earth, always in The Tempest. In times of terror, the expediency of employing Greek and Roman mythology to refer to the ‘outlawed’ religion is quite understandable. Interestingly, this process and technique works in both ways: on the one hand, Shakespeare often employs classical images as a mask for Catholic theology; and on the other, as Robert
Miola and Eric Carlson have observed, he frequently maps Catholic theology – especially sacraments, virtues and values – on the classical world of Greece and Rome. Hence, for example, “the Romans value oaths and relics; Diana’s servitors practice a nun’s chastity; in Ephesus a miracle occurs; authorities explain sacred writings to bewildered laity in Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale.”
Not only is the figure of Mary able to cover an exceptionally large spectrum of characters in theatrical drama: Her regal attributes also have an important political significance. As regards Queen Elizabeth’s appropriation of the Virgin Mary’s royal attributes, Espinosa remarks that Mary’s “emblems and symbols” invested the earthly monarch with “specific attributes of authority.” Indeed, Elizabeth’s legitimation strategy unambiguously targeted the image of the Blessed Virgin, appropriating Her attributes of power in order to legitimate her delicate position as sovereign Queen – for the second time only after her sister Mary, who had been the first female monarch in English history. In this way, Elizabeth attempted to replace Mary in a role that was already familiar to her subjects: in fact, the only powerful role occupied by a woman in people’s minds, that of the powerful Virgin Queen of Heavens, omnipotent within the Trinity. The role of Mary as Virgin Queen was indeed the most respected and the most authoritative for Elizabeth – and if Elizabeth was certainly not responsible for Luther’s iconoclastic attack against the Blessed Virgin, she soon realized that effacing Her visible presence, if not Her veneration, and appropriating Her symbols would be the most expedient way to gain an aura of legitimation in the eyes of the Court, Parliament, and subjects alike. To exemplify the power of Mary’s figure in Shakespeare’s art, we will focus in this chapter on the most brilliant female character in Shakespeare’s corpus: not Rosalind, but Portia, the sharp lawyer; and we will discuss the other figurae Mariae in Chapter Two, devoted to James Joyce’s relation to Catholicism, as it emerges from his Letters and it is represented in his art. Like the Biblical candlelight in the surrounding darkness, Portia shines for ethical and moral goodness combined with kindly intelligence: she distinguishes herself for beauty as well as perseverance, richness as well as magnanimity, sweetness as well as courage. Just as the Virgin Mary is God’s appointed Paraclete of humanity, Portia advocates for Antonio in the trial for his life. Her speech on the divinity of mercy is a compendium of Christian theology, and a powerful criticism against the inhuman cruelty of the statemandated religious persecutions:
[cxlvii] [cxlvi] [cxlv]
But mercy is above this sceptred sway… It is an attribute of God himself./ And earthly power doth then show likest God’s/ When mercy seasons justice… in the course of justice none of us/ Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy. (IV.i.190-197)
When Shylock stubbornly refuses to listen to her wise calls to mercy, Portia – whose name, from Lat. porta, ‘door,’ or ‘gate’ alludes to the divine appellation of Mary as “Porta Coeli” – Portia saves Antonio through a literal interpretation of the law: “If thou takes more/ Or less than just a pound… Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate,” vv. 323-329. Shylock is trapped: he, who was bent on taking his revenge upon an innocent, discovers that he has signed a contract which language he cannot interpret, and which
ultimately binds him to his demise. In the same way, Shakespeare’s artistic freedom in a time of terror played itself out in the space between the metaphorical and the literal interpretation of the word – and indeed, all his artistic ‘translations’ of the Blessed Virgin, as a figure and a concept in Christian Catholic theology, were subject to the same precautionary treatment.
This interplay between the literal and metaphorical is crucial to appreciate the importance of another principle of Catholic theology active in Shakespeare, namely, the doctrine of indulgences: which occupied so much of the religious debate of both Reformation and Counter-reformation. Since faith in the efficaciousness of indulgences – not only to atone for one’s sins, but also to free penitent souls from Purgatorial fire – since this faith functioned, in Shakespeare’s times, as a ‘Star of David’ to distinguish Catholics from Protestants, it is not surprising to find mention of it in Shakespeare’s Spiritual Testament: which was not interred, like the Spiritual Testament of his father John, but was consigned to human immortality with Prospero’s Epilogue at the end of The Tempest, the last great play of the Author, and, together with Hamlet, the most universally known and most accomplished. As we will see, it is not a coincidence that the doctrine of indulgences should feature so prominently in both of these plays, and from this theological reflection we will try to infer what Shakespeare’s desire may have been in terms of concrete actions and practical life. Prospero’s Epilogue is memorable not only because it has rightly been regarded by many as the symbolic ‘tombstone’ of the Artist, but also because, at the end and culmination of his artistic career, Shakespeare pays homage to his greatest master, Dante. If Dante’s sublime was clearly in the representation of the glory of God, Shakespeare’s sublime was in the mimesis of the negative of that glory: which is human sin. If Dante’s poetic mission was to fly, like an eagle, with his eyes fixed on the sun of God, Shakespeare’s charge – no less demanding but much less pleasurable – was to represent the dark side of the moon: the world of human fallenness, with its pride, doubt, tragic rashness, concupiscence and incontinence. To ask which artist is or should be considered superior is a naïve and egoist question: artistically we need to read them together, each as the complement of the other. At the same time, and from a religious and existential perspective, we can safely assign the pride of place to the one who, out of deep humility, least wanted it. For indeed, if Dante portrayed himself as an eagle transfixed by the Sun-God, Shakespeare exposed himself as a donkey, impossibly enamored of the Goddess-Moon who inspired him. Shakespeare admired Dante, whom he regarded as his model and predecessor in the providential chain of Poets-Prophets described by Wordsworth (The Prelude, Book XIII, vv.301-312) in which poets, as lay prophets of God, are “each with each/ Connected in a mighty scheme of truth.” In this light, Prospero’s Epilogue – the summa of Shakespeare’s Art – directly refers to Dante’s last tercet in the Paradise – itself the summa and culmination of Dante’s Art – in which the Author describes a miraculous recirculation of Love between God and Man, like the circular movement of a wheel: as God has the power to move Man, Man in his turn has the power to move God because such is the Will of God-Love: to be moved by human charity.
With reference to Prospero’s Epilogue (vv. 13-20), David Beauregard and Stephen Greenblatt have commented on the technical meaning of the term ‘indulgence’ for a Renaissance audience: “[i]n the religious context of Jacobean
England and the court of James I, ‘indulgence’ was obviously an important and risky word, a word fraught with powerful theological implications to which Shakespeare could not have been insensitive.” In Shakespeare’s time, ‘indulgence’ had “the specific, technical sense that it still possesses in Catholic theology: the Church’s spiritual power to remit punishment due to sin,” which meaning is “strongly reinforced” forgiveness:
by the reference to prayer and
Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant; And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer, Which pierces so, that it assaults Mercy itself, and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardoned be, Let your indulgence set me free.
As noted by Beauregard, this sublime piece of poetry powerfully condenses not one, but four fundamental Catholic doctrines: the uncertainty of salvation; the value of intercessory prayer; the remission of sins; and, of course, the validity of indulgences. At the same time, neither Beauregard nor Greenblatt does mention another essential theological function of indulgences in Catholic theology, which is the power – through the infinite merits of Jesus Christ – to free penitent souls from Purgatorial fire by means of confession, Mass, prayer and works of charity. This meaning is essential to understand Shakespeare’s art and especially his acknowledged masterpiece, Hamlet. The redemptive function of indulgences also offers us a new reading key to the figure of Prince Hamlet, who through the centuries has been idolized and magnified out of proportions as an elevated scholarly and analytical intellect, even a genius. By gaining a deeper understanding of the doctrine of indulgences, it is possible to finally reverse such stale and unprofitable image – and complement it with its revitalizing opposite. In light of his tragic ignorance of the most basic doctrine of indulgences – which was well known even to the commoners or groundlings who attended Shakespeare’s plays – the Prince finally appears as ‘Hamlet the Idiot,’ very similar to Joyce’s H.C.E., ‘Here Comes Everybody,’ which was modeled (inter alia) on awkward Humpty Dumpty. As a matter of fact, this notion of Hamlet as ‘the Idiot’ or ‘the Fool,’ must have been quite common among Shakespeare’s contemporaries, for whom literacy in Christian Catholic theology was still seen as essential to gain salvation for eternal life (and possibly, to avoid martyrdom on earth). With the progressive secularization of society, this generalized knowledge was lost: hence the mystique created around the ‘unfathomable’ mystery of Hamlet – a mystery which has enriched a considerable number of critics, much more interested in maintaining that mystique for their own purposes, instead of honestly asking what Shakespeare’s purposes might have been in creating such a self-aware
meta-character within such a self-referential, meta-play. The doctrine of indulgences helps us to see through such artificially-created, disingenuous mystique, in search for the deeper truths of Shakespeare’s art: which is sublime precisely because it serves not the egotism of its earthly author, but the glory of its “bending author” – who is always God, making Himself commensurable to our nothingness and speaking through Shakespeare as his “all-unable pen.”
Joyce called Prince Hamlet “Hamlet,
ou le Distrait.” What did Catholic Joyce know that we, like Hamlet, have tragically forgotten? Why does Joyce’s non-hero Stephen Dedalus often repeat, on that fateful day of June 16, 1904, the sibylline sentence: “What’s in a name?” Having been raised as a devout Catholic by his saintly mother, Mary Jane Murray Joyce, James Joyce remembered the significance of the name ‘Gertrude’ – Hamlet’s mother and Queen of Denmark, in Shakespeare’s play – in connection with Saint Gertrude the Great (1256-1302). The German Benedictine nun was also a renowned mystic and a theologian, and to her Jesus confided a powerful prayer to free souls from Purgatorial fire:
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most precious Blood of Thine Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Blessed Souls in Purgatory and for sinners everywhere: for the sinners within the Universal Church, for those in my home and within my family. Amen.
But Hamlet ‘le Distrait’ forgot it: how was it possible? Was it not because of his studies in Wittenberg:
Queen Gertrude. Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet. I pray thee stay with us, go not to Wittenberg. (I.ii.118-119)
The name of Wittenberg was in the 16th and 17th centuries indissolubly linked with the genesis of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther affixed on the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church his Ninety-Five ‘Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences’ (Disputatio pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum, 1517).
As it often happens in Shakespeare, even villains can occasionally say
the truth – like Caifa the High Priest, when he spoke in Spirit predicting the Death of Jesus Christ. In this scene, Claudius the villain is made to speak the truth about Hamlet’s spiritual situation: having come under the influence of institutionalized impiety, Hamlet has developed an “impious stubbornness,” a “will most incorrect to heaven,” a “heart unfortified, a mind impatient” and especially “an understanding simple and unschooled,” vv.9497. For this reason, because his “incorrect” curriculum studiorum at Wittenberg has fortified his pride and weakened the memory of his orthodox Christian Catholic upbringing, Hamlet fails to recognize the apparition on the ramparts for what it is: a demon – as even King James, himself not an exceptional scholar, had warned his English subjects in his Demonology.
Had Hamlet invested his energies in studying the Sacred Scriptures, he would have been able to ‘discern the spirit’ immediately: as soon as the ghost commanded him to take revenge. Fir indeed, both the Old and the New Testament forbid human beings to take revenge: only God can avenge crimes, because only God is Omniscient. Only God knows the intricacies of causation within the boundaries of time, as well as the mysteries of the human heart. Only God knows every thought and every sentiment: not only as they happen in time, but before time, in His instantaneous Omniscience. Only God, therefore, can say: “Vengeance is mine”:
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore, if thy enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
The same concept, that the right and power of vengeance is an attribute of God alone, is repeatedly stated in the Bible: Deut. 32:35; Ps. 94:1; 99:8; Is. 34:8; 35:4; 61:2; Jer. 11:20; 20:12; 46:10; 50:15; 50:28; 51:6; 51:11; 51:36; Ezek. 25:14; 25:17; Luke 21:22; 2 Thes. 1:8; Heb. 10:30. At the same time, Man’s obligation to forgive is explicitly discussed by Jesus as a precondition to obtain forgiveness by God. In the solemn context of the first prayer He teaches His apostles, the Our Father, Jesus says:
When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them… After this manner therefore pray ye… And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors… For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:7-15)
From the abundance of textual evidence forbidding vengeance and commanding forgiveness, we can infer that Hamlet’s brainwashing at Wittenberg must have been quite thorough. He does indeed for a moment remember that the devil can assume pleasant appearances, but having erased the tables of his memory to second the wish of the ghost, he soon relapses in his “distracted” (III.i.5) personality and forgets, once again, the well-known passages of New Testament that describe Satan as “the father of lies,” able to assume the appearances of an “angel of light” to deceive men and lead them astray. Jesus denounces Satan as a murderer and a father of lies in John 8:44: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” Saint Paul warns that Satan can take the appearances of an angel of light in 2 Cor. 11:13-14: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” Always St Paul speaks of the ability to discern spirits as one of the gift of the Holy Spirit, in 1 Cor. 12:10.
The reason why Hamlet forgets these basic truths – which in his day represented the fundamental knowledge that even peasants possessed, from attending Mass and hearing homilies preached – is because he has wiped away “all trivial fond records” (I.v.99) from the tables of his memory, and subjugated his will to a demonic spirit without previously testing the nature of that spirit. More or less wittingly, Hamlet has entered the Satanic pact that Shakespeare had previously attributed to Falstaff (I Henry IV, I.ii.111 ff.). Having subjugated his free will to demonic agency, Hamlet is, technically speaking, not a man anymore but a machine. His words to Ophelia are therefore a chilling prophecy: “Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this/ machine is to him, Hamlet” (II.ii.122-123); and Polonius is in the right, as he warns Ophelia that Hamlet’s “will is not his own” (I.iii.17). Having renounced the distinctive mark of humanity, free will, which is the precondition of reason, Hamlet loses possession of his mind, and with a conversion au contraire ‘turns into’ a ravenous beast like the Pyrrhus he describes. In a fit of mad rashness, he kills Polonius: himself an innocent and the father of his innocent love, Ophelia. An impotent and corrupt human being, he nonetheless tries to ape God’s Justice, thus becoming like the murderer upon which he is desperately trying to take his revenge. As Emperor Claudio, notorious for his assassinations of political rivals, was succeeded by his nephew and adopted son Nero, so Hamlet, nephew and adopted son of Claudio, turns into a tyrant bent on destruction and self-destruction. He, who was able to advise the players so well, cannot apply his advice to himself: “Suit the action to the word,/ the word to the action” (III.ii.17) Hamlet has not ‘suited’ his action to the Word, and has “imitated humanity so abominably.” (III.ii.34-35) His pride in aping God has revealed him to be a usurper of someone else’s authority, and a murderer of an innocent, exactly like the usurper and murderer upon whom he was trying to exercise his ‘justice.’ As he prophetically comments: “That’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.” (III.ii.44-45) Shakespeare’s critical allusions to the Protestant Reformation throughout the play are subtle but numerous: see for instance the repeated mention of ‘reform’ (III.ii.36 and 38) in the above quoted passage about the abominable imitation of humanity; or the allusion to the diet of Worms in Hamlet’s description of Polonius’s corpse: “A certain convocation of political worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet” (IV.iii.20-22), which is polemically inserted in the context of the parable of the rich glutton and of Lazarus, the beggar: “Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service – two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end,” vv.23-25. It is therefore not surprising that, having studied at Wittenberg as the seat and symbol of the Protestant Reformation, Hamlet has lost his memory of orthodoxy: not only does he not remember the Scripture passages about God’s revenge and reciprocal forgiveness among men; about the false nature of Satan and his deceitful appearances; about the necessity to test the spirits before committing one’s trust to them. But he has also forgotten the necessary “modesty of nature” which he so emphatically recommends to the players (III.ii.18), a modesty which should immunize him against mortal pride, the beginning of downfall for both angels and men.
The deadly combination of pride and forgetfulness turns witty Hamlet into an idiot, a veritable fool of nature: Hamlet tragically forgets that the only way to end his father’s Purgatorial sufferings is to take indulgences for his soul, also remembering his mother’s name, Gertrude, and the powerful prayer attached to Saint Gertrude the Great. Our analysis of Hamlet has shown how an understanding of Christian Catholic theology can be profitably applied to the plays to uncover ancient meanings – meanings which were probably very well known in the 17th century and soon after, by the average theater-goer with an average or only limited culture: and in fact Shakespeare, as many have pointed out, was universal also because he “spoke to the people.” These meanings, theological and religious in nature, have progressively become unintelligible to our materialistic and secularized society; but in so doing, we have lost the key to a deeper appreciation of the author. In light of these recoveries, it is therefore legitimate to ask ourselves what Shakespeare’s intentions might have been in writing such a sublime piece of ‘negative poetics,’ such a representation of existential failures: a veritable Not-To-Do List for any human being who desires to live a reasonably successful life. And in fact, Shakespeare’s sublime has been exquisitely epitomized by Melville in terms of a “great power of blackness” – as Desdemona warns before the representation of her own murder: “Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend.” (Othello, IV.ii.104) Therefore, what was the positive aim of so much sublime ‘negative’? As a devout Catholic, it seems plausible that Shakespeare foresaw an ethical and moral end to his sublime art. In this he was faithful not only to the long tradition of medieval religious theater, but also to Greek and Roman poetics, in classics such as Plato’s Republic and Horace’s Ars Poetica. In the Republic, Socrates clearly maintains that the goal of sublime Art is to be able to “really… educate men and make them better” (τῷ ὄντι οἷός τ᾽ ἦν παιδεύειν ἀνθρώπους καὶ βελτίους ἀπεργάζεσθαι) [600c]; to “help men achieve excellence” (πρὸς ἀρετὴν ὀνῆσαι ἀνθρώπους) [600d], thus harmonizing ethics and aesthetics, the good and the beautiful. On his part, Horace acknowledged Socrates’s authority, and equally maintained that “[o]f good writing the source and fount is wisdom. Your matter the Socratic pages can set forth, and when matter is in hand words will not be loath to follow (endi recte sapere est et principium et fons./ rem tibi Socraticae poterunt ostendere chartae/ verbaque provisam rem non invita sequentur, vv. 309-311) Therefore, according to Horace, the poet who is able to unite the pleasurable with the good and useful, certainly achieves the best results: “omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci/ lectorem delectando pariterque monendo,” vv. 344-345. It seems obvious that Shakespeare is one such sublime artist: what might his intended aims have been, in a tragedy like Hamlet?
It seems to us that two important aims of Shakespeare’s ethical theater – as they emerge from masterpieces such as The Tempest and Hamlet – are the necessity for human beings to forgive one another, as well as the importance to end the unspeakable sufferings of souls in Purgatory through our indulgences. If Shakespeare was aware of his own greatness as a gift from God, it is legitimate to think that he wished all the Catholics in good standing in his audiences to forgive their debtors, and to remember the souls in Purgatory, also reciting the prayer entrusted to Saint Gertrude the Great: “As you from crimes would pardoned be,/ Let your indulgence set me free.”
As a last instance of influential Catholic theology in Shakespeare, mention must be made of the Catholic sacramental of the Scapular of Mount Carmel, as it is represented in Macbeth – the play that, more than any others, deals with the issue of sorcery and witchcraft, hexes and curses. In Act IV, scene iii (vv. 154-160) Malcolm describes the English King’s miraculous thaumaturgic virtue: he has the power to heal the sick by means of a “golden stamp,” which he “with holy prayers,” places “about their necks” (from Lat. scapula, ‘shoulder bone’), and which leaves “the healing benediction” not only to those he so cures, but also to his royal line. Shakespeare’s reference here is to Blessed Virgin Mary’s gift to Saint Simon Stock, Head of the Carmelite Order in Cambridge, in 1251. Mary appeared to St. Simon upon his request that She grant the members of his Order a special privilege, a sign of protection. Not only did Mary answer his request, but the gift She left, the Scapular, was for the benefit of all Christians. The significance of the Scapular is clear: it is a visible and tangible sign of the person as belonging to God and the Mother of God, who in this way extend their allpowerful protection against any sort of sorcery directed against the person by means of hexes, curses, bindings and so on. Many promises are attached to the Scapular devotion if three conditions are met: the first, wearing the Scapular at all times (except of course for necessary or grave causes); the second, praying at least a third part of the Rosary (five decades) every day; the third, “observing chastity according to one’s station in life.” If the Scapular is worn with faith and in observance of these conditions, the Virgin promised that “whosoever dies clothed in this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” In other words, the Scapular is a promise not only of protection in this life, but of salvation for eternal life. We will better understand the importance of these promises in our subsequent analysis of Othello, after having introduced Christian Catholic demonology and the doctrine of victim souls. For the time being, let us recall, at the end of this section on the textual evidence of Shakespeare’s Catholicism, the enlightening words of Thomas Carlyle which we quoted at the beginning of the historical discussion of Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries: in spite of prohibitions and persecutions, both Shakespeare and the life he sang were the resultant of Catholicism, an immortal force as strong as Nature herself: “King-Henrys, Queen-Elizabeths go their way; and Nature too goes hers.” 5. Christian Catholic Demonology: Demonic Souls Agency and Victim
King James IV and I’s Daemonologie in Forme of a Dialogue (1597) was very famous at the time, and it functioned as a summa and a compendium of commonly held assumptions, both learned and popular, about demonic agency in human life. As we have pointed out, it certainly played an important role in the reception of Hamlet by Shakespeare’s contemporaries: Hamlet as a play was certainly much more universally understood in the Renaissance that it is now, due to the progressive materialization of our society. Audiences in Shakespeare’s day, warned by authoritative texts like King James’s Demonology, knew that phenomena such as ‘ghostly’ apparitions have a demonic nature. It is God’s Will that the souls of the deceased may not come back from Purgatory; and angelic intelligences who live in the Grace of God do not lead men astray in such devious ways.
Influential though it was in its day, James’s Daemonologie is not a scholarly work. The king himself was neither a scholar nor a doctor of the Ecclesia. If we
realize that Christian Demonology occupies a central role in Shakespeare’s art, we must look for other, more qualified sources in order to understand its principles and appreciate its influence on the artist. The first of these is the work of Saint Augustine, the first of the Church Fathers to discuss demonology systematically, canonizing it as a part of Christian theology. Augustine begins his treatment of demons, in Book VIII, chapter XV of the City of God, by debunking the pretense that ‘demons are better than men because they have better bodies’: demons are much less powerful than human beings if human beings respect God’s Law and live in God’s Grace: “Ob hoc enim et prouidentia diuina… ipsamque excellentiam corporalem, quam daemones habere nossemus, prae bonitate uitae, qua illis anteponimur, contemnere disceremus, habituri et nos inmortalitatem corporum, non quam suppliciorum aeternitas torqueat, sed quam puritas praecedat animorum.” If men respect God’s commands, they are destined to immortality in soul and body: not afflicted by eternal torture like demons, but rejoicing in eternal peace in the beatific vision of God. This is essential to bear in mind for all subsequent discussion, in which it may appear that the power of demons over human beings is overwhelming: in fact it is not, if human beings abide by God. As Saint Theresa of Avila writes in her Life, demons are the “servants” of God: there is nothing in their power that escapes His control, and they are nothing compared to His Omnipotence.
The other great Christian intellectual to codify demonology was St Thomas Aquinas. In his Summa Theologica (Question 64, Art. 1, 2 and 3), Aquinas deals with questions that are central to the problematic raised by Shakespeare’s plays, particularly in Othello and Macbeth. To the question whether the intellect of demons is darkened by privation of knowledge, Aquinas writes that demons are deprived of all knowledge of truth because they cannot know God. Only the angelic or human intelligence that finds itself in a state of grace, within God’s Grace, can have knowledge and foresight as gifts of the Holy Spirit. This insight is essential for plays like Macbeth: rivers of ink have been spilled throughout the centuries in trying to determine whether the three witches actually know the future, or Macbeth is simply acting out a selffulfilling prophecy. But demons and their “mechanic slaves” – for such are those who subject their free will to demonic influence, in order to gain power over others in this life – cannot know the future, because that knowledge is kept from them by God’s Will. In this way, God preserves a space of freedom for human beings, who are therefore able to exercise a certain amount of free will that has survived the tragedy of the original sin. Without free will, there is no responsibility; without responsibility, there is no sin: and without sin, there can be no just punishment or reward. This is why knowledge and foreknowledge are gifts of God’s Spirit, meant to preserve our freedom, and therefore our full humanity.
The theological reflections of St Augustine and St Thomas derive of course from a deep and prolonged study of the Sacred Scripture, with special attention to the loci where mention is made of Satan and the genesis of his fall; his demonic legions and their agency in human life; and of course the numerous exorcisms of Jesus Christ and his apostles, whose mandate was and is to free human beings from the tyranny of evil. For a commented presentation of the loci in the Old and New Testament referring to Satan, a good reference is R. Grillo’s encyclopedic work on the devil in world religions, Il Principe di Questo Mondo (2002), especially chapter III, ‘Il Diavolo nelle Sacre Scritture Secondo la Tradizione Cristiana.’ As Grillo remarks, the role of the Son of God with respect to humanity is first and foremost that of physician and exorcist: humanity lives in a condition of fallenness due to the catastrophic
consequences of the original sin on human nature, whereby human nature is subject to demonic agency and demonic temptation. Therefore, throughout His salvific mission on earth, Jesus heals the sick and liberates the demoniacs – where sickness, both physical and psychological, is often a consequence of demonic agency. At the same time, the powers to heal the sick and cast out demons from their human victims are granted by Jesus Christ to His disciples as part of their sacramental investiture in the line of apostolic succession that goes from the Son, through his vicar on earth, Peter, down to the Universal Catholic Church. Jesus thus confers the powers of healing and exorcism on His apostles: “And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits… And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” (Mar. 6:7-13) In the Gospels, the exorcisms publicly performed by Jesus are numerous. Jesus heals and liberates “two possessed with devils” at Gergesenes (Matt. 8:28-34); a “dumb man possessed by a devil” (Matt. 9:32-34); “one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb” (Matt. 12:22-32; Luke 11:14-23); the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matt. 15:22-28; Mar. 7:25-30); the “lunatic” boy, whom Jesus’s disciples could not liberate because “this kind [of demons] goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:14-21; Mar. 9:14; Luke 9:37); “a man with an unclean spirit” in the synagogue at Capernaum, whereby the multitude exclaims: “What thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth He even the unclean spirits, and they do obey Him” (Mar. 1:23-27; Luke 4:33-37); the demoniac of Gadarenes possessed by “Legion,” “for we are many” (Mar. 5:1-20); and Mary Magdalene, “out of whom” Jesus casts out “seven devils” (Mar. 16:9). As effects of demonic agency are also identified cases of otherwise inexplicable ‘physical illness,’ which Jesus heals through exorcism: one such case is the spectacular healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41), who becomes a scandal for the Pharisees. Being born with a congenital illness was a sign of impurity for the Jews – but such was not the case of this man. The man born blind was a victim soul for the glorification of Christ: he had been afflicted with illness neither because of his parents’ sins nor his own, “but that the works of God should be manifested in him.” By being healed and believing in the power of Jesus as the Son of God (v. 35), the man becomes a scandal for the Temple priests: but their persecutions only bring damnation on themselves, while the man gains eternal life by acknowledging Jesus as God and worshipping Him (v. 38). In order to distinguish between the different forms of demonic agency in human life, the most authoritative source within the line of apostolic succession established by God is the person invested with the authority of Chief Exorcist of the Holy See – a position currently held by Father Gabriele Amorth. In his numerous publications, Amorth expounds the taxonomy of demonic agency along the following lines. There is, first of all, an essential difference between victims and agents of demonic agency: there are souls, like the blind man of the Gospel of John, who are victim souls for God and who demonstrate their love for the Cross with physical and moral suffering, in order to atone for their original sin as well as for the sins of others. These victim souls can be subject to three forms of demonic agency: demonic oppression; demonic obsession; and demonic possession.
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On the other hand, we find Satan’s “mechanic slaves,” the human agents of Satan and his legions: men who use demonic, Satanic magic as a tool to damage others and promote themselves, ‘binding’ and casting maledictions on
others by subjugating their free will to Satan. By entering the Satanic pact, these men abjure their free will and offer their souls in exchange for earthly gains, such as: wealth, renown, a desired promotion, a profitable marriage – or also the satisfaction of revenge against real or imagined ‘enemies,’ or the thrill of being able to damage and kill others through curses and deadly bindings. Such cases of demonic subjugation will be discussed in the following sections six and seven on Satanic magic, Satanism ad Freemasonry. For the time being, it is essential to appreciate the crucial difference between demonic action in victim souls on the one hand, and human agents of the demons on the other: if victim souls are chosen by God and suffer against their human will for the benefit of others, human agents choose to subjugate their will to demons in order to damage others and achieve material gains.
Demonic agency in victim souls can take the form of: oppression, obsession and possession. Demonic oppression is mainly external and it manifests itself in areas such as family, work and interpersonal relations. The victims can experience problems on the workplace, such as exploited labor, unemployment, discrimination, mobbing, slander, etc. They may face difficult relationships within the family: with their children, spouses, parents or siblings; or in the outside world of social relations, whereby other people victimize them out of envy and ill will. Demonic obsession, on the other hand, is a spiritual affliction which is mainly internal and can manifest itself through grave illnesses and various types of dependency. The victims may suffer from addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex and even crime. Demonic obsession is the underlying condition of many psychological diseases, including obsession-compulsion, depression, paranoia or schizophrenia. Evidently, demonic obsession is the most widespread form of demonic agency in human life: millions of people are affected by demonic obsession without being aware of it. The greatest danger for their earthly lives and the greatest harm for their immortal spirit come precisely from the lack of precise information about demonic obsession. This is especially true in comparison with the third main form of demonic agency in victim souls, which is demonic possession. Demonic possession is the most clearly recognizable type demonic influence in human life, due to the fact that its external manifestations can be impressive and spectacular: victims often possess superhuman strength and ability; they can levitate or emit infernal stenches; they can express themselves with a different voice and different personality for each demon that they host; they are able to speak in tongues, often the sacred languages of the Bible and the Church: Aramaic, Koinē Greek, and Latin; they have insight into people’s thoughts and can reveal their past sins, etc. The demons possessing the victims invariably show the most violent revulsion against holiness: against churches, sanctuaries and places of Marian apparitions (e.g. Guadalupe, Paris Rue du Bac, La Salette, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, etc.); against sacred images and blessed objects such as crosses, rosaries and holy water; against prayers of liberation and exorcisms; but especially against the consecrated Host and the holy Names of Jesus and Mary. When they are exposed to holiness, demons force the victims to hurt themselves by throwing themselves to the ground, in the fire or water; by crying, cursing, and foaming at the mouth.
Apparently, the life conditions of the victims of demonic possession may seem more severe than those of demonic obsession. On the other hand, a more immediate recognition compensates for such severity, since possession is almost always diagnosed as a spiritual illness and treated with the proper
cure, i.e. all practices of religious devotion: Mass, personal and communal prayer, reading of the Bible, exorcism performed by ordained priests, and so on. By contrast, victims of demonic obsession are often unaware of their spiritual condition, they are usually misdiagnosed and misdirected, and uselessly resort to the most diverse ‘remedies’ without any profit – and often wasting their life time, economic resources, energies, and hope. Apart from visibility and recognition, another very important difference between demonic possession and the other two types of demonic agency, oppression and obsession, is the degree with which the human free will is compromised. Demonic possession annihilates free will: victims of demonic possession have no more control over their actions. They may be painfully compelled to perform sinful actions such as blasphemies, destruction of rosaries, desecrations of images, and so on; but in so doing, they obey the alien will of the demons they host – which means that they are not responsible and have no guilt: they are innocent victims. Not so for the victims of demonic obsession: their will is only partially compromised, depending on the gravity and strength of the malediction or binding directed against them. Because they still partially retain their freedom, these souls are still responsible for their actions – but because they are heavily influenced to commit sin, demonic obsession is paradoxically more dangerous than possession. Our discussion of Shakespeare’s Othello will show a tragic instance of such danger. Among the victims of demonic possession, we remember Anneliese Michel (1952-1976), the Catholic young woman from Bayern (Germany) who suffered possession for the salvation of souls among the German priesthood; and Giovanna, the Italian lady whose tragic case has been described by Grillo. By the testimony of the many ordained priests and exorcists who tried to relieve her spiritual and physical sufferings through prayer and exorcism, Giovanna was first cursed while still in the womb, and again several times when she was thirteen. It was then 1979. A group of twelve fallen priests who had entered the Satanic pact targeted her and offered her as a victim to Satan. In an excess of perversity, they desecrated the Hosts that they had previously consecrated in order to strengthen their malediction. From that moment, thousands of demons took possession of Giovanna, who since then has been suffering for the salvation of thousands of corrupted priests. This information comes to us from the official records of the ordained priests who, during the exorcism, forced the demons to speak – as is their power to do – in the holy Names of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The following are the words of Satan, which I translate here… from the original Italian. Forced to declare why he and his legions were tormenting Giovanna, he admitted: “Very few people could sustain so much suffering. Only half of it would suffice to murder anybody. You do not know it, but she carries Hell in her heart, and I forbid her to give it expression because I want to prevent others from helping her. I relish, relish in killing her without letting her die!” Asked who Giovanna was, he moaned: “She is a host, a holocaust, a victim for priests, a martyr: a saint. She is our desperation. By virtue of her sufferings, she has stolen 1900 priests from us. Because of this, our revenge against her has no respite.” When the exorcists asked Satan how Giovanna could be finally liberated, he said that all the demons would leave her as soon as “an army” of religious communities will pray the entire Rosary together, every day, for her liberation. Forced to go on speaking, in the Name of Jesus and the Virgin, he ‘explained’ that the entire Rosary is necessary because “God gave Her [Mary] the power to cast us out and crush us, and She does so by means of the Rosary. She has rendered it powerful. For this reason, it is the most powerful prayer, the strongest exorcism. The Rosary is our scourge, our ruin, our defeat. The
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Rosary always wins us and it is a source of amazing graces for those who recite it in its entirety, in community.” Cases such as those of Anneliese and Giovanna make us ponder on the spiritual condition of the Catholic Church: how is it possible that corruption is so rampant among priests that innocent victims are needed to atone for their sins – victims, by the way, who as Catholics are members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, but technically outsiders to the Church hierarchy. In fact, very often these victims are women, and for the main part their sufferings and their very existence are completely ignored – if not even stigmatized or condemned – by those who, in theory, were appointed by God to help them: the priests themselves. Of course Giovanna was much helped by the witnesses mentioned in Grillo’s report, but the gravity of her case is unprecedented. The black mass in which she was offered as a victim to Satan was ‘celebrated’ in 1979, while the article in which her story became of public domain in Italy was published in May 1985 (Messaggio, VI, n.23). Her torments were so great that in six years she saved 1900 priests. But it was only in 2002 that Grillo included Giovanna’s odyssey in her encyclopedic work on Satan and Satanism, Il Principe di Questo Mondo, seventeen years later. And we are now in 2011, nine more years of torture. The mathematical proportion tells us that in the intervening time since 1985 Giovanna saved 8,233 ordained priests, for a total of 10,133. Her case is so exceptional, and the reasons of her continuing sufferings so disturbing, that one wonders why the Church hierarchy in Rome did not publicly intervene to denounce the phenomenon of Satanism in the Catholic Church. The crime of her cursing happened in Italy, performed by Italian fallen priests: therefore, it would have been logical for the Vatican, in Rome, to start a formal investigation into Satanism, looking for the causes that drive ordained priests to renegade God, renounce eternal life, and embrace the cult of Satan instead. If the hierarchy had done so, other scandalous events such as the repeated cases of pedophilia would have been better understood – and perhaps avoided – in light of the infiltration of Freemasonic elements in the Church, with an aim to discrediting the Church in the eyes of the world. As we will see in the section Freemasonry and Satanism, the abuse of children is completely in line with the ‘requirements’ of the church of Satan for its adepts. The defilement and, possibly, the ultimate sacrifice of an innocent – and children of course represent The Innocent, par excellence – is Satan’s attempt to ape the Passion of Jesus, to repeat it for his own glory and the damnation of the priests performing it.
But no authority intervened, and Giovanna continued to suffer anonymously. This caused enormous damage not only to her personally and to her family, but to millions of individuals who suffer from other forms of demonic agency without any information or help from the Church. In addition to this, there was the myopic refusal to comply with God’s indirect request – because evidently, that would not be in the interests of Satan – that the Rosary be prayed in community in the whole Universal Church for the liberation of this universal victim: a martyr and a saint. Had the Church done so, the various religious communities – abbeys, monasteries, and especially seminaries – would have understood that such intense prayer is first of all needed for themselves, to heal and save them from their own corruption. This tragic spiritual crisis of the Church has progressively worsened over time: the Church has become materialized and secularized, and many at the base and even at the top think and behave like ‘professionals’ rather than human beings with a calling to victimhood and martyrdom. Because such is the meaning of the holy gift of sacerdotium: to become an alter Christus and follow the example of God on the Cross, for the symbolic atonement of one’s sins and
original sin, and to atone for others.
The problem of corruption in the Church leads us to discuss more in detail the other side of demonic agency in human life, which is to say, victimhood: the living presence of human souls who offer themselves as victims in expiation for their own and other people’s sins. The Biblical foundation to the doctrine of victim souls is contained, inter alia, in the Book of the prophet Isaiah and in the Letters of St Paul. In the Old Testament, Isaiah 53 describes the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as the Innocent Victim of the Father, whose Passion and Death free us from the slavery of the original sin and give us a new hope for salvation. The Victim is described as hideous because of our own sins, which He carries without guilt or responsibility, because the Son of God is Innocence Itself:
He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our grieves and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed… the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. […] He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief… by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah, 53:2-12)
The model of Jesus shows the Way of the Cross for all victims – potentially all Christians – who want to be similar to Him: in order to have “a portion with the great” and be similar to Him in glory, man must carry the Cross of suffering and humiliation to atone for his own sins and for the sins of others. In the New Testament, Saint Paul delineates the doctrine of victim souls in Colossians 1:19-24 and 2 Corinthians 4:5-12. Paul theorizes his state of victimhood stating that, by virtue of his love for Jesus Christ, he is ‘delivered unto death’ so that his brothers may have eternal life in Christ: “For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:12) Then, in Colossians, Paul elaborates on the concept of ‘realization’ of the suffering of Jesus Christ for the sake of humanity: it is the duty of human beings to realize, which is to say, translate into action, the infinite pain suffered by the Christ. In the Passion of the Christ, human suffering was purified by the Sacrifice of Divinity united to perfect Humanity in the Person of the Son. Human suffering was given a meaning and purpose. But after the model of Jesus, every human being must realize that possibility of salvation through suffering in his or her own life: “I Paul… now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.”
An important example of victimhood recorded in the Old Testament – which is also a Biblical proto-type for the Sacrifice of the Son, as the Lamb of the Lord – is the offering of the virgin daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite (Judges 11:29:39). As a military leader, Jephthah was waging war against the Ammonites. Before the battle, he made a vow to the Lord that, should he win, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering the first person to come out of his house to greet him. The first person to do so was his only child, his daughter, who was sacrificed according to her father’s promise to the Lord. This account is highly symbolic because it stands in tragic contrast with God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his only son Isaac (Gen. 22:11-18). By demonstrating his willingness to offer Isaac to the Lord, from Whom he had received him as a gift in his old age, Abraham fulfilled his duty and the youth was spared: the angel of the Lord stopped his hand before he could strike Isaac. The Lord then blessed Isaac and his whole progeny, as numerous “as the stars in the heaven.” In terms of Biblical typology, Isaac is an anti-type of Jesus – not in an ethically negative sense, as Adam, but as a sign of divine mercy. Unlike Isaac, the Son will be sacrificed as the Innocent Victim of the Father. One of Jesus’s proto-types is therefore the daughter of Jephthah – a victim so pure and so complete that not even her name remains for her memory. Her story is especially significant in light of demonic possession, as we have discussed it with contemporary examples. Possession seems to afflict more women victims than men, and yet – or precisely because of that, since misogyny is widespread among the clergy – the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church rarely inquires into the implications of such gendered victimhood. The most direct account of victim souls is given by Jesus Christ in His revelations to Monseigneur Ottavio Michelini (1975-1978). According to the Word, victim souls are “one of the most positive and most wonderful” aspect of His Church, “dearest to my Divine Heart, and which repays me abundantly for all the suffering that ungrateful men cause to my Heart.” This is an exceptional statement, in which Jesus seems to be saying that the infinite pains He experienced during His Passion were worth, in His eyes, to redeem all humanity for the sake of the victim souls who are willing to carry the Cross with Him:
“Victim souls are elected souls, chosen by Heaven, by the Divine Trinity, of whom they become children and spouses. They are the most beloved souls by the Father, most closely united with the Son and the Holy Spirit. They are souls who, generously, often heroically, offer their human life as a gift to God. The Divine Will conditions their whole life: they only want what God wants from them, and they desire nothing else but God, True, One, Great Good, Alfa and Omega of everything and everyone. They offer themselves and sacrifice themselves to God out of love: to God, the ultimate Good, cause and end of our life, in order to atone for their own and other people’s offences. Victim souls are… courageous, heroic and generous… they are enlightened souls who understand that there can be no love for God and no love for the other without suffering. They are those who most faithfully and most authentically interpret, carry out and realize the Two Commandments of love… Victim souls are the lightening-rods of humanity. Woe to men, woe to earth if there were not victim souls! Divine Justice would already have followed its inexorable course, incinerating everything and everyone.”
(November 30, 1976)
Victim souls are those who “respond faithfully” to the call of God: to His vocation to holiness through suffering, which is potentially addressed to the entire humanity but accepted only by a few. By giving their assent to the providential plan of God, these souls repeat Mary’s Fiat in their own life. They want “to make themselves similar” to God, “sharing with Him everything, but especially the Cross, which they accept, carry, love and desire like the First Great Infinite Victim of the Calvary” Jesus enjoins all ordained priests to be victims like Himself: priesthood means victimhood. Every time a priest celebrates the sacrifice of the Mass, he must be willing to suffer with God, offering himself as a victim to be crucified on the Cross with Christ, for the salvation of other human beings. If he refuses to do so, he disowns and perverts his mandate and becomes a traitor like Judas: “Not only must priests be victims, but victims they become by the nature of their priesthood. If he refuses his state of victimhood, he becomes traitor of the Mystery of Redemption, like Judas.”
All saints and martyrs are victim souls, and the greatness of their soul for eternal life is proportional to the sufferings that they endure during their earthly life: “men cannot become saints without having been sifted and tried in the crucible of the dark powers of Hell.” And suffering is indeed very great for victim souls. Often hit by the maledictions of Satanic magic like Giovanna, their lives are rosaries of sorrows and pains. But when they are not ignored, derided or despised, they are actively persecuted not only by demons, but frequently also by those who should recognize and help them, which is to say, the Church hierarchy: “[Maleficium magicum is] a colossal and monstrous fraud, to which many souls are victims. They pay with their suffering without receiving the least help or comfort from those who, in God’s providential plan, should have been their natural protectors and defenders.”
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Far from being victim souls, many members of the Church hierarchy are often unfaithful and morally corrupted, and a number of them have betrayed God to be part of Freemasonry, which is defined by Jesus as the church of Satan on earth, active within God’s Church itself and covered by a mask of hypocritical respectability. The Word of God gives a harsh condemnation and warning to such white sepulchers:
Shepherds and priests, religious men and women, because of your pride you strayed from the right path and were a hurdle for many souls who have been lost because of you: for the good you did not do and the evil that you did. The hardness of your hearts has rendered you insensible to the impulses of God’s Grace. Presumption has darkened your mind and weakened your will. You are like walking corpses, and for this reason I am making you more and more repellent in the eyes of peoples [Cf. Malachi 2], who feel betrayed and disappointed because you have abandoned them in the hands of the dark powers against which you should have defended them. Do not appeal to Divine Mercy, because the time of Mercy has not been seized. Now is the time of Justice. […] In truth, I tell you, the hour is near: repent and do penance, for otherwise all of you shall perish.” (November 5, 1978)
Animated by the basest passions – pride, envy, hatred, greed – such “shepherds and priests” often persecute innocent victim souls exactly as demons do. Like Iago, because they are tainted themselves, they cannot tolerate faith, purity and sainthood in any one else. The Inquisition is the best historical example of such Satanic reversal. Organized by the “dark powers” of evil ever-present in the Church, the Inquisition was a horrendous Satanic fraud, in which the practitioners of Satanic magic were often the inquisitors themselves, fallen and corrupted priests. Covered by a mask of authority and respectability, they turned power into intimidation and very often persecuted the innocent, while protecting and helping the real sorcerers prosper and thrive as their accomplices. They perverted the divine power with which God had invested them, in order to falsely accuse, torture and murder victim souls like Joan of Arc and Giordano Bruno, as well as hundreds of other unknown martyrs. This is the most irrational, the most atrocious crime imaginable: the harshness of their eternal punishment is not conceivable by a human mind. To understand this, it is sufficient to consider that no one person of faith would ever dare even only slap his brother in the face, since Jesus commanded to forgive seventy-seven time seven and lend the other cheek. Because the severity of eternal punishment is proportionate to the gifts granted in life, those who were granted the greatest power, which is the sacerdotal power, and yet perverted it to Satanic ends, will receive the gravest punishment for eternity: which is not imaginable by the limited human mind. Fortunately for Christianity, the power of God is infinitely greater than evil, and the Mystical Body of Christ continues its life by virtue of the very sacrifice of those whom evil tries so desperately to suppress. This divine paradox is perhaps the only way in which we can attribute a kind of ‘irony’ to God: exactly as the maledictions of Satanists turn into benedictions for the faithful, all the torments suffered by victims souls at the hands of their persecutors augment the immense treasury of merit of the Mystical Body of Christ. And fortunately, some victim souls did receive recognition from the best part of the Roman Catholic Church. To these saints, Jesus and the Virgin had entrusted powerful prayers and devotions to obtain salvation for all humanity, and the recognition of the Church (finally) helped these prayers reach all the Christian faithful for whom they were intended. Among the victim souls who were acknowledged by honest members of the hierarchy we remember: St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153, Devotion to the Shoulder Wound of Jesus); St Gertrude the Great (1256-1302, Submission to the Will of God; Prayer for the Liberation of the Souls in Purgatory); St Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373, the Fifteen Prayers to honor the 5,480 blows to the Body of Christ; the Twelve-Year Novena to the Dolours of Jesus); St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690, First Fridays Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus); St Lucia de Jesus dos Santos (1907-2005, First Saturdays Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary); St Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938, Devotion to the Divine Mercy of Jesus: Divine Mercy Chaplet, Novena and Sacred Image).
More recently, victim souls are the seers at the Marian apparitions of Medjugorje, which the hierarchy obstinately refuses to acknowledge in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence in support of their truthfulness. Victim souls were also the many prophets of God in our time: Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), Luisa Piccarreta (1865-1947), Maria Valtorta (1897-1961) and Mons. Michelini (1906-1979). In all these theophanies, we can detect the same pattern: God always chooses the humble to confound the proud. All the
seers at Marian apparitions since Guadalupe in the 16th century, as well as the souls chosen by God to be his prophets, were simple people like Jesus’s apostles or the humble and honest shepherds present at His Nativity. For this reason, they have always been severely scrutinized and ultimately opposed by those who were mortally envious of their privilege. If we consider, for example, that St Pio of Petralcina was the only ordained priest to receive the stigmata in the whole history of the Roman Catholic Church, we can understand the abysmal envy that surrounded him: which was the real reason for the fierce opposition he faced throughout his life from the Church itself.
Such was also the case for Mons. Michelini, who was victimized and persecuted by the high prelates of his day – proud, corrupted and heavily compromised with Freemasonry. As a consequence, the revelations of the Son of God to the Monseigneur were read and studied privately, but never officially acknowledged by His own Church. Since they describe the dire spiritual condition of the Roman Church, soiled by materialism and corruption, this is not at all surprising. At the same time, because they contain a most detailed description of demonic agency in human life – its nature and cause in Freemasonic Satanism – we also have to consider the tragic reality of a Church who chose to deprive of this fundamental, necessary knowledge millions of faithful around the world rather than admitting to its many problems as they were denounced by God Himself. Given that those problems were already very well known to the whole world, it would have been much wiser to acknowledge them openly and try to overcome them with the help and prayers of all Catholics. Understanding this mea culpa as a sign of genuine honesty and humility, many people in the world would have been touched and converted by the truth of the Church’s message: a Church finally coherent in theory and practice. But this was not to be: the Church chose to silence its own God and sacrifice the spiritual wellbeing of millions, rather than seeing its proud image tarnished… by the Truth of God Himself.
In this section we will examine the Word of God on victim souls, while in the following sections on Satanic magic, Satanism and Freemasonry we will learn about the consequences of maleficium magicum on the life of human beings, as they were explained by Jesus to Mons. Michelini. On November 29, 1978, Jesus confided to the Monseigneur that victim souls “are the immaculate and pure hosts placed on the altar to be offered, together with Jesus and His Mother, to the Father, for the remission of sins. They are the jewels of Paradise: they are the precious and hidden pearls, known only to the One and Triune God. They are the object of admiration of Angels and Saints. They are – after Him, the Victim of all victims, and after His Mother, the Heavenly Co-Redeemer – the co-redeemers who draw out the souls from Purgatory but especially from the iron tyranny of Satan.”
This theology is exceptionally important: if Jesus Christ is the Pure, Holy and Immaculate Victim, His Mother Mary is likewise a holy Victim. If He is the King of the army of victim souls, She is their Queen – which explains why She is compared to an army deployed for battle: as the heavenly Co-Redeemer, Mary is the most perfect, hence the strongest and bravest of all creatures. This is a crucial and essential fact that often escapes the comprehension of the clergy, not infrequently afflicted by an underlying misogyny that prevents them from developing a true devotion to the Mother of God. If they seriously pondered on the apparent paradox that, in order to be perfected as men of faith, they should make themselves similar to the most perfect of creatures
who is a woman, they would also better understand the divine perspective on victim souls, whom they often reject and persecute as Jesus Himself was rejected and persecuted by the Temple priests. God’s perspective is different from human perspective: “My son, I told you many times that my ways are different from your ways. Who believes in me will not get lost in the obscure labyrinths of a world which is dominated by Evil, but who believes in me will follow me along the paths that I traced for all and everyone with My Life on earth… Come, my son, after me. Come and follow me, and you will not regret it!” God’s perspective attaches more worth to poverty and humility of spirit than to pride and richness: what could be more different than our human perspective? But God’s perspective is not ‘reversed.’ God is perfection itself: it is we who are reversed in His eyes. This is why victim souls “often incur in the aversion or incomprehension or persecution of those who, according to logic, should understand and support them in every way”:
“[Victim souls] are still little known, my son, because men do not understand them, and in their eyes, they appear as foolish and unwise. In this way, the world does not love them, but instead it often despises them, it derides and avoids them. In reality, the world fears them, and often opposes them because their heroic abnegation sounds like a severe condemnation and a just warning, which tainted consciences do not tolerate. One day men will have to rectify their thinking and judgment on the victim souls whom they willingly ignored and despised. One day men will see, in the same way as the rich glutton saw poor and neglected Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. One day men will turn to victim souls exclaiming: ‘Nos insensati, ergo erravimus a via veritatis. Nos credebamus…’” (November 30, 1976)
Besides ignoring or persecuting victim souls, some members of the Church also turn to Satan, disowning Christ and, most astonishingly, renouncing eternal life for damnation. This Satanic absurdity, which seems inexplicable to a sound mind, becomes possible when human understanding is darkened by pride. Superbia radix omnium malorum: as St Paul and St Augustine knew, it is preferable for a soul to sin and repent, if the memory of sin allows the soul to preserve its humility forever, rather than incurring in the pride of selfrighteousness. For indeed, even if man should never sin in his lifetime, there remains the indelible mark of the original sin in fallen human nature: man’s debt for the Incarnation and Passion of God is infinite, and can only be symbolically repaid by accepting God’s Will, which always entails suffering. Many among the clergy seem to have forgotten this essential truth, and out of self-righteousness often conceive a mortal pride that congeals their hearts and clouds their understanding. As a consequence, they are easily led astray by delusions of power, thus “perverting and deforming the nature of the priestly character, mutilating priesthood of its end.”
A priest who turns away from God because of pride “refuses his state of victim” and “is not present in the Holy Sacrifice” of the Mass. In this way, he “desecrates his regal priesthood,” which God participated to him, and “becomes a traitor of the Mystery of Redemption, like Judas.” What Jesus says next is highly significant, both literally and metaphorically true: in order to understand the gravity of the crime perpetrated by such priests, we should “[i]magine a murderer who defiles his victim by ravaging his body.”
is direct reference to the Satanic practice of desecrating the consecrated hosts in unspeakable ways – scatologically, sexually, and even nailing them to the walls in order to ape and repeat the Passion of our Lord. It is not perhaps so well-known that there is a ‘flourishing’ black market of consecrated hosts, especially the large wafer held by the priest during the transubstantiation, referred to by Satanists as the ‘Big One.’ Because the hosts have a high price on the black market, fallen priests are recruited by Satanists in order to consecrate them for their rites and ceremonies. The life story of Giovanna, previously discussed, is an example of such practice: in order to give greater weight to their malediction, the twelve fallen priests who cursed her also nailed to the wall the hosts that they had previously consecrated, and subsequently desecrated them.
Giovanna is of course a great victim soul, one of the “marvels of God.” Her case tragically confirms the words of Jesus regarding the complete silence and ignorance that surrounds such heroic martyrs of the faith: “[t]he world knows little or nothing about them, and for this reason does not care for them, ignores them and does not feel in the least interested in them.” If human beings often ignore victims souls in this way, “there is another world that unfortunately knows them, follows them and persecutes them, not giving them rest or peace. This world torments them, sets traps for them, tempts them and with merciless sadism causes them to suffer.” This is the world of demons, worshipped and invoked by their human agents on earth: the practitioners of Satanic magic, among whom there is also a considerable number of Satanic priests. And it is precisely at this point that the doctrine of victim souls intersects with demonic agency, as two complementary realities, two sides of the same coin – Dante’s golden florin of faith. In the following two sections we are going to discuss the tool of Satanism, which is Satanic magic; and the larger context in which Satanism takes place, Freemasonry.
6. Satanic Magic
After her first study on urban shamans in Scandinavia, the late anthropologist G. Lindquist presented the research she conducted on the massified production and consumption of magic in contemporary urban Russian society, Conjuring Hope: Magic and Healing in Contemporary Russia (2006). Her publication inserts itself in the prodigious output of literature – from the often combined perspectives of cognitive science, anthropology and sociology – on the contemporary practice of Neo-Shamanism and other variously labeled forms of Satanic magic in industrially developed countries in Europe and Asia. Lindquist records that Russia is witnessing a massification of Satanic magic, which is employed to do virtually anything: curse work colleagues to steal their jobs; throw hexes on competitors to get the best business deal; put a spell on employers to receive a promotion; ‘bind’ love-rivals to achieve the most profitable marriage – and, if nothing else works, throw a mortal maleficium against real or perceived enemies to assuage one’s thirst for revenge.
Lindquist is especially concerned with what looks like a contradiction between “the occult character of magical knowledge” on the one hand, and “its spread
and visibility as a social and economic field in post-perestroika urban Russia” on the other. Referring to the work of Russian sociologist Oleg Pachenkov (2001), who researched the dimensions of ‘the magic business’ in St Petersburg, she asks “how the ‘irrational’ world-view on which magic practices are based is compatible with the seeming rational methods of marketing and advertising that its proponents employ.” The paradox that anthropologists have to confront is the fact that magic practitioners sell a most ‘irrational’ product using the conventional, ‘rational’ methods of marketing, including ubiquitous advertisement and the institutionalization of professional figures such as the healer, the hand-reader, the future-seer, and so on. As a matter of fact, “urban magic in big cities is a conspicuously public phenomenon. As such, it is created by the media and upheld by the market as a thriving field of service and commodity exchange.” There has been a considerable rise of “paranormal performances and services” in Russia since the late 1990s. According to sociological estimates, in 1998 there were more than 50,000 officially registered “specialists in non-traditional healing methods” only in Moscow (Pachenkov, 2001), while at the national level, Nezavisimaia Gazeta (10/06/1996) indicated an estimate in the hundreds of thousand for ‘professional profiles’ such as “magi, sorcerers and fortunetellers.”
Besides discussing the dimensions of the phenomenon, Lindquist focuses on its qualitative characteristics, asking ‘what’ it is that sorcerers sell, to whom, and to satisfy which needs. In her chapter on the use of spells and bindings in working life, for instance, Lindquist refers to the numerous studies published on the language of magic in anthropology – e.g. Malinowski (1922, 1965); LéviStrauss (1963); Tambiah (1968, 1990); Csordas (1997), etc. – which foreground the fact that “ritual speech is more pragmatic than descriptive or referential,” since it “offers ways to manipulate the subjectivity of the speaker and the audience… creat[ing] new subjective and intersubjective realities.” Following in this tradition, Lindquist sees spells as “icons of power” intended to “change reality [and] alter the situation: be it ailments of the body or the unsatisfactory situational configurations in interpersonal relations, business, trade, and working life.” And this is where her research, although accurate, assimilated itself to so much existing literature on the topic, which uncritically absorbs the romanticized version of magic that can be evinced from highly ideological stances such as Eliade’s and Harner’s. Therefore, to Lindquist, spells are “jewels of social poetics.” It does not matter that their language is but a confusing mix of pseudo-religion, scatology and sexual aberration: to her mind, curses possess a “poetic form” which has allowed the attached human passions to be codified and “perfected over centuries.” As a manifestation of popular sentiment, Russian maledictions have “much in common with those found in the folklore of other cultures, e.g. Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, Balkan Slav and Greek,” but their ‘distinctly’ Russian flavor is found in the special combination of Orthodox Christianity with sexual and scatological vulgarities. In a modernist and quite idiosyncratic vein, Lindquist perceives no contradiction between authentic poetry and the swearwords of the ‘lower strata of society’ to which she alludes. In her childish, idealized vision of the practice of cursing – as well as of “the disadvantaged and the disempowered” in general – it is the very lowliness of the language employed that invests maledictions with an aura of sublimity. Such viewpoint is, needless to say, so counterfactual that it amounts to a matter of subjective, personal taste – very different from codified poetics or canonical standards of aesthetics.
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Furthermore, like many other researchers, Lindquist does not seem to be able to draw the logical consequences between the practice of cursing and its effects on both the sender and the receiver of the curse. Hence, on the one hand, she states that maledictions are “verbal missiles,” “bullets” and “magic darts,” which people use because “they resonate with their immediate experiences and agendas.” But on the other, she never asks what effects these ‘missiles’ may have on the people against whom they are directed and thrown – or on the very people who throw them. In describing current Russian maledictions usable on the workplace, for instance, she unperturbedly notes that there is a “special category of spells” that are valuable and effective in “small- and medium-size businesses, in business transactions such as buying and selling, and at workplaces in salaried jobs.” Under this more general category, there is a spell for every occasion: “for dealing with business partners, competitors, potential and real enemies… There are spells used in dealings with superiors and other co-workers…” At this point of her research, though, instead of intelligently asking how such maledictions are supposed to be effective, Lindquist resorts to the common store of stale, feel-good clichés about magic as an ‘acceptable’ solution to the human problem of affliction, illness and misfortune. In her mystified account, spells come to be seen almost as an Ossianic form of sublime popular literature, the repository of the dark passions of a nation: “Spells are passions condensed; emotions cast into proper poetic form that the culture provided through generations, out of the blood, sweat and tears of ancestors who… were plagued by the same passions.”
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Naïve though they may be, in terms of romantization and idealization, this type of accounts give us an idea of the proportions of the phenomenon of magic as a mass product in industrialized societies. And in fact, a quick Internet and database search confirms so much: limiting our scope to a prominent commercial site like Amazon.com, and considering only the ‘Books’ section, we obtain stunning results, even considering the inevitable crosslisting of key words. After each of the following topic-related key words, the number of Amazon hits is indicated in brackets: Magic (92,525); Satanic magic (231); Demonic magic (658); Black magic (17,043); White magic (7,440); Witchcraft (8,914); Wicca (4,254); Witch school (733); Witches (18,346); Witchcraft spell books (1,256); Magus (1,033); Binding magic (16,075); Hexes (1,654); Curses (6,237); Maledictions (216); Spells (9,699); Conjuring (2,600); Necromancy (285); Occultism (12,210); Occult powers (1,333); Esoterism (167); Astrology (18,891); Palmistry (1,394); Medium (19,977); Channeling (2,340); Psychic (14,956); Clairvoyance (2,949); Mind reading (3,681); Card magic (2,012); Tarots (8,270); New Age (13,341); Reiki (2,843); Neo-paganism (632); Neo-Shamanism (266); Satanism (1,407); Black mass (26,440), etc. The ‘amazing grace’ of the titles on sale includes, inter alia: The Little Book of Curses and Maledictions for Everyday Use (Downton, 2009); Book of Satanic Magic (Nacht, 2011); The Satanic Scriptures (Gilmore, Butler, Barton 2007); Ceremonial Magic and the Power of Evocation (Lisiewski, Hyatt, Black, 2008); Encyclopedia of Black Magic (1990); Grimorium Verum (Peterson, 1990); The Book of Spells (Branson-Trent, 2011); The complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies & Magic (Gonzalez-Wippler, 2002); The Witchcraft Codex: A Guide to Black Magic Practices, Spells, Curses and other Information (Winstanley, 2010); Jack the Ripper’s Black Magic Rituals (Edwards, 2003); The Black Arts: A Concise History of Witchcraft, Demonology, Astrology, and other Mystical Practices Throughout the Ages (Cavendish, 1983); Witchcraft: Theory and Practice (De Angeles, 2000); The Magus: A Complete System of Occult Philosophy (Barrett, 2010). Especially suggestive are the titles: Magic When You Need It: 150 Spells You Can’t Live Without (Illes, 2008); Spells for the Solitary Witch (Holland, 2004),
Kindle edition $ 9.99 or Paperback $ 12.14; and The Modern Day Spell-book: A Collection of Spells for the Modern Day Witch (Marten, 2011) – which is actually available for Free Super Saving Shipping. Faced with such superabundance of magic – on sale and special offer for all occasions, in the skies and underground – hypotheses such as Thomas’s, that magic ought to be in decline in the modern world, seem just a tad off track. In Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), which was nonetheless important in establishing magic as a topic of scholarly inquiry, Thomas punctiliously collects and selects evidence with an aim to supporting his preconceived thesis that Enlightenment and industrialization determined a decline in the practice of magic – only to deny it at the close: “If magic is to be defined as the employment of ineffective techniques to allay anxiety when effective ones are not available, then we must recognize that no society will ever be free from it;”
“Indeed, the role of magic in modern society may be more extensive
than we yet appreciate.” This is very different from his opening in the Preface, where he states that “Astrology, witchcraft, magical healing, divination, ancient prophecies, ghosts and fairies, are now all rightly disdained by intelligent persons.” The wording in itself is exceptionally bizarre, but the corresponding concept is even more so: undoubtedly everyone would say, for example, that the current Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is an ‘intelligent person’ – certainly more than her husband, William Jefferson Blythe. And yet she made the headlines, in the 1990s, for the reason that she availed herself of New Age psychic Jean Huston to conjure the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt. As Clinton later commented on the information leak, “Now, I am sure that there will be a talk show host, somewhere, who will point out with great glee that I have gone over the edge and am talking to myself and to Mrs. Roosevelt on a regular basis – but I believe that the world, and particularly our country, would be better off if we all spent a little time talking with Mrs. Roosevelt.” As for the medium herself, Jean Huston, she experienced a veritable ‘leap of faith’ after the event, and was miraculously promoted to be part of the ‘United Nations Development Group,’ “training leaders in the new field of Social Artistry.”
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To be fair, Huston (b. 1937) was well-known even before the providential leak of information from the White House. As her personally contrived Wikipedia page attests, she is an “American scholar, lecturer, teacher, visionary thinker, speaker, researcher in Human Capacities, author and philosopher.” Her life turned around the day she “ran into” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in New York, supposedly “while walking her dog.” After that, their assiduous conversations (with de Chardin, that is) instilled in her “an insatiable thirst for ideas and an openness to spirituality” that would last for all her subsequent life. Therefore, it is not surprising that the focus of her attention has gradually become political leadership: “Dr. Houston… has been an advisor to many political leaders. She has worked in over 40 cultures and 100 countries, helping leaders maintain cultural uniqueness as their countries become part of the global community.” Apart from her copious academic output, the strength of Huston’s reputation with the larger public rests on the success of her ‘Mystery School,’ which she founded in 1984 “based on the concept of the ancient Mystery Schools,” directed to the “seeker of knowledge” for the “advancement of spirituality.” Huston takes care to point out that the “experiential processes” in which the paying students are involved are aimed at increasing their “human potential” by tapping into their own “inner wisdom” – although “no dead people were” ever, ever “harmed in this process.”
What Huston does not say in her feel-good website is that she is one of the very few mediums and ‘operators of the occult’ who made it to the top. As Lindquist reports in her research, magic and medianic activity flourish in Russia; while recent surveys show the same results for Italy, which is not only a First World country, but also the seat of the Holy Catholic Church – whereby the population should be particularly sensitized against magic, spiritism and superstition. None of this is the case, and magic is a multimillion dollar business in Italy as well as in all industrialized European countries. But the greatest market for magic and the occult is of course the United States, and cases like Jean Huston show the tragic dimensions that this phenomenon has acquired. Together with former endocrinologist and current Love Guru Deepak Chopra,
Jean Huston perfected the art of
charlatanism: her advocacy for various forms of psychedelic drugs, ‘channeling’ and conjuring of the dead, as well as ‘magical’ animals with
which to link one’s spirit, all betray her attempt to market NeoShamanism beneath a hypocritical – and quite frankly, idiotic – façade of respectability. Should we be surprised that Huston managed to enroll even the expresidential couple and their clique among her followers? Not at all: there is a long tradition of magic, occultism and medianic activity in the White House. When the Lincolns arrived in Washington in the 1860s, for example, spiritism was widespread among members of the government. These enthusiasts of the occult were then commonly known as the ‘Washington Spiritualists.’ Especially after the death of their son William in 1862, the Lincolns became obsessed with the idea that his spirit lingered behind in the White House. Driven by the desire to establish contact with him, Mary Todd Lincoln attended numerous séances held at the mansions of prominent Spiritualists, and she organized many others in the White House’s Green and Red Rooms. It would seem unlikely that her husband did not supervise her ‘peculiar’ activities – and in fact he is reported to have taken part at least to the séances led by Cranston Laurie, J.B. Conklin and Charles Shockle. Mary’s interest in the paranormal did not abate, but actually intensified with Lincoln’s assassination, after which event she persistently sought to channel his spirit through medianic activity. Another instance of presidential ‘paranormal’ activity is Nancy Reagan’s welldocumented habit of consulting astrologers about her husband’s schedule. According to a TIME article of the period,
the First Lady’s “oracle” was San Francisco heiress Joan Quigley, who met the Reagans in Merv Griffin’s Talk Show in the early 1970s, and advised them on “the timing of various political events” throughout Regan’s presidency. Having been introduced into the magic business by “an elderly Scotchwoman,” Quigley subsequently authored books on astrology, regularly wrote about astrology for Seventeen magazine, and often appeared on radio and television shows to advertise her activity. But understandably, because of her uncommon privilege, she was bitterly resented by the “astrological community” – hence a San Francisco practitioner: “If she’s doing astrology for the Reagans, what does she need with the rest of the community?” Interestingly enough, the desire to know the future through astrology is something that the US Government has in common with Hitler’s Nazism: “Many major figures within German National Socialism are associated with occultism. Not only Hitler himself, but also Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess
and various other primary Nazi figures had some occult interests. […] What is more, it is well established that Nazism emerged in an ambience that included figures and movements often loosely associated with occultism, such as the Thule Society… Neo-paganism… and other perspectives that… could be lumped together as ‘irrational’…”
After considering the staggering dimensions of the magic business in the West, its diffusion in the centers of political power, and the involvement of the very ‘pillars of society,’ we can safely dismiss unrealistic statements such as the one previously quoted in Thomas: “Astrology, witchcraft, magical healing, divination, ancient prophecies, ghosts and fairies, are now all rightly disdained by intelligent persons.” The opposite is true: ‘intelligent persons’ in our day are even too keen on astrology and occultism. And the situation was not any different at the beginning of last century, when one of the prototypes of the Antichrist entered the esoteric scene, involving a great segment of the English élites. We are referring here to Aleister Crowley, aka ‘The Beast 666.’ In his many publications – all of which can be found in multiple copy at Bass, the undergraduate library of Yale University – he expounded his credo in his master Satan, and in Satanic magic as a way to Enlightenment: “’Slay that innocent child?’ I hear the ignorant say, ‘What a horror!’ ‘Ah!’ replies the knower, with foresight of history, ‘but that child will become Nero. Hasten to strangle him!’” alive” for a reason.
Indeed, Crowley was nicknamed “the wickedest man
[i] Levin’s essay was published in Shakespeare Left and Right, edited by Ivo Kamps. New York and London: Routledge, 1991; as well as in Professing Shakespeare Now, edited by Robert Merrix and Nicholas Ranson. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. The references included in this chapter are taken from the Routledge edition. [ii] Ibid, p. 18 [iii] Levin also remarks on the non sequitur of many neo-Marxists, who deny the possibility of any objective criticism only to propose their own as the only valid – even ‘scientific’ – approach: “Many new Marxists, however, also reject pluralism, which to them is another formalist fallacy. And the reason they are against it is that… they are not seeking peace but victory. They do not want Marxism to be regarded as one among several valid approaches; they want it to be the only valid approach, as can be seen in their frequent references to it as ‘scientific’ (which means all other approaches are unscientific), as in the last chapter of Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory, which argues for this claim… But how can they persuade us that their interpretation of a text is better than ours, when they insist that objective knowledge of a text is ‘spurious,’ and that all interpretation of it are ‘interventions’ determined by the interpreter’s ideology?” (p. 19) [iv] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. Translated and annotated by Stephen D. Grant. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2000, p. 102 ff. Starting from the basic facts that “[t]thought is an invisible power” which can be controlled and manipulated, and that tyranny in “democratic republics”
does not ‘strike’ the body but the soul (“it leaves the body alone and goes straight to the soul”), De Tocqueville observes how despotism perpetuates itself in the modern ‘democratic republic’ of the United States by means of “the power that the majority in America exercises over thought.” “In America,” he writes, “the majority draws a formidable ring around thought. Within these limits, the writer is free; but woe to him if he dares to go outside of it. It is not that he has to fear being burnt at the stake, but he is exposed to all kinds of execrations and daily persecutions. A political career is closed to him: he has offended the only power which has the capability of opening it up to him… and those who think like him, without having his courage, fall silent and withdraw. He gives in, he bows, in the end, beneath the effort of each day, and he becomes silent again, as if he felt remorse at having told the truth…. In our day, civilization has perfected even despotism itself.” (pp. 111-112) De Tocqueville observes that the tyranny of such interest-groups has a destructive effect on the free-thinking individual, inasmuch as it “arrest[s] the growth of great characters” and fosters “courtier spirit” instead. Interestingly, it is in this very section on the despotism of the majority that De Tocqueville deplores the absence of literary genius in the Unites States – which passage is also quoted in the opening of this chapter: “literary genius does not exist without freedom of mind, and there is not freedom of mind in America.” This is a harsh condemnation from one the most prominent theorist of American democracy; and it accurately represents the situation of many academic departments today. These are often monopolized by a clique with particular interests, whose ideological agenda becomes the ‘declaration of dependence’ for all new student and junior faculty who intend to keep their job, be promoted and prosper by using the necessary “courtier spirit,” which is to say, by becoming sycophants. As De Tocqueville remarks, this kind of occult power – which contravenes the statutes of all free institutions, and can operate through the tacit consent and collaboration of all the people involved in it – this power that holds sway “does not intend to be made a fool of… The slightest reproach offends it, the smallest of stinging truths shocks it; it must be praised… No writer, no matter what his renown, can escape this obligation to shower praise upon his fellow citizens.” (pp. 112-113) [v] Ibid, Volume II, Part I, Ch. 2, §16-17, p. 175 ff. [vi] Ibid, Volume I, Part I, Ch. 5, § 64, p. 51. [vii] Cf. “If man were forced to prove to himself, he would never finish with it; he would exhaust himself in preliminary demonstrations without advancing. Since he does not have the time to act in this way, due to short space of his life, nor the ability to do so, due to the limits of his mind, he is reduced to holding as certain a mass of facts and opinions that he has neither the leisure not the ability to examine and verify by himself… It is upon this first foundation that he himself erects the edifice of his own thoughts… the inflexible law of his condition forces him to do it.” (Ibid, Volume II, Part I, Ch. 2, §16-17, p. 175 ff.) [viii] Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 19741997, p. 3. It is not unusual to see counterfactual statements of this sort being not only accepted, but turned into theoretical banners by contemporary academia, which is greedy for novelty much more than truth. Such lies are usually justified by means of reverse logic: because they immediately look absurd, they must be true; and also: the more absurd they look, the truer they must be. In
many academic departments, the ability to produce counterfactual statements becomes a sign of intellectual refinement. In the case of Derrida, a FrenchAlgerian citizen of Jewish heritage, it is of course a lie and a paradox to claim that the history of truth has always exalted oral speech at the expense of writing. With the Bible, the Jews bequeathed us the written record that exerted the deepest influence on all subsequent philosophy, politics, literature and culture in the West. [ix] For a critique of the ideological premises of New Historicism and deconstruction, see Richard Wilson: “[T]he breach of the taboo on historicist criticism of Shakespeare has coincided with the discrediting of the modernist doxa of impersonality that was all too convenient for those who needed to separate the writer from the work… There is a parallel between current interest in the dramatist’s resistance about the historical tragedy he witnessed [i.e. the deniers of Shakespeare’s emotional participation, as a Catholic, in the drama of religious repression and persecution that he experienced] and the suspicion of those deniers of history, like Paul de Man, whose cult of indeterminacy is now seen to have served as a timely alibi for political amnesia. The question of Shakespeare’s silence would never have arisen so urgently without the skepticism towards all such gaps, omissions, suppressions and evasions which has been one result of the meta-critical moment when deconstruction imploded to disclose its own ideological roots.” In: Wilson, Richard. Secret Shakespeare. Studies in Theater, Religion and Resistance. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2004, p. 3. [x] Hans-Georg Gadamer. Truth and Method. Second, Revised Edition. Translation revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Corporation, 1989, pp. 209 and 301. On the critique of the ideological premises of New Historicism, see also David Kastan: “New Historicism and Cultural Materialism… have been regularly charged with exactly the narcissism that history should counter. Their historical readings seem to some too overtly self-interested to be compelling as historical accounts, significant more as records of our present needs and anxieties than as reconstructions of those of Shakespeare’s time.” In: Kastan, David Scott. Shakespeare After Theory. New York and London: Routledge, 1999, p. 17. [xi] Cox, John D. Seeming Knowledge. Shakespeare and Skeptical Faith. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007, Introduction, p. xii. [xii] Cavell, Stanley. Disowning Knowledge. In Six Plays of Shakespeare. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 4. [xiii] Ibid, p. 4. [xiv] For the current debate on the crisis and ‘death’ of the humanities, see: Alvin Kernan (The Death of Literature. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990; What’s Happened to the Humanities. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1997; In Plato’s Cave. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. ); John M. Ellis (Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997); Robert Scholes (The Rise and Fall of English: Reconstructing English as a Discipline. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. ); Carl Woodring (Literature: An Embattled Profession. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.); Michael Berubé (Higher Education under Fire: Politics, Economics and the Crisis of the Humanities. Edited with Cary Nelson. New York and London: Routledge, 1995; The Employment of English: Theory, Jobs, and the Future of Literary Studies. New York: New York University Press, 1998.); Andrew Delbanco (‘The Decline and Fall of Literature,’ The New York Review of Books, November 4, 1999.)
[xv] Whereas sentences such as: “It is not possible to know the truth” are always logically false, paradoxical sentences such as: “We are liars” are aporias, of which it cannot be said whether they are true or false, because if we take the premise to be true, the conclusion is false, and vice versa. The deconstructionist agenda aimed at turning every positive statement into similar aporias. [xvi] Under the rubric ‘ideology’ are also comprised the attempts of many who now try to present the Enlightenment as a monolith of unbelief, thus obscuring historical evidence and perverting the meaning of philosophers like Descartes and Pascal, and of scientists and thinkers like Isaac Newton. [xvii] Descartes, René. Meditationes de Prima Philosophia. Artur Buchenau, ed. Leipzig: C. Grumbach, 1913. Quotation from Meditatio III, ‘De Deo, quod existat,’ §56-58, translated by John Veitch, 1901: “for… the unity, the simplicity or inseparability of all the properties of God is one of the chief perfections I conceive him to possess. […] There remains only the inquiry as to the way in which I received this idea from God… it is not a pure production or fiction of my mind, for it is not in my power to take from or add to it; and consequently there but remains the alternative that it is innate, in the same way as is the idea of myself. And in truth, it is not to be wondered that God, at my creation, implanted this idea in me, that it might serve, as it were, for the mark of the workman impressed on his work.” [xviii] It is noteworthy that the same conclusion, namely, the existence of God as perfect and magnanimous Being, grounding the very possibility of human knowledge and human rights, is arrived at by the three greatest intellectuals of the Enlightenment – René Descartes (1596-1650), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727) – as well as by the authors and theoreticians of the American Revolution, cf. the architects of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and Alexis de Tocqueville with Democracy in America (1835-1840). In the Declaration of Independence, it is God and divine Providence who legitimate the human claim to freedom and equality, which – as Habermas suggests when he discusses the “meaning-endowing” function of religion – would not be possible to prove or demonstrate on a purely human basis. Hence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honour.” On his part, and in polemic reference to skepticism, De Tocqueville states that: “There is almost no human action… that does not originate in a very general idea that men have conceived of God, of His relations with mankind, of the nature of their souls and of their duties toward their fellow men. These ideas cannot be prevented from being the common source from which all the rest flows. Men thus have an enormous interest in forming for themselves wellsettled ideas about God, their soul, their general duties toward their Creator, and their fellow men. For doubt about these first points would abandon all their actions to chance and condemn them in a way to disorder and impotence. […] When religion is destroyed among people, doubt takes over the highest regions of the intellect, and it halfway paralyzes all the others. Everyone becomes used to having only confused and unstable notions about the matters that most interest his fellow men and himself. […] For myself… I am led to think that is man has no faith, he must serve; and if he is free, he must believe.” (Vol. II, Part I, Ch. V, § 27-29) Pascal devotes the greatest part of his Pensées to philosophical meditation on
the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and on the moral consequences that it entails for humanity. A father of the Enlightenment and one of the greatest mathematical geniuses in history, Pascal identifies reason with an act of the will directed towards realism: accepting the limitations of the human mind and our need for the transcendent in order to give meaning to ourselves and our relationship with the other. ‘Reasonableness’ or rationality for Pascal is ‘seeking God’: “Nothing reveals more an extreme weakness of mind than not to know the misery of a godless man. Nothing is more indicative of a bad disposition of heart than not to desire the truth of eternal promises. Nothing is more dastardly than to act with bravado before God… Finally, let them recognize that there are two kinds of people one can call reasonable: those who serve God with all their heart because they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him.” (Pensée 194) Pascal points out that even if the existence of God cannot be proven from a scientific viewpoint – i.e., apart from the testimony of saints and martyrs, miracles, conversions and of course the success of the millennia-long Biblical tradition – it is certainly equally true that His existence cannot be scientifically disproven. Hence, Pascal exemplifies the best use of human rationality with his Wager (Pensée 233), demonstrating that it is logically best to live as if God existed, for in case He existed and we had lived in accordance with virtue, we would ultimately gain everything; in case we had lived in accordance with virtue and He did not exist, we would have lost nothing; but in case He existed and we had lived in sin, we would have everything to lose in terms of eternal life and punishment. Finally, the other great personality of the Enlightenment, Isaac Newton, was deeply inspired by his Christian faith, which he experienced in a very personal and genuine way, and he spent considerable time and resources studying the Sacred Scriptures (The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, 1728; Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, 1733). In fact, his studies in Biblical hermeneutics and Hermeticism occupied him more than those on science and mathematics. Having considered the historical and textual evidence of the main exponents of the Enlightenment, it is highly paradoxical that a number of contemporary scholars should still be engaged in a systematic perversion of their thought and philosophies. They systematically try to erase the deep Christian faith of thinkers such as Descartes, Pascal, Newton, while at the same time presenting them as ‘believers’ of skepticism and atheism – as Cavell, against all evidence and logic, would have Descartes share his own ‘skeptic faith’ in order to support the ideology that informs his claims. Indeed, this is not yet the deadly ‘instrumentalized reason’ denounced by Adorno and Horkheimer (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1947), but such blatant denial of history is certainly a move toward an ‘ideology of reason’ that is the very negation of rationality itself. [xix] Habermas, Jürgen. The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 2. Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1987. Originally published as Theorie des Kommunikativen Handelns, Band 2: Zur Kritik der Funktionalistischen Vernunft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1981, p. 355. [xx] As we will see in our discussion of N. Frye, it is a logically flawed – if not intellectually dishonest – procedure to superimpose foreign schemes of reference on literature, e.g. projecting the critic’s own Marxism and/or skepticism on Shakespeare, who himself was neither a Marxist nor a skeptic. To oppose this erroneous practice, Frye pointed out (Anatomy of Criticism, p. 6 ff.) that literature must be discussed in terms of its own inner frames of
reference, according to the historical and personal circumstances of its composition. [xxi] Habermas, Jürgen and Ratzinger, Joseph. The Dialectics of Secularization. On Reason and Religion. San Francisco: Ignatius Press for Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2006. Original German edition, Dialektik der Säkularisierung: Über Vernunft and Religion. Freiburg im Breisgau, Basel, and Vienna: Herder Verlag, 2005, p. 4. [xxii] Ibid, pp. 41-42. [xxiii] Ibid, p. 45. [xxiv] “[W]e have the ethical abstinence of a post-metaphysical thinking, to which every universally obligatory concept of a good and exemplary life is foreign.” (p. 43) The first and essential ethical value on which civil society is grounded is the notion of the “identical dignity of all men,” which can only be supported and defended by ‘translating’ the theological concept of “man in the image of God” into philosophical discourse (“One such translation that salvages the substance of a term is the translation of the concept of ‘man in the image of God’ into that of the identical dignity of all men that deserves unconditional respect,” p. 45) [xxv] Ibid, p. 46. [xxvi] Ibid, pp. 45-46. [xxvii] Ibid, p. 46. Cf. “In the Peace Prize speech, entitled ‘Faith and Knowledge’ (Habermas 2003), Habermas develops the idea that the secularization hypothesis has now lost its explanatory power and that religion and the secular world always stand in reciprocal relation. […] Habermas stresses… the fact that democratic majority decisions always depend on the prior ethical convictions of their citizens. Democracy depends on moral stances which stem from pre-political sources, for example from religious ways of life.” In: Habermas, Jürgen et al. An Awareness of What Is Missing. Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age. Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010. Original German edition, Ein Bewußtsein von dem, was fehlt. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2008, pp. 6-7. [xxviii] Ibid, p. 46. [xxix] Joseph Ratzinger discusses the so-called ‘pathologies of reason’ in the context of the devastations of the 20th century – especially Nazism and Marxism – and suggests a system of ‘checks and balances’ between reason and faith, in which reason must be reminded of its potential excesses, thus avoiding the hubris that makes it pathological: “We have seen that there exist pathologies in religion that are extremely dangerous and that make it necessary to see the divine light of reason as a ‘controlling organ’… However, we have also seen… that there are also pathologies of reason, although mankind in general is not as conscious of this fact today. There is a hubris of reason that is no less dangerous. Indeed, bearing in mind its potential effects, it poses an even greater threat – it suffices here to think of the atomic bomb or of man as a ‘product.’ This is why reason, too, must be warned to keep within its proper limits, and it must learn a willingness to listen to the great religious traditions of mankind. If it cuts itself completely adrift and rejects this willingness to learn, this relatedness, reason becomes destructive,” pp. 77-79. [xxx] Habermas, Jürgen. Between Naturalism and Religion. Philosophical Essays. Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2008. Original German edition,
Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2005, p. 258. Habermas is here thinking about how to “confront chauvinists or racists,” but his discourse applies equally well to the academic sphere, and precisely in terms of tolerance for those who, as responsible intellectuals, think originally and differently than the current fashion. In this case, tolerance is very simply a consequence of intellectual honesty – and if knowledge is a collaborative enterprise, tolerance is the conditio sine qua non for its realization. [xxxi] Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, N.J. and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1957-1990, p. 6. [xxxii] Frye, Northrop. The Great Code. The Bible and Literature. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1982, p. xii. [xxxiii] Ibid, p. xvi. [xxxiv] Ibid, p. xvii. [xxxv] Cf. “For my purposes, the only possible form of the Bible that I can deal with is the Christian Bible, with its polemically named ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Testaments. I know that the Jewish and Islamic conceptions of the Bible are very different, but that is practically all that I do know about them, and it is the Christian Bible that is important for English Literature and the Western Cultural tradition generally. […] The differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic versions of the Bible, which have been greatly exaggerated in any case, are of very little importance for a book like this.” (pp. xiii-xiv) [xxxvi] Ibid, p. xix. [xxxvii] Times Literary Supplement, 1984. [xxxviii] Profession 1986, pp. 30-32. J. Culler’s quotations are taken from this article. [xxxix] Battenhouse, Roy W. ‘Anti-Religion in Academia.’ Christianity and Literature 37, no. 1 (1987): 7-22. [xl] Kee, James M. ‘Postmodern Thinking and the Status of the Religious.’ Religion and Literature 22, no. 2/3 (1990): 47-60. [xli] Ibid, p. 53. [xlii] Ibid, p. 54. [xliii] Cf. “Measured by a Derridean standard of the postmodern, then, Culler’s attack on religion appears as a modern metaphysical gesture. […]For while Derrida’s thinking is hardly homogeneous, and it is certainly not yet complete, his texts have too often inspired a posture of ‘suspended ignorance.’” Ibid, pp. 53-54. [xliv] Ibid, p. 56. [xlv] Ibid, p. 54. [xlvi] Ibid, pp. 54-55. [xlvii] Ibid, p. 55. Klee includes in this part of his argument a significant reference to Gerald Bruns’s Heidegger’s Estrangements (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), to the effect that the return of man to himself as mortal always happens within das Geviert, the quadrilateral formed by earth and sky, humans and gods: “this return… is ‘not of mortals only but of earth and sky,
and the return of the gods as well’ (Estrangements, p. 85)” [xlviii] Battenhouse highlights the fact that “distortions are inevitable whenever a critic brings an anti-religious prejudice” to bear on Authors who are foreign to it, and misreadings are bound to result when “a critic’s hostility to religious orthodoxy” is imposed not only on the Authors but also on students, colleagues and readers who may have different conceptions of life and art. Always in relation to this topic, his 1945 essay, ‘The Relation of Theology to Literary Criticism’ (Journal of Bible and Religion 13, no. 1, 1945: 16-43. Oxford University Press) quotes John Henry Newman’s On the Idea of a University to the effect that only theology is able to represent the human situation in its entirety, in its relationship to God and other human beings: “Without theology,” says Newman, “the total field of experience cannot be explored and assessed.” There is no greater, deeper idea for the human mind to consider than transcendence, and no sublime art can exist apart from the existential problematic of man’s relationship to it. It is this relatedness that teachers of literature should convey to their students: Battenhouse’s emphasis is on the importance of teaching literature in this way has the ring of timeless, golden truth to it – but precisely this quality makes it sound exceedingly naïve to our poisoned and disillusioned ear. Basic, elementary claims such as: “debate cannot be an end in itself” only leave us in awe now, reminiscing about a past, far back in time, when teachers taught for the noble mission of teaching, and writers wrote in search for truth. [xlix] Wright, Terence R. Theology and Literature. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988. [l] Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1957-1990. [li] The distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘theology’ is more a formalism than a reality – in fact, the two are so interconnected that one cannot exist without the other: if theology is the discourse and science of God, religion is the necessary application of that knowledge to human life. One implies the other in an unbreakable virtuous circle, a continuum without any fracture or interruption. This idea is best represented in the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37), when a scholar and doctor of the Law asked the Lord Jesus Christ how to save his soul for eternal life. Since he was tempting Jesus, Jesus replied with a question: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” The scholar gave the correct answer – theologically correct, that is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” But because he wanted to justify himself, he also asked Jesus who his neighbor was. To this, Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which represents the correct answer from the religious perspective of human praxis. Jesus teaches that without a practical application of the Law to one’s life, there can be no real obedience to the Law: hence no salvation for eternal life. In this passage, notice the sublime paradox that it is the scholar who provides the theory, but we are left unsure whether he is able to apply it to his life to gain the eternal life after which he is inquiring. On the other hand, it is God, the very subject of theological theory, who very clearly indicates the good praxis in the selfless act of charity of a foreigner Samaritan, moved to compassion by the image of a suffering fellow human being. [lii] Ibid, p. 3. [liii] Ibid, p. 1.
[liv] Ibid, p. 3. [lv] Ibid, p. 183. [lvi] As we will see in our discussion of Othello, evil per se has no ontological reality because it is the Negation, i.e. the denial of God as the Supreme Being. While God is Being itself, Satan is the Negation of God. He has therefore no ontological reality in comparison to God. At the same time, Satan is ‘real’ for fallen human nature, because his temptations have the real power to ‘turn’ man away from God and cause him eternal damnation. The character of Iago is one of Shakespeare’s most perfect studies on the reality (for fallen humanity) and illusion (with respect to God) of evil as ontological negation of God. [lvii] Ibid, p. 3. [lviii] Cf. Richard Levin, ‘Ideological Criticism and Pluralism’: “[W]e [the Chicago school] did share with [the New Critics] what I would call the basic formalist perspective, which views a literary text as something intentionally produced by an author to evoke a meaningful, pleasurable response in an audience… most ordinary people do view literary works in this way, as products intentionally designed to give them pleasure… [This] coincides with the actual experience of most audiences, and so I think this conception of a literary work cannot be invalidated, regardless of the latest French discoveries,” p. 17. [lix] Anatomy of Criticism, p. xix. [lx] Howe, James. A Buddhist’s Shakespeare. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1994. [lxi] Cf. Buddhist majestic sacred sculpture, architecture and the tradition of mandala-drawing to teach impermanence. [lxii] It is worthwhile here to remember Socrates’s explanation of divinely inspired art to Ion. Socrates’s parable describes divine inspiration as a magnet creating a chain of metal rings: as the magnet (the Bible) draws the first ring (the Artist) to itself, that ring becomes magnetized, and is able in its turn to attract many more rings (other Authors and readers): “this is… a divine power, which moves you like that in the stone which Euripides named a magnet, but most people call ‘Heraclea stone.’ For this stone not only attracts iron rings, but also imparts to them a power whereby they in turn are able to do the very same thing as the stone, and attract other rings; so that sometimes there is formed quite a long chain of bits of iron and rings, suspended one from another; and they all depend for this power on that one stone. In the same manner also the Muse inspires men herself, and then by means of these inspired persons the inspiration spreads to others, and holds them in a connected chain.” [Ion, 533d-533e] [lxiii] The list of mystifications and counterfactual statements in Bloom’s Jesus and Yahweh would occupy an entire volume in itself. On average, there are at least a dozen on every page. Apart from outright blasphemies against God the Father that are deeply offensive for all religions – but especially and paradoxically for Jews, who regard the Name of YHWH as Sacred and Unutterable – there are also many raving ideas about the corruption of the Scriptures. One such idea is the notion that the Pentateuch may have been written by Bathsheba, the wife of King David – a thesis for which no evidence is provided: “Our earliest and defining portrait of Yahweh is by the J Writer, who still seems to me likely to have been
an aristocratic woman who wrote in the Age of Solomon, while experiencing nostalgia for Solomon’s heroic father, David… I have written about Yahweh at length before, in The Book of J (1990)… Jack Miles playfully suggested that I go ahead and name the J Writer Bathsheba the Hittite, queen-mother of Solomon, a notion I gladly adopted in The Western Canon (1994) and again in Genius (2002). The extraordinary detachment of the J Writer in regard both to Yahweh and the Patriarchs fits the perspective of a Hittite woman who had married David and given birth to Solomon, and perhaps rendered her own self-portrait in Tamar, who outwits Judah and, by him, becomes the ancestress of David, Solomon, and ultimately of Jesus of Nazareth,” p. 149-150. In this fantasia, Bloom claims, without giving any evidence: 1) that the writer of the Pentateuch is ‘detached’ from Yahweh – when in fact there are numerous accounts of Yahweh’s mercy and generosity towards the Jews, even if they are a “stiff-necked people;” 2) and that this alleged emotional distance “fits the perspective” of: (a) a woman; (b) a Hittite woman; (c) a Hittite woman who had married David; (d) a Hittite woman who had married David and given birth to Solomon; (e) while at the same time experiencing nostalgia for his father; (f) and leaving her own covert self-portrait in the figure of Tamar. Faced with such astounding, outstanding mystification, it is not pointless to ask ourselves once again: how could this junk survive the process of peerreview? And once in print, how is it possible that no one among Bloom’s colleagues – not only in the various departments of literature, but also in the numerous Divinity Schools and Religious Studies departments in the Englishspeaking world – how is it possible that no one among Bloom’s colleagues or employers ever complained against such infringement of scholarly methods? Another scandalous instance of complete ignorance of Christian theology is Bloom’s allegation that the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Anne, was also declared Virgin by the Catholic Church in 1854: “in 1854, she [Mary] was accorded the Immaculate Conception, not the Virgin Birth (which had long been dogma) but the declaration that Mary’s mother also had been forever virginal. One skeptic in 1854 dared to wonder if Mary’s maternal grandmother had retained her virginity, and yet the Church’s theologians shrewdly understood when to stop,” p. 182. In fact, the great theologian Gabriel Roschini tells us that in 1854 Pope Pius IX re-affirmed, in the encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which is to say, Mary’s exemption from the original sin since her conception in her mother’s womb. This does not mean or in any way imply the virginity of Saint Anne, who was the chaste spouse of her husband St. Joachim. From Roschini’s Mariologia: “Pius IX in percelebri Bulla Ineffabilis Deus diei 8 dec. 1854, in qua Immaculatam Conceptionem tamquam fidei dogma definivit, plura ad scientiam Mariologicam spectantia exposuit. Praecipua sunt: 1) Praedestinatio B. Virginis […] 2) Immaculata Conceptio, “intuitu meritorum Christi Iesu Salvatoris humani generis”; 3) plenitudo perfectionum et gratiae […]; 4) Immunitas a qualibet culpa […] 5) Principium consortii: B. Virgo enim “arctissimo et indissolubili vincula cum Eo (Christo) coniuncta, una cum Illo et per Ilum sempiternas contra venenosum serpentem inimicitias exercens, ac de ipso plenissime triumphans illius caput immaculato pede contrivit.” (P. Gabriel M. Roschini, O.S.M. Mariologia. Tomus I. Introductio in Mariologiam. Secunda Editio Revisa et Notabiliter Aucta. Rome: Angelus Belardetti, 1947, pp. 38-39.) Other counterfactual, false statements are: “There is not one single sentence concerning Jesus in the entire New Testament composed by anyone who ever had met the unwilling King of the Jews,” p. 19. In fact, John the Evangelist, the youngest apostle of Jesus, was with Him at the Transfiguration and in the Garden of Olives, and he accompanied Him throughout His Passion, culminating in the Crucifixion on Mount Calvary. It was to John that Jesus
Christ entrusted the care of his own Mother Mary. Again, there is Matthew the tax-collector, whose calling by Jesus has been so masterfully depicted by Caravaggio in The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599-1600). And then there is Peter, the first Vicar of God on earth, in his two letters which are part of the New Testament. Again, Bloom claims that the Gospel of John was composed “at least a full century beyond the possible demise of the itinerant teacher of the poor and the outcast,” p. 19. In fact, scholars locate its composition around the year 90 AD, which is very realistic since John was blessed with an exceptionally long life. Bloom attacks the Gospel of John with particular obstinacy. Indeed, he seems obsessed by John the Evangelist even more than by his own nemesis, T. S. Eliot. But Bloom has a hard time criticizing the most sublime writing ever composed by an inspired human being, and in fact the only false accusation he can level at John is his frequent allusion to the Temple priests as “the Jews.” Nevertheless, this move is extremely disingenuous, since Bloom is here exploiting his ethnicity to appear like an injured victim, when in fact he is the first to insult and affront the good faith of the Jews by blaspheming the Ineffable, Unutterable Name of YHWH: “The Hebrew God is a mad moralist,” p. 9; Yahweh, “by definition the most formidable of all ironists, ever,” p. 12; “Yahweh was and is the uncanniest personification of God ever ventured by humankind, and yet early in his career he began as the warrior monarch of the people we call Israel,” p. 5; “As I have noted, [YHWH] is not a sky god, but a planter of gardens, and is happy to picnic in the shade of a terebinth tree,” p. 150. The example of ungrateful, arrogant people like Bloom – who dare deride even the Sacred Name of God – shows us that ‘ethnicity’ and ‘faith’ are two very distinct and separate concepts. Bloom systematically exploits his Jewish origin to look like a victim, but in fact, on every page he hypocritically offends the Jews precisely in what is dearest to them – the unspeakable, ineffable Name of God. For this reason, it is not surprising that he should falsely accuse John the Evangelist of targeting ‘the Jews’: any scholar worthy of this name knows that John was thus denouncing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the doctors of the Law who oppressed the Jewish people with rules that they did not respect themselves. Of these proud and blind Pharisees, Jesus commented that they could not understand the Scripture of God, while at the same time denying the people entrance to the Law. It is essential to notice than this and other just accusations from the mouth of Jesus Himself are present in all Gospels, and not only in John, because that was the reality of the corrupt Temple priests: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” (Matthew 23: 13 ff.) Apart from blasphemies against YHWH, Bloom systematically blasphemes the Name of Jesus Christ, Jesus’s apostles, and the whole of Christianity. Jesus becomes another of his self-projections: “The charismatic rabbi of Nazareth was a master of evasions and ironic equivocations,” p. 18; John the Baptist becomes “John the Dipper,” p. 17; and Christianity turns into a Bloomean ‘misreading’ of the Jewish Bible: “The New Covenant necessarily founds itself upon a misreading of the Hebrew Bible,” p. 14; “The entire argument of the Belated Testament is that a man has replaced Scripture,” p. 14. The latter conception is not only blatantly counterfactual, since Jesus came to fulfill the Law, but also an immense and hilarious paradox: because Bloom himself replaces and re-invents the Scriptures for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
In the same way as Bloom exploits and perverts the meaning of his Jewish heritage, he also exploits and perverts his self-declared scholarly ‘derivation’ from Northrop Frye. In fact, Bloom initially used it to launch his academic ‘career;’ but in all subsequent works, he de facto denied the most basic principles that Frye defended in all his publications, namely: 1) never to impose an alien frame of reference on an Author – while Bloom constantly projects onto literature both Freud and the Gnosis; and 2) to consider the Bible as one of the greatest sources of inspiration for Western literature, treating it with the respect which is appropriate for such a masterpiece of inspired literature. Hence, it comes as no surprise that in a pseudo-scholarly work like The Names Divines, Bloom should enviously attack the name and good memory of his avowed model N. Frye: “Systematic theologians are like systematic literary critics: Tillich is a modified success, Augustine is a magnificent failure, and Northrop Frye also sinks,” p. 11. Thus, the vicious circle is closed: with the same ingratitude with which Bloom treats his masters, he also treats the people he is paid to foster, i.e. readers and students. Instead of offering them truthful information, he cheats and leads them astray with blatant falsities, mystifications and ungrounded, gratuitous offenses against the Name of YHWH. [lxiv] Cf. “A powerful cultural and political force, as well as a spiritual one, religion was the dominant means by which early moderns understood and ordered their world. Prayers, sermons heard during mandatory church attendance, and popular entertainments that educated people in religious doctrine shaped their sense of family, community, nation, history, and politics. Religious solidarity… affected both alliances and antagonisms between nations. […] Religious habits of thought affected ordinary people.” In: Hall, Kim F., ed. Othello, The Moor of Venice. Texts and Contexts. Boston and New York: Bedford / St. Martin’s, 2007, pp. 171-172. [lxv] The doctrine of the apostolic succession is based on Jesus’s appointment of Simon as His vicar on earth, with the Roman name of Peter, ‘rock,’ symbol of the foundation of Jesus’s Mystical Body in the Church. When Simon-Peter recognizes Jesus Christ as the Son of God, Jesus baptizes him anew with his Roman name, and confers on him the mission of leading his Church: “He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-19) In light of passages such as Matthew 16:15 ff., it is highly paradoxical that Bloom should claim: “I cannot recall a single passage in the Synoptic Gospels that unequivocally identifies Jesus as God” (The Names Divine, p. 5). This is all the more paradoxical because, if Bloom claims to be a Shakespearean scholar, the concept of apostolic succession was crucial for the legitimation of the absolute monarchy of King James VI & I, the sovereign of Shakespeare himself. [lxvi] It is significant that King James should present the Christian victory as willed by God: in the opening section of the poem, it is God the Father Himself who sends the Archangel Gabriel to the city of Venice, “A town to stand without a ground” (v. 103), with the mission to “put into their minds/ To take
revenge of wrongs the Turks/ have done in sundry kinds,” (vv. 90-92). Also because of the association with King James’s literary efforts, the myth of Venice and the battle of Lepanto live in the mental background of all the audiences attending the performance of Shakespeare’s Othello. To appreciate the king’s poetic style, see: King James I, Lepanto. His Maiesties Poeticall Excercises at Vacant Houres. Printed by Robert Walde-grave, printer to the King’s majestie. Cum Priuilegio Regali. La Lepanthe de Iaques VI, Roy D’Escosse. Imprimé à Edinburg par Robert Walde-Grave, Imprimeur du Roy, 1591. Avec Privilège de la Majesté. [lxvii] Quoted in: Knapp, Jeffrey. Shakespeare’s Tribe. Church, Nation and Theater in Renaissance England. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2002, p. 15. Knapp highlights the fact that Holinshed, as a historian and an intellectual tied to the monarchy, called for “Christian unity, which, he maintained, could be promoted by granting subjects ‘liberty of conscience, concerning matters of faith,’ and by using ‘the word’ rather than ‘the sword’ to decide religious controversies (4.264),” Knapp, endnote n. 58, p. 193. It is extremely important to see that this most rational and commonsensical position – the separation of national politics from the private conscience of the citizens – was very well known and widespread at the time. It had previously been presented by poet Robert Southwell, a cousin of Shakespeare’s, in his An Humble Supplication to Queen Elizabeth I. In his address, Southwell very clearly stated that there was no contradiction between being a devout Catholic and being a loyal subject to Her majesty – in fact, Jesus Christ Himself commanded to obey the laws of temporal rulers: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) Referring to this passage in his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville thus commented on the success of Christianity, which clearly separates the religious from the political sphere: “Mohammed brought down from Heaven and placed in the Koran not only religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and scientific theories. The Gospel, on the contrary, speaks only about the general relations of men with God and among themselves. Beyond that, it teaches nothing and does not oblige belief about anything. That alone, among a thousand other reasons, suffices to show that the first of these two religions cannot rule for long in times of enlightenment and democracy; whereas the second is destined to reign during these times as in all others.” (Vol. II, Part I, Ch. V, § 30) Queen Elizabeth did not heed Robert Southwell. He was imprisoned, tortured and martyred: he followed the Way of the Cross as prescribed by the Christ, and with his innocent death gave glory to God. We would be very naïve if we assumed that the injustice he suffered at the hands of the Queen and her establishment did not in any way affect his kinsman William Shakespeare. [lxviii] From the Dedication of the King James Bible, Authorized Version (1611). As we read in Gordon Campbell’s Anniversary Essay, included in the quartercentenary celebratory edition (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press), “[a]lthough members of the companies [the six committees of scholars by which the work was to be undertaken] are described as translators, they were in fact revisers. The rules specified that the version ‘commonly called the Bishops’ Bible [should] be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit,’ and that, when alterations were deemed necessary or desirable, phrasing should be drawn when possible from one of five earlier Bibles: the Tyndale Bible (1526), the Coverdale Bible (1535), the Matthew Bible (1537), the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560, printed in England from 1576). The base text was the Bishops’ Bible first printed in 1568; forty unbound copies of the 1602 edition were made available
to the translators. Each of the earlier translators drew on its predecessors, so the ultimate origin of much of the language of the King James Version is William Tyndale’s Bible.” [lxix] Published volumes on demonology were very numerous at the time: only in France, and only in the period of time between 1580 and 1650, we have Jean Bodin’s Démonomanie (1580); Nicolas Rémy’s Démonolatrie (1582); Henry Boguet’s Discours execrable des Sorciers (1602); Pierre de Lancre’s Tableau de l’inconstance des mauvais anges et démons (1612); Liste authentique des réligieuses et séculières possédées, obsédées, maléficiés (1634); Confessions et histoire de Madeleine Bavent, religieuse de Louviers, avec son interrogatoire (1652); and F.-N. Taillepied’s Traicté de l’apparition des esprits (1600). I thank Fr. Confer, of the Dominican parish of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., for his valuable references on this topic. [lxx] King James I, Demonologia (Daemonologie, in forme of a dialogue, divided into three Bookes). Silvani, Giovanna, ed. Reprint of the 1597 Edinburgh edition. Trento: Università degli Studi di Trento, 1997. [lxxi] Milward, Peter. Catholicism of Shakespeare’s Plays. Southampton, UK: The Saint Austin Press, 1997, pp. 7-8. [lxxii] Devlin, Christopher. Hamlet’s Divinity. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963, p. 22. [lxxiii] Cf. “The notion that the late medieval Church was corrupt and unpopular, that its clergy were ignorant, and that the Reformation was welcomed by the general populace and rapidly accomplished, has been rejected. It has been replaced by a notion of it as reluctantly accepted by the populace and imposed by Elizabeth and her minions. In other words, in place of a Reformation that was ‘fast’ and ‘from below,’ we now have a Reformation that was ‘slow’ and imposed ‘from above.’ In specific terms, this means that the Reformation did not begin to establish itself in most areas until 1580 and after.” In: Beauregard, David N. Catholic Theology in Shakespeare’s Plays. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008. [lxxiv] Ibid, p. 19. [lxxv] Ibid, p. 21. Quotation from the 1572 injunction of the Queen’s Privy Council, ordering London officials to allow “such plays, entreludes, comedies, and tragedies as maye tende to represse vyce and extol vertwe.” In: Paul Yachnin, ‘The Powerless Theater,’ English Literary Renaissance 21 (1991): 68, cited in Beauregard, Ibid, p. 20. [lxxvi] Ibid, pp. 20-21. [lxxvii]Knapp, Jeffrey. Shakespeare’s Tribe. Church, Nation and Theater in Renaissance England. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2002. [lxxviii] Ibid, pp. 9-10. Knapp mentions some among the literary historians who have argued for “the centrality of religion to the study of Renaissance drama,” such as: Donna Hamilton, Huston Diehl, Bryan Crockett, Claire McEachern, Kristen Pole, and Ramie Targoff. “These scholars have provided an indispensible corrective to the historiographical blind spots of political and anthropological critics alike,” by amending their anachronistic contemporary secularist bias. Nevertheless, their position still portrays “Renaissance playwrights as ‘Christian’ only cognitively or subliminally, rather than purposively and devotionally. Not even this compelling revisionism, in other
words, allows the possibility that Renaissance plays may have been intended and received as contributions to the cause of true religion,” p. 9. To support his understanding of the “secularist biases of modern criticism,” Knapp quotes Debora Shuger, suggesting that it is very unlikely “that the popular drama of a religiously saturated culture could, by a secular miracle, have extricated itself from the theocentric orientation informing the discourses of politics, gender, social order, and history at the time.” (Cf. ‘Subversive Fathers and Suffering Subjects: Shakespeare and Christianity,’ in Religion, Literature, and Politics in Protestant Reformation England, 1540-1688. Donna Hamilton and Richard Strier, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 46.) [lxxix] Ibid, pp. 9-12. [lxxx] Wells, Stanley and Taylor, Gary, eds. The Oxford Shakespeare. The Complete Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. xvii. [lxxxi] Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 249. [lxxxii] Possibly the first to acknowledge Shakespeare’s faith was his friend and colleague Ben Jonson, himself a Catholic sympathizer, who recognized the faith of his father John in William’s sublime art. In the preface to the first Folio edition of the plays, Jonson praised Shakespeare as a faithful son of his father: “Looke how the fathers face/Liues in his issue, euen so, the race/Of Shakespeares minde, and manners brightly shines/In his well torned, and true-filed lines:/In each of which, he seems to shake a Lance,/As brandish’t at the eyes of Ignorance.” (To the Memory of my Beloued The Author Mr. William Shakespeare and What He Hath Left Us, First Folio 1623.) Jonson’s punning mention of Lance seems to confirm the fact that he could read between the lines and understand the deeper meaning of Shakespeare’s “parable.” As a further indication that Ben Jonson was aware of Shakespeare’s religious devotion, we remember his comment upon Shakespeare’s receiving his family coat of arms, whose motto – ‘Non sans droit’ – Jonson cunningly turned into ‘Not without mustard,’ with a Biblical reference that must have been much clearer in the Renaissance than in our age. The allusion is to Matthew 17:20, “And Jesus said unto them… verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you;” and also Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” There is a continuity of images in both parables, since faith is the key to eternal life and to the Kingdom of Heaven. Furthermore, both parables well describe Shakespeare’s situation: who, with “small Latine and less Greeke,” was the least probable candidate for immortal fame among the English writers of the time, and yet became a source of unending inspiration for generations of writers, exactly like the great tree in Matthew’s parable. [lxxxiii] Wilson, Richard. Secret Shakespeare. Studies in Theater, Religion and Resistance. Manchester, UK and New York, NY: Manchester University Press, 2004, p. 3. As an instance of this sort of ideological protectionism, Wilson records the “[h]ostile over-reaction to the conference on Shakespeare’s Catholic contexts held at Lancaster University in 1999,” in which the “pique of the critical establishment [was] deeply interested in building a Protestant canon centered on Spenser, Middleton and Milton, which remains, long after the
world turned round again in Tudor historiography, a last redoubt of the WhigMarxist version of English history,” p. 3. [lxxxiv] Cf. Shell, Alison. Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 8-9. Quoted in Wilson: Ibid, pp. 3-4. [lxxxv] As Wilson remarks, Shakespeare was “a member of one of the most militant recusant families, in a town which was a bastion of Elizabethan papist resistance. Local studies and biographies have now converged… to situate young Shakespeare at the epicenter of the English Counter-Reformation culture, which has itself been a recent rediscovery of historians such as John Bossy [Cf. Bossy, John. Under the Molehill: An Elizabethan Spy Story. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.] Eamon Duffy, Christopher Haigh and Michael Questier.” (Wilson, p. 1) On the topic of Catholic Warwickshire, Wilson also reports Patrick Collison, as “the leading authority on Puritanism,” according to whom “the notion of Shakespeare’s family’s conformity to Protestantism ‘rests on mistaken, anachronistic perspectives of Elizabethan religious life.’ […] Thus, the poet looks representative, according to Collison, of a community where the majority of those in the church were ‘church papists,’ [who] if not ‘rank papists’ retained ‘still a smack and savor of popish principles.’ [Cf. Collison, Patrick. ‘William Shakespeare’s Religious Heritage,’ in Elizabethan Essays. London, UK: Hambledon Press, 1994, pp. 230 and 250252. Quoted in Wilson, p. 4]” [lxxxvi] Patrick Collinson. ‘William Shakespeare’s Religious Inheritance and Environment,’ Elizabethan Essays. London: Hambledon Press, 1994, pp. 246-247. [lxxxvii] Fraser, Antonia. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot. New York: Doubleday, 1996. pp.114-115. [lxxxviii] Neale, John E. The Elizabethan House of Commons. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963, p. 241. [lxxxix] Spenser, Edmund. A View of the Present State of Ireland. Renwick, W. I., ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1925, p. 162. [xc] As Christopher Devlin points out, few scholars ever mention the fact that “Shakespeare was seriously accused in his lifetime of being a pro-Catholic propagandist,” p. 11. Protestant historian John Speed, for instance, accused him of being the ‘Papist’ poet of Jesuit Robert Persons: “this Papist and his poet, of like conscience for lies, the one ever feigning and the other ever falsifying the truth,” In: John Speed, History of Great Britain. London, 1611, Book 9:15. [xci] Beauregard, David N. Catholic Theology in Shakespeare’s Plays. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008, p. 15 ff. For these data on Stratford’s school, Beauregard cites the works of: Schoenbaum, Samuel. William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. New York: Oxford, 1987, p. 66; Baldwin, T.W. William Shakespeare’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, vol. 1. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944, p. 488, n.129; Stevenson, W.H. and Salter, H.E. The Early History of St. John’s College Oxford. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939, p. 334. On Stratford’s Catholic schoolmasters, see also: Christopher Devlin, Ibid, p. 126; Peter Milward, Shakespeare’s Religious Background. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1973, p. 41; John Henry De Groot. The Shakespeares and ‘The Old Faith.’ New York: Crown Press, 1946, p. 87.
The Stratford grammar school saw a succession of Catholic masters, whose influence contributed to the willing martyrdom of not a few students – as Wilson notes: “It seems likely that Debdale [Robert Debdale, seminarian in Rome and second cousin of Shakespeare], who would follow Cottam to the gallows in 1586, had been recruited for Rome by his teacher Hunt, so that, as T.W. Baldwin inferred, Stratford Grammar School operated under a succession of masters virtually a cell for these suicide missions,” p. 52. . [xcii] As Wilson remarks about the turn in Reformation and post-Reformation historiography: “it cannot be chance that the sharpest ridicule of the ‘Catholic turn’ in Shakespeare studies comes from modernist specialists who insist that ‘the details available can be made to point in different directions,’ [cf. David Ellis, ‘Biography of Shakespeare: An Outsider’s View,’ The Cambridge Quarterly, 29:4 (2000), pp. 302-3.] so that it would be impossible to construct any analysis which puts the author into his cultural space… As the ‘details’ of history dismissed with such lofty scorn include Campion’s minutely documented mission, the anti-Catholic terror, Essex’s Revolt and the Gunpowder Plot, it is not hard to see that the reason the idea of the Bard’s invisibility persists is that those literary mystifies who depend upon it remain oblivious to the revolution in post-Reformation historiography which has transformed the ways in which Shakespeare’s texts, and textual remains, now need to be read. The rediscovery of English Counter-Reformation provides a context for locating the dramatist’s legendary inaccessibility,” p. 3. [xciii] Wilson, p. 53, Cf. Devlin, Christopher. The Life of Robert Southwell, Poet and Martyr. London, UK: Longmans and Green, 1956, pp. 18-19. [xciv] Devlin, p. 18. [xcv] In the 1590s, Shakespeare’s Warwickshire cousins were “decimated for their alleged treason.” (Wilson, p. 64) [xcvi] The fabricated detail of Shakespeare’s alleged deer-poaching in Lucy’s park is only significant in that it highlights the existing tension between the Puritan magistrate and the Shakespeares, who suffered persecution at his hands. While the deer-poaching tale is unfounded, the persecution was real – hence the very negative portrayals of Puritans in Shakespeare’s plays. James Joyce, in his ‘Scylla and Charybdis,’ will use this fabricated detail to debunk the questionable practices of historians and critics alike, who project themselves and their own biases on the Author, instead of allowing him to be different, other than they are. [xcvii] Cf. Beauregard, Christian Theology in Shakespeare’s Plays, p. 17. The Preface to Southwell’s book of poetry contains an affectionate allusion to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (V.i.7) and Venus and Adonis. For a life of Robert Southwell, see Christopher Devlin, The Life of Robert Southwell, Poet and Martyr. London: Longmans, 1956. [xcviii] For a realistic description of the inhuman persecution, tortures and executions suffered by Catholic martyrs, see John Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art (1983), which we reproduce here due to the rarity of such reports in Protestant historiography: “The financial incentives to join the Church of England were strong. By a statute of 1585, Catholics who refused to attend Anglican service were liable to a fine of £ 20 a month. An average parish schoolmaster’s salary at the time, it’s worth reminding ourselves, was £ 20 a year. Offenders who found themselves unable to pay were to have all their goods and two-thirds of their land confiscated… The anti-Catholic legislation also made it high-treason for any Jesuit or
seminary priest to be within the Queen’s dominions, and felony for any lay person to relive or receive him. In effect, this meant that it was felony to practice Catholic religion. […] New prisons were established at Wisbech, Ely and Reading, all filled with Catholics. […] In the common prisons, Catholics were victimized. The felons incarcerated with them were encouraged to abuse them… John Gerald, the English Jesuit, reports that when his manservant was captured and shut up in Bridewall he was given barely sufficient food to keep body and soul together. His cell was tiny, bed-less, and crawling with vermin, so that he had to sleep perched on the window ledge. The gaolers left his excrement in the cell in an uncovered pail, and the stink was suffocating. In these conditions, he waited to be called out and examined under torture. The poet and martyr Robert Southwell also testifies to the systematic starvation of Catholic prisoners… Some of the tortures employed on Catholic suspects were so vile that Southwell cannot bring himself to speak of them [Cf. in his An Humble Supplication to Her Maiestie, 1595. A paradoxical silence indeed, since the Queen alone had the power to enforce those tortures] but the ones he does describes are fearful enough. Prisoners were deprived of sleep, until they lost the use of their reason they were disjointed on the rack; they were rolled up into balls by machinery ‘and soe Crushed, that the bloud sprowted out at divers parts of their bodies.’ […] The number of Catholics actually executed was, by the standards if twentieth century atrocities, quite small. Between the passing of the new anti-Catholic legislation in 1585 and the end of Elizabeth’s reign, a hundred priests and fiftythree lay persons, including two women, were put to death. The method used to dispatch the victims amounted, however, in many cases to makeshift vivisection, so it atoned, in terms of spectator interest, for its relative rarity. When the Babington Plot, which had been known about and fomented almost from the first by government agents, was ‘discovered’ in 1586, instructions, to which the Queen was a party, were given to the hangman that ‘for more terror’ the young men responsible should be disemboweled alive. [...] The fate of John Rigby, killed in 1600 under the Act of Persuasions, which made it high treason to embrace the Roman religion, exemplifies this. After he had been hanged, Rigby was cut down so quickly that he stood upright ‘like a man a little amazed,’ till the executioners threw him to the ground. He was heard to pronounce distinctly, ‘God forgive you. Jesus receive my soul,’ whereupon a bystander put his foot on his throat to prevent him speaking any more. Other bystanders held his arms and legs while an executioner cut off his genitals and took out his bowels. When he reached up inside Rigby to extract his heart, his victim was ‘yet so strong that he thrust the men from him who held his arms.’ Confronted with judicial proceedings of this kind, English Catholics felt not only pity and terror, but isolation. Their fellow countrymen were not simply indifferent, they rejoiced at the Catholics’ discomfiture,” pp. 15-18. [xcix] As one of the many instances of such attitude, see the popular Steven Ozment’s The Age of Reform, 1250-1550 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), whose front cover image symbolically reproduces The Burning of John Huss at the Council of Constance (from Ulrich’s Richenthal’s Das Concilium, 1536). As for the history of Reformation England, it is the brief reign of Mary I (15531158) which is usually demonized, without considering that Mary did not invent the practice of sentencing dissidents to death: her predecessors, as well as her famed successors, Elizabeth and James, all were guilty of the same mortal sin. In the face of this, Ozment claims that: “By the end of September, she [Mary I] had Hooper, Coverdale, Latimer, Cranmer, and Ridley – the
leadership of Edwardian Protestantism – in the Tower on charges of treason. Like Thomas More before them, these protestant leaders embraced martyrdom as the ultimate protest against an unjust ruler,” p. 426. In fact, Ozment never mention the fact that during the Renaissance it was common practice for new monarchs to eliminate their previous political adversaries within the court, in order to avoid future plots. Hooper, Coverdale, Latimer, Cranmer and Ridley were not only ‘leaders of Protestantism,’ but political leaders and maneuvering forces who used both religion and the young king Edward as masks and pretexts to deflect attention from their own ambitions. Furthermore, Thomas More was a Catholic and died as a martyr of Catholicism, and as such is venerated in the Roman calendar. What Ozment and other ideologically-bent historians fail to mention concerning More is the reason of his death, which was very well known at the time: More knew about, and could not tolerate the idea of becoming complicit with, King Henry VIII’s incestuous marriage with his illegitimate daughter, Anne Boleyn. This scandalous marriage is represented in the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Pericles, in which Prince Pericles, like Sir Thomas More, must escape the persecution of the incestuous King Antiochus, once he discovers the truth about the king’s marriage with his daughter. Shakespeare’s scene is punctuated with allusions to the contemporary political scene, such as the reference to Machiavelli’s masterpiece, The Prince, at vv. 137-140. Also notice the strident anachronism of the “pistol” (v.210), with which the hired murderer will try to kill Pericles. As Shakespeare spoke the language of his popular audiences, we do well to think that the truth about Henry and his daughter was well known among his subjects. [c] Cf. Anthony D. Nuttall: “When John Carey published his John Donne: Life, Mind and Art in 1983, he painted a vivid picture of the anti-Catholic terror. Some historians thought he overplayed the grand guignol. One said, ‘John is like the fat boy in Pickwick – “I wants [sic] to make your flesh creep.”’ But a certain distinguished historian of the reign of Elizabeth said to me, ‘I was shaken by Carey’s book. We historians are fond of saying that the persecution of Catholics was fitful and inefficient, but Carey makes one see the real horror.’” (Shakespeare the Thinker, p. 16) [ci] Richard Wilson, Ibid, pp. 1-2. Wilson’s quotation is from John Carey, Ibid, pp. 15 and 18. [cii] Beauregard, Catholic Theology in Shakespeare’s Plays, p. 90. [ciii] Carey, Ibid, p. 15. [civ] Ibid, p. 18. The cultural milieu, family origin and Catholic education of Shakespeare and Donne are very similar. It is therefore important to consider Carey’s text on Donne carefully. The implications for Shakespeare are enlightening: “Because of his family connections, Donne was dragged into the very center of the storm, and was forced to watch its bloody course with the closest attention. The victims were among the most gifted and intrepid of England’s youth: young men like Edmund Campion, executed in 1581, who had been sent to the Catholic colleges abroad for their education, and who returned on their suicidal missions, joyfully embracing martyrdom… Possibly young Donne witnessed these sights while in the care of the Catholic tutors
whom his mother employed to educate him. Their purpose would be to arouse in the boy a spirit of emulation, for martyrdom was in his family and it might justifiably be hoped that… he would join the glorious company himself. [...] [Donne] dwelt tirelessly upon [the martyr’s crown] and came to regard it almost as part of his inheritance,” p. 19. [cv] Wilson, Ibid, p. 5. [cvi] Cf. Chalmers’s Apology for the Believers in the Shakespeare Papers: “The conjecture that Shakespeare’s family were Roman Catholics is strengthened by the fact that his father declines to attend the corporation meetings, and was at last removed from the corporate body.” In: George Wilkes, Shakespeare from an American Point of View. Third edition, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1882, p. 53. Chalmers himself saw clear evidence of Catholic faith in Shakespeare’s plays, and logically linked Shakespeare’s Catholic education to his sublime Art. From the evidence of John Shakespeare’s dismissal from the Stratford Corporation, also Honigmann and Beauregard draw the conclusion that he was a practicing Catholic. [cvii] Schoenbaum, Samuel. William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, p. 38. [cviii] Quoted in Wilkes, p. 52. [cix] Devlin, p. 13. [cx] Devlin points out that: “There was a great hunger among English Catholics for devotional works from overseas.” And in fact “there is a letter from Persons in England to Allen in 1580 asking for hundreds more of ‘the testaments’ because there was such a demand for them,” p. 14. The document was translated into English, and a blank space was left at the end for the signature of the faithful. [cxi]From the accompanying instructions of the spiritual testament, quoted in Schoenbaum, p. 45. [cxii] The text of John Shakespeare’s Spiritual Testament is found in Wilkes, pp. 57-59. He refers to Nathan Drake’s Shakespeare and His Times. Volume I. Reprinted by B. Franklin, New York, 1969. The opening and closing sections read: “Section I. In the name of God, the Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost, the most holy and blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the holy hosts of archangels, angels, patriarchs, prophets, evangelists, apostles, saints, martyrs, and all the celestial court and company of heaven; I, John Shakespeare, an unworthy member of the Catholic religion, being at this, my present writing, in perfect health of body, and sound mind, memory, and understanding, but calling to mind the uncertainty of life and certainty of death, and that I may be possibly cut off in the blossom of my sins, and called to render an account of all my transgressions, externally and internally, and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever, do, in the holy presence above specified, of my own free and voluntary accord, make and ordain this, my last spiritual will, testament, confession, protestation, and confession of faith, hoping hereby to receive pardon for all my sins, and offences, and thereby to be made partaker of life everlasting, through the only merits of Jesus Christ, my saviour and redeemer, who took upon himself the likeness of man, suffered death and was crucified upon the crosse, for the redemption of sinners. […] Section IV, and last. I, John Shakespeare, having made this present writing a protestation, confession, and charter, in presence of the blessed Virgin Mary, my angell guardian, and all the celestial court, as witnesses hereunto: the which my
meaning is, that it be of full value now, presently, and for ever, with the force and vertue of testament, codicil, and donation in course of death: confirming it anew, being in perfect health of soul and body, and signed with mine own hand; carrying also the same about me, and for the better declaration hereof, my will and intention is that it be finally buried with me after my death. Pater noster, Ave Maria, Credo. Jesu, Son of David, have mercy on me. Amen.” Wilkes also reports Drake’s notation: “’From an accurate inspection of the handwriting of this will, Mr. Malone infers that it cannot be attributed to an earlier period than the year 1600, whence it follows that if dictated by, or drawn up at the desire of, John Shakespeare, his death soon sealed the confession of his faith; for, according to the register, he was buried on September 8, 1601. Drake, vol. 1, pp. 9-14.” [cxiii] As an instance of insightful criticism into the psychology of Shakespeare the Author, see William Hazlitt, On Shakespeare and Milton, Lectures on the English Poets, 1818. [cxiv] Quoted in Beauregard, Catholic Theology in Shakespeare’s Plays, p. 17. Cf. Schoenbaum, Ibid, pp. 222-223; Collison, William Shakespeare’s Religious Inheritance and Environment, p. 251; Duffy, ‘Was Shakespeare a Catholic?’ The Tablet, April 27 (1996): 537. [cxv] Once again, Joyce used this piece of gossip for his ‘Shakespeare Theory’ in ‘Scylla and Charybdis.’ The imagined sexual overtones of the defloration scene – in Joyce’s account it is actually Anne, eight years older than William, who is portrayed as assaulting and debauching him – play a significant role in Joyce’s autobiographical itinerarium mentis in Shakespeare. By blatantly backprojecting his private foibles on the author, Joyce ironically disclosed the willing failure of many critics who prefer to mold Shakespeare into an image of themselves, rather than to allow him to be himself. [cxvi] Parker, M. D. H. The Slave of Life: A Study of Shakespeare and the Idea of Justice. London: Chatto & Windus, 1955, p. 244. [cxvii] Cf. Baker, Oliver. Shakespeare’s Warwickshire and the Unknown Years. London: Simpkin Marshall, 1937; Chambers, E. K. ‘William Shakeshafte,’ Shakespearean Gleanings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1944; Milward, Peter. Shakespeare’s Religious Background. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1973; Honigmann, E. A. J. Shakespeare: The ‘Lost Years.’ Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985. In support of the Lancashire theory, Richard Wilson adds the evidence that he himself discovered, linking the Jesuit mission of 1580-1581 with both Stratford and Hoghton Tower. [cxviii] In the same way, as new soldiers were newly baptized for their mission, “Parsons became Doleman; Campion, Hastings; and Debdale, Palmer: the name of the grandfather he is thought to have shared with Shakespeare.” Wilson, p. 54. [cxix] Alexander Hoghton’s testament quoted in Wilson, p. 49. [cxx] Devlin, p. 29. Rev. R. Davies (d. 1708) received the biographical collections from Rev. W. Fulman (d. 1688). The manuscripts were presented to the Library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. As Wilkes observes, “[s]urely it
should require something more than mere incredulity on the part of Protestant biographers to annihilate this authoritative statement,” p. 56. [cxxi] Ibid, p. 11. [cxxii] Speed, John. History of Great Britain. London, 1611, Book 9:15. Also quoted in Munro (1909, pp. 224-225), Knapp (2002, p. 5) and Battenhouse (1994, p. 5). [cxxiii] Devlin, p. 25. [cxxiv] Speed quoted in Devlin, p. 25. Devlin records the attempts of the Protestant establishment to remedy the damage done by Shakespeare’s infamous portrayal of Oldcastle: “Shakespeare chose to represent his Oldcastle as a hoary old hypocrite who quotes the Geneva Bible almost every second line; but then he enters into the fun of the thing and makes him a parody of his own hypocrisy, and fills him with an irresistible zest for life until he becomes the glorious unregenerate whom Englishmen are so fond of in fancy – and so stern against in fact. Queen Elizabeth, we are told, laughed as heartily as anybody. But there were politicians close to the Government who did not find this travesty of Foxe’s first martyr at all funny. In the next year a smug and vindictive Protestant play inspired by Lord Cobham, Cecil’s brother-in-law appeared. Written mainly by the Government spy, Anthony Munday, it presented Oldcastle as the saintly victim of immortal priests and monks. But it was quite futile. The damage was done. There would be no Martyrs Memorial to Oldcastle,” pp. 24-25. Shakespeare denounces Falstaff for subscribing a pact with the devil in I Henry IV Act I, scene ii:
Edward Poins. Good morrow, sweet Hal. What says Monsieur Remorse? what says Sir John Sack and Sugar? Jack! How/ agrees the devil and thee about thy soul, that thou soldest him on Good-Friday last for a cup of Madeira/ and a cold capon’s leg? Prince Harry. Sir John stands to his word, the devil shall have his bargain; for he was never yet a breaker of proverbs: he will give the devil his due. Edward Poins. Then art thou damned for keeping thy word with the devil. Prince Harry. Else he had been damned for cozening the devil. (vv. 111-121)
And Prince Harry portrays Oldcastle as a devil: “There is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat man… Why dost thou converse with… that reverend Vice, that grey Iniquity, that father Ruffian, that Vanity in years? Wherein is he good… Wherein worthy, but I nothing? That villainous, abominable misleader of youth, Oldcastle; that old white-bearded Satan.” (I Henry IV, II.v.452-468)
Given the intentions of Catholic Shakespeare in portraying Oldcastle-Falstaff –
a Satanic corrupter of the youth, in the words of his victim Prince Harry – it is at the same time paradoxical and hilarious to see Harold Bloom engaged in a life-long crusade to elevate this character as the greatest invention of Shakespeare, after Hamlet. According to Bloom, the character of Falstaff is able to hold his own even in the face of YHWH – Himself a character, of course, of Bathsheba. [cxxv] Milward, pp. 11-12. [cxxvi] Cf. Among the works selected by Battenhouse, see in particular: G. Wilson Knight’s Wheel of Fire (1930) for a historically influential commentary on Christian symbolism; John Henry de Groot, The Shakespeares and ‘The Old Faith’ (1946); S. L. Bethell, The Winter’s Tale: A Study, 1947; M. D. H. Parker, The Slave of Life (1955); Patrick Murray, The Shakespearean Scene (1969); Peter Milward, Shakespeare’s Religious Background (1973); Peter Milward, Shakespeare Year Book I (1990); and 1952 Shakespeare and Catholicism by Mutschmann and Wentersdorf, who “concluded, on the basis of a large array of evidence both historical and dramatic, that he was a secret catholic all his life.” (Battehouse, p.5) [cxxvii] It is worthwhile to recall the four levels of Biblical exegesis, to which reference will be made in the following discussion. They are: the literal; the allegorical or typological; the moral; and the anagogical. The literal sense refers to the historical reality of what is been discussed. In the case of Psalm 113, as Dante writes, “si ad litteram solam inspiciamus, significatur nobis exitus filiorum Israel de Egipto, tempore Moysis.” The allegorical sense, also called typological, refers to the meaning of the passage in relation to the advent of Christ: “si ad allegoriam, nobis significatur nostra redemptio facta per Christum.” The moral sense refers to practical human behavior, and specifically how it must become a faithful reflection of the Biblical teaching: “si ad moralem sensum, significantur nobis conversion anime de luctu et miseria peccati ad statum gratiae.” Lastly, the anagogical sense alludes to the four Novissima, the very last things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell: “si ad anagogicum, significatur exitus anime sancte ad huius corruptionis servitude ad eterne glorie libertatem.” (Letter XIII, § 21) [cxxviii] Cf. Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Fiftieth Anniversary Edition. Translated from the German by Willard R. Trask. With a new introduction by Edward W. Said. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003. See the discussion of Biblical sublime: “In antique theory, the sublime and elevated style was called sermo gravis or sublimis; the low style was sermo remissus or humilis; the two had to be kept strictly separated. In the world of Christianity, on the other hand, the two are merged, especially in Christ’s Incarnation and Passion, which realize and combine sublimitas and humilitas in overwhelming measure,” p. 151; Sublimitas and humilitas are categories both ethico-theological and aestheticstylistic: “the antithetical fusion of the two was emphasized, as early as the patristic period, as a characteristic of Holy Scripture – especially by Augustine,” p. 153; and: “the true and distinctive greatness of Holy Scripture [is] that it had created an entirely new kind of sublimity, in which the everyday and the low were included, not excluded, so that, in style and content, it directly connected the lowest with the highest,” p. 154. [cxxix] Cf. “The Scriptural sublime tends to be ‘simple’ as God Himself is
Simple, that is, One. At the same time, Scriptures contain riddles and mysteries which can only be understood by the humble and faithful – metaphorically, by those admitted in through the keys of St Peter. It is only through the keys of faith and humility that man gains insight [Cf. Augustine, Confessions, 3,5; 6,5; De Trinitate, I; To Volusianus (137,18)]” Ibid, p. 154. [cxxx] Ibid, p. 156. [cxxxi] Ibid, p. 158. [cxxxii] Ibid, p. 158. What Auerbach describes concerning the ‘escapism’ of medieval courtly romance – which will be later recycled and reinterpreted in Renaissance epic – has a deeper meaning for committed religious authors like Edmund Spenser. A crypto-Catholic himself for all his life, he creatively employed the tradition of escapist medieval romance – in its Anglican, Arthurian declination – to covertly refer to the disturbing political reality of Reformation England, with its reign of terror and its persecutions: “In contrast to the feudal literature of the courtly romance, which leads away from the reality of the life of its class into a world of heroic fable and adventure, here [in Christian drama] there is a movement in the opposite direction, from distant legend and its figural interpretation into everyday contemporary reality,” p. 159. In this way, Spenser represents a powerful synthesis of the two modes, fantasy and Christian dramatic realism, exemplifying with his immortal Art how Christian inspiration can thrive even, or precisely, in times of political terror. [cxxxiii] William Hazlitt, On Shakespeare and Milton, Lectures on the English Poets, 1818. [cxxxiv] And we cannot avoid detecting a powerful link between Claudius’s poisoned “Union” and the Act of Uniformity passed in 1559 by another monarch, Elizabeth, who in the eyes of many was usurping the authority of the legitimate vicar of God on earth by being appointed Supreme Governor of the Church of England by means of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, of which the Act of Uniformity was part. According to this Act, every English subject had to attend the Protestant service on Sunday, or be fined 12 pence – which for the poor was a considerable sum of money. To the many Catholics living in England, this looked like damnation – hence the image of the poisonous pearl, in sharp contrast with the Biblical pearl symbolizing the Kingdom of Heaven, as in Matthew 13:45-46: “The kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” [cxxxv] A part from the numerous articles published on the topic, and apart from the scholarly works already mentioned which have been published on Christian Shakespeare, see the work of Naseeb Shaheen: Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Tragedies. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987; Biblical References in Shakespeare’s History Plays. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989; Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Comedies. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993; Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999. The recent work of Steven Marx is also to be cited (Marx, Steven. Shakespeare and the Bible. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.), although his hermeneutic approach is highly questionable, in that it combines typology with midrash, alleging that midrash “facilitate[s] the study of Shakespeare” by liberating “pleasure, creativity, and knowledge,” pp. 15-16. This is not appropriate in the case of Shakespeare. As Frye correctly maintained (Anatomy of Criticism, p. 6), the source of inspiration for
Shakespeare was the Christian Bible. In this light, nothing is more alien to Shakespeare than rabbinical hermeneutics. Furthermore, Marx’s description of midrash is anachronistic. Midrash is a 3rd century CE rabbinical approach to the Hebrew Bible which was developed, as it often happens, by theologians in search of novelty. It is supremely anachronistic – and, quite frankly, ridiculous – to think that this 3rd century reading practice was a “creative exegesis” originally meant to “liberate pleasure, creativity, and knowledge,” p. 16. One only has to imagine the Temple priests in Jerusalem engaged in a ‘creative exegesis’ to ‘liberate their pleasure,’ in order to understand that we are dealing here with a blatant case of anachronistic back-projection. At the same time, Marx shows his disingenuity when he tries to attribute midrash to Jesus himself (!) in the parable of the sower (p. 15). Jesus does not ‘perform’ midrash, as claimed by Marx, and he does not “explicate the parable he has just related with yet another parable,” but proceeds to establish all the parallels, minutely and one by one, between his metaphorical images and the supernatural realities they refer to: “Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36-43) Since it is highly paradoxical for a critic to lie about Biblical hermeneutics precisely in a book on Biblical hermeneutics, we cannot in good faith recommend his work. [cxxxvi] Cf. “Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22) [cxxxvii] As Measure for Measure was first performed in 1604, a year after the succession of James VI &I to the throne, its powerful political allegory is addressed to both monarchs, both guilty of murderous crimes covered by hypocrisy. If Elizabeth was well represented in Mistress Overdone, James was mirrored in Angelo: a seeming devout Christian, who was in fact notorious for his sexual transgressions; who was involved in the powerful Freemason Lodge of Scotland; and who persecuted innocent victims with bogus witch-trials, even assisting to their tortures. [cxxxviii] The prison scene in Measure for Measure (IV.iii) establishes another parallel between the corrupted court of Elizabeth and the dungeon in Vienna. As Pompey exclaims: “I am as well acquainted here as I was in our house of profession: one would think it were Mistress Overdone’s own house, for here be many of her old customers,” vv. 1-4. Among such criminals there is also a “brave Master Shoe-tie the great traveller,” v. 16, a reference to the ‘Queen’s pirate,’ Francis Drake. His figure is again alluded to in the figure of Ragusine, “a most notorious pirate,/ A man of Claudio’s years.” In terms of reputation,
Drake was known as a butcher, not unlike Abhorson: implicated in the massacre of Rathlin Island in Ireland, one of the first slave traders, and the murderer of his own second-in-command upon a false accusation of witchcraft. His victim, Thomas Doughty, was beheaded without legal trial on July 2, 1578. Shakespeare’s pirate Ragusine is likewise beheaded, to indicate the necessary contrappasso, “an accident that heaven provides” (v. 74) for the sinner, who will for eternity expiate the sin committed upon his victim. If we consider that the play was first performed in 1604, it is interesting to notice that the time of Doughty’s death roughly coincides with that of Claudio’s birth, since he is described as a young man presumably in his twenties. [cxxxix] It would be interesting to study another parallel between Measure for Measure and Matthew 7: that between the parable of the broad and narrow gates and Isabella’s description of Angelo’s meeting place. The depiction of Angelo’s garden presents a superimposition of images: the Garden of Eden on the one hand, and on the other the medieval topos of the hortus conclusus as symbolizing virginity. Here are the two texts: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14); “He hath a garden, circumscribed with brick,/ Whose western side is with a vineyard backed; And to that vineyard is a planked gate,/ That makes his opening with this bigger key./ This other doth command a little door/ Which from the vineyard to the garden leads. There I have made my promise/ Upon the heavy middle of the night/ To call upon him.” (IV.i.27-35) [cxl] On Marian inspiration in Shakespeare’s work, see: Espinosa, Ruben. Masculinity and Marian Efficacy in Shakespeare’s England. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2011. On Marian influence over the culture and iconography of Renaissance England, see: Hackett, Helen. Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary. New York: St Martin’s, 1995; and also: Doran, Susan. ‘Virginity, Divinity, and Power: The Portraits of Elizabeth I,’ The Myth of Elizabeth. Susan Doran and Thomas Freeman, eds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. [cxli] Espinosa, Ibid, p. 1. [cxlii] As indicated by Gabriel Roschini, Mary’s attributes and roles have first been described by the Church Fathers. In terms of Biblical typology, the first Church Father to establish a parallel between Mary and Eve is St. Justin, martyr (d. 165): “S. Iustinus primus est qui Mariam comparat Evae, antithesim hanc instituendo: Eva Virgo – Maria Virgo; Eva credit et obedit serpenti – Maria credit et obedit angelo; Eva ob suam credulitatem fit mater peccati et mortis omnium – Maria ob suam oboedientiam, fit Mater Eius qui destruit operam diabolic et homines credentes a morte liberat,” Ibid, p. 79. A long theological tradition unites the Blessed Virgin with the most prominent figures among saints and martyrs, popes, mystics and Church Doctors – but also lay poets-prophets such as Dante and Petrarch: Her devotees, who rightly regarded her as Magistra Artium, Mother of the Arts and Supreme Christian Muse. In God’s providential plan, Mary performs numerous roles: humble handmaid and majestic Queen; Theotokos-Deipara (God-bearer); Mater Dei; Mater Dolorosa at the death of her Divine Son; Co-Redeemer of humanity with Jesus Christ; Mother of the Church; Mother of humankind; Paraclete-Advocate of Man before the throne of God; Hearer of our petitions and Mediatrix of all graces; Regina Coeli; Regina
Pacis, etc. Since Mary’s providential roles in human history are so numerous and so complex, they afforded a wealth of inspiration to Shakespeare and his prodigious imagination. [cxliii] Since humility terrifies Satan, the humility of the Rosary has the power to break his influence and cast him away. On the power of the Rosary, see the classic St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary. [cxliv] Cf. Carlson, Eric Josef. Marriage and the English Reformation. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1994. See also: Miola, Robert S. Shakespeare’s Reading. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. [cxlv] Espinosa, Ibid, p. 28. [cxlvi] G. B. Shaw rightly observed that “the people who spoil paper and waste ink by describing Rosalind as a perfect type of womanhood are the descendants of the same blockheads whom Shakespeare, with the coat of arms and the lands in Warwickshire in view, had to please when he wrote plays as they liked them.” In: Shaw on Shakespeare. An Anthology of Bernard Shaw’s Writings on the Plays and production of Shakespeare. Edited and with an Introduction by Edwin Wilson. New York, NY: Books Libraries for Press, A Division of Arno Press, 1961, Prologue, point n. 8. Ever an envious critic, Bloom projected his own envy on Shaw accusing him of being “envious” of Shakespeare (‘Othello,’ Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, p. 439) – thus taking his revenge upon Shaw, who, without knowing him, had dared call him a blockhead. [cxlvii] Cf. “The light we see is burning in my hall./ How far that little candle throws its beams/ So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” (V.i.89-91) The texts of course refers to Matthew 5:15: “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” [cxlviii] Besides the allusion to Mary, the name ‘Portia’ also alludes to Jesus Christ, who calls Himself the “door” of the sheep: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. […] Verily, verily, I am the door of the sheep. […] I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” (John 10:1-9) In thus uniting the Mother and the Son, Shakespeare once again shows deep knowledge of Christian Catholic theology: the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary a mystically united in a compenetration of divinity and humanity. As Jesus communicated His divinity to the Mother, Mary communicated Her humanity to the Son. As Jesus is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Mary is, lives and exists within the Trinity as the beloved Daughter to the Father, Virgin Mother to the Son and most chaste Spouse of the Holy Spirit. [cxlix] The Catholic orthodoxy on Indulgences is expounded in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editroce Vaticana, 1997, § 1471). An indulgence is defined as “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven. A properly disposed member of the Christian faithful can obtain an indulgence under prescribed conditions through the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the Saints. An indulgence is partial if it removes part of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary if it removes all punishment,” p. 883. [cl] The double meaning of the final tercet is made possible by the Latin syntax
underlying the text, in which the verb “volgeva” can have two subjects: “il mio disio e ‘l velle” and “l’amore che move il sole e l’altre stelle.” In the latter case, it is God’s Love (the Third Person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit) who, like a wheel that is equally moved, has the power to move the poet’s desire and free will. In the former case, it is the poet’s desire and free will that has the power to move God’s Love because such is the Will of God: to be moved by human charity. Cf. “A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;/ ma già volgeva il mio disio e ‘l velle,/ sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,/ l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.” (Pd, XXXIII.142-145) The same concept is expressed in Paradise, Canto XX, vv. 94-99: “Regnum celorum vïolenza pate/ da caldo amore e da viva speranza,/ che vince la divina volontate:/ non a guisa che l’omo a l’om sobranza,/ ma vince lei perché vuole esser vinta,/ e, vinta, vince con sua beninanza.” It is the Will of GodLove to be won by human charity – and by being thus willingly won, it conquers humanity and redeems it from its fallen condition. [cli] Ibid, p. 148. [clii] Cf. Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 261. [cliii] The reference is of course to the Epilogue of Henry V. Henry is one of the most accomplished figurae of Shakespeare as the earthly author. After shedding Falstaff, the hellish burden of his apprenticeship or Lehrjare — “a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat man” (I Henry IV, II.v.52-53) – Prince Harry enters into his proper part: as King Henry V, he is the prototypical Renaissance Prince and Christian Catholic monarch, who prays God before battle (Cf. “O God of battles” monologue, Henry V, IV.i.286-302) and gives Him all the honors for his most improbable victory over a stronger enemy (Cf. “O God, thy arm was here/ And not to us, but to thy arm alone/ Ascribe we all… Take it God,/ For it is none but thine.” Henry V, IV. Viii.106112). [cliv] Cf. ‘Scylla and Charybdis,’ Ulysses, 1922. [clv] The practice of using remote settings to refer to current events is a classical topos of literature. Hence, for instance, Euripides’s Trojan Women (415 BCE) is set against the background of the Trojan War. But it is also intended to refer to, and to make a political statement on, the destruction of Melos: “A woeful warning, a dirge before the event, that was the poet’s prophetic reflection of his own time.” Cf. Ehrenberg, Victor. From Solon to Socrates. Greek History and Civilization During the Sixth and Fifth centuries B.C. London and New York: Routledge, 1989, p. 296. [See fn. 71, p. 466 “The prophetic role of Euripides was repeated when in March 1914 the Austrian poet Franz Werfel published his translation as a ‘sign of the coming revolution.’ ‘The wretched Hecuba may now return as her time has come again.’ Hamlet’s question ‘What’s Hecuba to him, and he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?’ has been answered through the ages.”] [clvi] It is frequent in Shakespeare to find that villains say the truth: of course, in every play, each villain does so only occasionally. Thus, even barbarous Aaron can fiercely protect the life of his “first born son and heir” (Titus Andronicus, IV.ii.91), and Iago can exhort us to exercise our reason and free will in taking care of our bodies like gardens, weeding out parasites and keeping them “manured with industry.” (I.iii.319 ff.) [clvii] Set in a non-specified medieval past, Hamlet clearly refers to Catholicism as the official religion of the Danish State. That King Hamlet was a Catholic we
learn from the already quoted lamentation of the Ghost in Act I, scene v: “Thus was I… Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,/ Unhouseled, dis-appointed, unaneled,/ No reck’ning made,” vv.74-78. In this way, using the pretext of past time, Shakespeare could refer to the Catholic sacraments of Confession and Extreme Unction, which were later abolished by the Reformation, while at the same time escaping censure – for the benefit of countless generations of future readers. [clviii] Cf. Act II, scene ii, vv. 600-605: “The spirit that I have seen/ May be the devil, and the devil hath power/ T’assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps,/ out of my weakness and my melancholy – As he is very potent with such spirits –/ Abuses me to damn me.” [clix] Notice the parallel between Pyrrhus, upon whose figure (in Virgil’s Aeneid, Book II) Hamlet’s “melancholy sits on brood,” and Emperor Nero. [clx] Cf. Melville, Hermann. ‘Hawthorne and his Mosses,’ The Literary World, Aug. 17-24, 1850. [clxi] King James VI and I, Ibid, Book III, chapter ii. [clxii] King James expresses the same concept in his Preface, when he states that demons are the “hangmen” of God. Ibid, pp. 7 and 97. [clxiii] Cf. Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra (Act V, scene ii). [clxiv] The remaining questions answered by Aquinas in this section have to do with the obstinacy (art. 2) and suffering (art. 3) of demons. Aquinas states that demons are congealed in evil: they cannot amend their condition, which is forever determined by the Will of God whom they have refused to honor as their Creator. The additional reason essential to angelic nature, as described by Aquinas, is the fact that the angelic intellect “apprehends immovably,” which is to say, instantaneously; while man “apprehends movably, passing from one consideration to another.” Therefore, human will “adheres to a thing movably… whereas the angel’s will adheres fixedly and immovably.” The fact that fallen angels are obstinate in sin gives us an insight into the subhuman, perverted psychology of Iago, defined as a “demi-devil” only because he has not yet shed his material body. To answer the third question (art. 3) whether there is sorrow in the demons, Aquinas writes that there is infinite pain and suffering in demons as a consequence of the perversion of their will: “it is evident that the demons would wish many things not to be, which are; and others to be, which are not: for, out of envy, they would wish others to be damned, who are saved. Consequently, sorrow must be said to exist in them: and especially because it is of the very notion of punishment for it to be repugnant to the will. Moreover, they are deprived of happiness, which they desire naturally; and their wicked will is curbed in many respects.” Indeed, the very fact of being forever deprived of the slightest presence of God amounts to torture, since the peace and love that are necessary for any form of life can only be found in God. [clxv] Cf. Grillo, Roberta. Il Principe di Questo Mondo. Milano: Ares, 2002. See Ch. III, ‘The devil in the Sacred Scriptures According to Christian Tradition,’ pp. 81-137. [clxvi] Cf. Amorth, Gabriele. Esorcisti e Psichiatri. Roma: Edizioni Dehoniane, 1996. According to Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Chief Exorcist of the Holy See, “Satan is cunning… he goes to great lengths to conceal himself, and can manifest
himself in very different forms. Think of the cases of possession in the Gospels: the demoniac in Gerasa is furious: he has an immense strength and attacks people. The youth at Mount Tabor, instead, displays signs whereby people believe he has epilepsy: he is not violent against others, but he hurts himself. Then, the hunchbacked woman and the deaf man might both have appeared as cases of common illness – but it was Jesus who saw that the cause of their sickness was a demonic presence. I myself, during exorcism, have witnessed cases of possession without external manifestation.” Ibid, pp. 128-129. [clxvii] In light of the Renaissance debate on the ‘cessation of miracles’ in the Protestant Churches, the powers of exorcism and healing of the sick are given by God to the line of priesthood established by Jesus Christ, when He baptized Simon anew with his Roman name, Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) In the vast existing literature, see esp.: P.D. Walker, ‘The Cessation of Miracles,’ Hermeticism in the Renaissance. Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe. Merkel, Ingrid and Debus, Allen G., eds. Washington: The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1988, p. 111 ff. “The wish to discredit contemporary Catholic miracles and to justify the lack of Protestant ones is conspicuous in Calvin’s dedication to the king of France of his Institutes, but here and elsewhere… the cessation of miracles appears only as a recommended option, and not, as it later became, a dogmatically asserted principle,” p. 112 The argument of Protestant authorities at the time revolved around the notion of the Antichrist as described in Matthew 24:24, “For there arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; inasmuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” As Walker writes, “[t]here was a typology of the Antichrist… as deceiver and wonder-worker” like Simon Magus, and as a “persecuting tyrant” like Nero (p. 115). The argumentative strategy of Protestant authorities was therefore to project the typology of the Antichrist on the entire line of Roman Popes – without considering that the Antichrist is not a ‘role’ to be filled by different individuals, but a definite and particular historical figure, prophesied by Daniel in the Old Testament and by Jesus Himself in the Gospels (Cf. the entire Chapter Twenty-Four of Matthew’s Gospel, esp. the renowned passage on “the abomination of desolation,” at v. 15 ff.: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of the desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains…”) [clxviii] Cf. See esp.: Amorth, Gabriele. Un Esorcista Racconta. Roma: Edizioni Dehoniane, 1994; and Esorcisti e Psichiatri. Roma: Edizioni Dehoniane, 1996. [clxix] Fr. Amorth also briefly discusses the cases of demonic infestation of places and buildings. Places and buildings can be cursed by the crimes committed there; buildings can be curses at the laying of their foundations, as is the case with Freemasonic ceremonies – and understandably so, since Freemasonry originated from secret societies of builders. In section eight on Freemasonry and Satanism, we will see how this sort of Freemasonic cursing has a long tradition not only in the Western world, but also in cultures not primarily touched by Christianity such as China. Exorcism, in these cases, takes the form of blessings with holy water, blessed oil, and salt to be strewn at the entrance and corners of each room. [clxx] Grillo deals with demonic possession in the life of Saints in her section ‘Permissive Will of God. Demonic Possession in Saints,’ Ibid, pp. 306-324. Her discussion is thorough, but she fails to mention the fact that all the innocent
victims of demonic possession are saints, with or without formal canonization. Virtually all saints suffer demonic agency, in one form or another, as a proof and testimony of their love for the Cross – martyrdom itself is a demonic torture by means of human agents. Among the most famous canonized saints who experienced demonic agency, we remember St. Theresa of Avila (15151582), St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903) and St Pio of Petralcina (1887-1968). Theresa saw demons on various occasions during her prayer, but she was never physically harmed by them. On the contrary, St Gemma and Padre Pio were frequently assaulted and hurt by them. In his Letters, Padre Pio describes how he was often thrown out of bed and dragged out of his bedroom (To P. Agostino, Jan. 18, 1912). At one time, the demons were “severely attacking him,” with such great violence that he thought he was going to die (Nov. 5, 1912). On Feb. 13, 1913 he had his whole body bruised from their beatings. Physical attacks of this sort are fortunately rare, and fall under the category of demonic vexation. It is reported that during an exorcism, Padre Pio heard the voice of the devil as he was leaving the body of the poor victim. The devil complained with him: “Padre Pio, you give us more trouble than Saint Michael!” It is because saints help so many souls to freedom and salvation that the devils try to take their revenge upon them. But in so doing, they increase the merit of those very saints, who are consequently able to help many more souls, in a sort of virtuous circle of love, suffering and grace. [clxxi] As will become apparent in our discussion of Freemasonry and Satanism, the detail of her provenance is particularly significant in relation to the Freemasonic sect of the Illuminati, founded in Bayern in the 18th century. [clxxii] Cf. Ibid, pp. 320-324. [clxxiii] Among the witnesses, Grillo mentions (pp. 323-324): P. Ernesto M. Tomé; P. Guido Corelli; Fr. Bartolomeo Gelsomini; P. Giuseppe Gallo; P. Remo Augusto Cordin; P. Salvatore Guerrieri; P. Giovanni Querzani. [clxxiv] As we will see, Satanic Freemasonry re-enacts the Passion of our Lord quite literally, with the skinning and crucifixion of innocent victims: preferably children, who are figurae Christi. This practice has been in use since the Passion itself, two thousand years ago – but we will especially focus on a famous artistic representation of this torture dating from the Renaissance. [clxxv] This spiritual crisis of the Church is what caused people like James Joyce to rebel against the hierarchy while retaining their faith in God. The same incoherence between theory and practice is the reason why so many in the contemporary world feel disaffected and are dissuaded from conversion. We are reminded here of the words of Gandhi, who once said that he would have converted to Christianity – if he had been able to find one faithful Christian. And we also wonder at the immense responsibility of the Church hierarchy, whose members often made themselves responsible for the perdition of the very souls whom God had entrusted to their care. [clxxvi] Cf. “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ… We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made
manifest in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-12) [clxxvii] Cf. “For it pleased the Father that in him [the Son] should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:19-24) [clxxviii] Mons. Michelini, Ottavio. Confidenze di Gesù a un Sacerdote. Isola del Liri (FR): Arti Grafiche del Liri, 2004. [clxxix] Ibid, November 29, 1978. [clxxx] Ibid, November 29, 1978. [clxxxi] Cf. “Write, my son… every ordained priest must be a victim soul… Truly, my son, was I not the Supreme Victim? Tell me, my son, am I not perhaps the Pure, Holy and Immaculate Victim who placated divine wrath and satisfied divine Justice? And who is an ordained priest but alter Christus? Who are priests if not my natural co-redeemers, and what co-redemption would ever be possible without becoming a victim as I, the Victim, became for your salvation? Was I not High Priest and, at the same time, Victim, sacrificing myself for the life of the world… If a priest is not present in the Holy Sacrifice with the steadfast and effective will to offer himself, together with Me, to the Heavenly Father for the remission of sins – which is the reason of the sacrifice being offered – that priest practically empties his priesthood and his essence, perverting and deforming the nature of the priestly character, mutilating priesthood of its end. Hence, this priest desecrates his regal priesthood, which I participated to him. Imagine a murderer who defiles his victim by ravaging his body… Not only must priests be victims, but victims they become by the nature of their priesthood. If then he refuses his state of victim, he becomes traitor of the Mystery of Redemption, like Judas. Happy is the one who is aware of the royal and sublime priestly vocation and mission, and who with docility surrenders himself to God’s Infinite Love, Who deigned to uplift him from the dirt and dust of the earth, to raise him to the greatest and sublime dignity to which any creature could aspire. Happy the one who, aware of having been made a vessel of election, strives, with the Christ, to follow Him on the Calvary, in order to unite his sufferings with those of the Divine Victim, and to be, with the trice holy Victim, Liberator of so many souls from the burden and brutal tyranny of Satan.” (November 30, 1976) [clxxxii] Ibid, November 6, 1978. [clxxxiii] According to her biography, published on the Vatican site, Jesus confided to the mystic Alessandrina da Costa (1904-1955): “You will very rarely receive consolation. I want that, while your heart is filled with suffering, on your lips there be a smile.” Cf. www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20040425_dacosta_en.html
Alessandrina’s life story is prototypical of all victim souls: “When she was twelve, Alexandrina became sick with an infection and nearly died; the consequences of this infection would remain with her as she grew up and would become the ‘first sing’ of what God was asking of her: to suffer as a victim soul. When Alexandrina was fourteen… [o]n Holy Saturday of 1918, while Alexandrina, [her sister] Deolinda and a young apprentice were busily sewing, three men [broke into] their home and attempted to violate them. To preserve her purity, Alexandrina jumped from a window, falling four meters to the ground.” Despite the limited distance from the ground, the fall so ruinous that her spinal injuries were diagnosed as irreversible, and she suffered a gradually progressive paralysis until, at twenty-one years of age, she became tetraplegic. For more than thirty years – from 4/14/1925 to the day of her death on 10/13/1955 – she was bedridden and completely motionless. In this state of physical paralysis, she experienced the most intense spiritual life: “God helped her to see that suffering was her vocation and that she had a special call to be the Lord’s victim… The desire to suffer continued to grow in her the more her vocation became clear: she understood that she was called to open the eyes of others to the effects of sin, inviting them to conversion, and to offer a living witness of Christ’s Passion, [thus] contributing to the redemption of humanity. And so it was that from 10/3/1938 to 3/24/1942, Alexandrina lived the threehour Passion of Jesus every Friday, having received the mystical grace to live in body and soul Christ’s suffering in his final hours. During these three hours, her paralysis was ‘overcome,’ and she would relieve the Stations of the Cross, her movements and gestures accompanied by excruciating physical and spiritual pain. She was also diabolically assaulted and tormented with temptations against the faith and with injuries inflicted on her body. Human misunderstanding and incredulity was also a great cross for her, especially when those she most expected would assist her – members and leaders of the Church – were adding to her crucifixion. […] On 3/27/1942, a new phase began for Alexandrina which would continue for thirteen years and seven months until her death. She received no nourishment of any kind except the Holy Eucharist, at one point weighing as little as 33 kilos (approx. 73 pounds). Medical doctors remained baffled by this phenomenon and began to conduct various tests on her, acting in a very cold and hostile way. This increased her suffering and humiliation, but she remembered the words that Jesus Himself spoke to her one day: ‘You will very rarely receive consolation… I want that while your heart is filled with suffering, on your lips there be a smile.’” [clxxxiv] Ibid, November 6, 1978. [clxxxv] Cf. Message of November 6, 1978. Ibid, pp. 705-707: “Write, my son, I am Jesus. Yesterday I told you that it was my intention to extend the discourse on my Church, and on the facts touching its life. Today I tell you that one of the facts that most affects my Church is the harsh reality of its most fierce enemies… My child, I, the Eternal Word of God, intend solemnly to reaffirm the existence of the dark kingdom of Satan, and to manifest to you, even though briefly, something about the nature of this dark reality… Lucifer and his command ground their activity and their way of being upon mocking and aping God. I, Jesus, true God and true Man, have founded my hierarchical Church, and hierarchical is the church of Satan on earth: Freemasonry. I, Jesus,
had disseminated spiritual fortresses throughout my Church. Freemasonry, the church of demons, has issued its Lodges throughout the world, with its leaders and followers. Its one and only objective is to oppose my Church and to fight it. And since demons are such precisely because thy rebelled against God, all their activity is inspired by and based upon rebellion, hence on the opposite of what is achieved within my Church. Freemasonry – willed, sustained and guided by the dark powers of evil – is reaching the highest level of its action of demolition of my Church, operating from within as well as from without. Inside, it has many followers both at the top and at the base. Outside, always masked by hypocrisy, it hurts and damages with its poisonous sting all those with whom it comes into contact. Today, foreseeing the next great clash which has been minutely prepared for so long with cunning art, Freemasonry does not refrain from manifesting that which it has always kept hidden and occulted… The Church – even though it has fallen almost completely captive to these dark forces, which are both hellish and earthly – will resist and shall not be destroyed. On the contrary, from the sufferings of the present time, it shall re-emerge more beautiful and more luminous than it has ever been.” [clxxxvi] After a long odyssey caused by the envy, willing misunderstandings, and painful lack of faith of many Church authorities, St Faustina was beatified (1993) and canonized (2000) by Blessed John Paul II. Jesus attached exceptional graces to the Divine Mercy chaplet, novena and sacred image, especially the power to intercede for the dying. To those who pray the Divine Mercy for a dying soul, Jesus promises that He will be merciful in judgment. The chaplet and image in particular have reached millions of people since the canonization of Sister Faustina, also because the Sunday following Easter has formally been dedicated to the Devotion to the Divine Mercy of Christ. Blessed John Paul II consecrated the whole world to the Divine Mercy on August 17, 2002. In her Diary (later published as Divine Mercy in My Soul), St Faustina describes her victimhood thus: “My sacrifice is nothing in itself, but when I unite it to the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it becomes omnipotent and has the strength to placate the wrath of God,” Q. I, 482. [clxxxvii] Numerous scientific commissions have been instituted to establish the truthfulness of the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje (Bosnia), where six seers have been meeting the Blessed Virgin on a daily basis for thirty years, since 1981. Thousands of people have been converted by pilgrimage and communal prayer at the site. Conversion itself is the greatest miracle: this, even more than the numerous healings that have taken place, should clearly indicate the divine nature of the apparitions. But despite thousands of witnesses, the Catholic Church continues to ignore Our Lady of Medjugorje, waiting for the apparitions to terminate before emitting its verdict. Unfortunately, the ten secrets given by the Virgin to the seers – after the pattern of previous Marian apparitions at La Salette (1846), Lourdes (1858) and Fatima (1917) – also concern the Second Advent, i.e. the end of this era between the first coming of Jesus and the purification. Evidently, by that time, the verdict of the Church will be completely superfluous. [clxxxviii] The other great (male) stigmatists, St Francis of Assisi and St John of God, were friars and did not received holy orders. Among the many women who received the stigmata, we remember: St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380); St Rita da Cascia (1381-1457); Bl. Lucia Brocadelli of Narni (1476-1544); St Catherine of Ricci (1522-1590); St Marie of the Incarnation (1556-1618); St Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727); Bl. A. C. Emmerich (1774-1824); St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903); Therese Neumann (1898-1962); Marthe Robin (1902-1981); St Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) and Natuzza Evolo (1924-2009).
As we have seen, victimhood seems to be a gendered gift. [clxxxix] Cf. Fr. Vogl, Carl. Mary Crushes the Serpent, Thirty Years of Experiences as an Exorcist, Told in His Own Words. Rev. Theodore Geiger, ed. Translated by Rev. Celestine Kapsner, O.S.B. Fr. Vogl, German O.P. and exorcist for thirty-five years (from 1874, to his death in 1909) made an account of the exorcisms he performed, recording what the demons were forced to say in the holy Names of Jesus and Mary, as well as his own reflections as a priest and man of faith. He writes that Jesus and Mary have selected “a little army of victim souls” who are ready to suffer demonic agency in life, in order to atone for their sins and free other souls from the tyranny of Satan. As Jesus is the King of victim souls, Mary is their Queen, leading them in the battle against evil: “The Blessed Virgin has selected a little army of noble souls who are prepared to suffer everything and to offer themselves freely to God as a holocaust in atonement for souls. She has selected them to fight directly against the demons. They will break the might of Lucifer’s legions upon earth and will deprive him of at least a part of the victims he already counts as his own. These selected souls will bear up courageously under the attacks of the demons. They will suffer possession in order to free the souls of fellowmen from the yoke of the evil one. They take the place of the guilty to free them from the power of the demon who has darkened their understanding and who is trying to harden their misguided will. It is a worldwide battle between the ferocity of the demon and the victim souls’ love for the Cross. The victim souls endure bodily sufferings as well as attacks directed against the sensitive powers of the soul. They will, however, conquer with their spiritual aids. Their lower nature will, so to say, be crushed by demoniacal tortures, but the higher spiritual nature will triumph over the infernal spirits through their generous submission to suffering. Their spiritual powers will increase in proportion to the amount of suffering they endure, for in every loving suffering they will receive an increase of love.” These warlike metaphors should not surprise us: because Mary is the bravest and strongest of creatures, She is often likened to a powerful army deployed for battle. Mary is the Mater Dolorosa who shared the Dolours Passion of Her divine Son, carrying half of His infinite sufferings in Her Heart. In this way, in and through suffering, Mary generated the Universal Church with Jesus, as prophesied by Simeon in the Temple: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the secret thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35) [cxc] Ibid, November 30, 1976. [cxci] Ibid, November 30, 1976. [cxcii] Ibid, November 30, 1976. [cxciii] Grillo, p. 321. [cxciv] Ibid, November 29, 1978. [cxcv] Dante’s Paradise XXIV, vv. 83-87, the poet succeeds his examination on Faith by St Peter, and he compares his faith to a genuine coin: “’Assai bene é trascorsa/ d’esta moneta già la lega e ‘l peso; ma dimmi se tu l’hai ne la tua borsa.’ Ond’io: ‘Sì ho, sì lucida e sì tonda,/ che nel suo conio nulla mi s’inforsa.’” [cxcvi] Lindquist, Galina. Shamanic Performances on the Urban Scene. Neo-
Shamanism in Contemporary Sweden. Stockholm University, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm, 1997. Dissertation published in Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology 39. [cxcvii] On the continuity of traditional Shamanism and contemporary Shamanism, aka Neo-Shamanism, see inter alia: M. Harner (1973); M. T. Taussing (1991); J.M. Atkinson (1992); M. Hoppál (2002); W. N. Basilow (2004); K. E. Müller (2006); B. Tedlock (2007); A.A. Znamenski (2004, 2007); E. Kasten (2009); on Neo-Shamanism specifically in Germany: G. Meyer (2003). The main characteristic of Shamanism in primitive societies, which is maintained in NeoShamanism today, is the conjuring of spirits – spirits of the deceased, as well as demonic forces – which are invited to take possession of the practitioners in order to heal them or increase their power and control over other individuals. To this end, they engage in the ritual cursing of their designated targets and victims. The diffusion of Neo-Shamanism in Western industrialized societies since the 1960s was favored by the romanticized accounts of Mircea Eliade (e.g. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, 1968) and by the pseudoacademic work of Carlos Castaneda and Michael Harners. While Castaneda’s conversations with Don Juan did incur in the ire of at least part of the more sober academic establishment, Harner managed to maintain a veneer of respectability: his so-called Harner-method for “Power and Healing” was therefore institutionalized through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies in 1979, which became the fulcrum of the Neo-Shamanic movement, with great areas of convergence with the rising New Age practice. [cxcviii] On magic as a mass product of industrialized society, see esp. ‘Marketing Magic,’ Ibid, pp. 23-52; for the use of spells on the workplace, see ‘The Unspeakable Emotions: Spells and Their Use in Working Life,’ Ibid, pp. 170-198. [cxcix] Ibid, p. 24. [cc] Lindquist points out that “this figure seems… rather arbitrary, since there are plenty of practitioners who never register nor advertise; there are also people who practice magic and healing in their free time, treating friends and relatives, and combining these activities with other professions that may have nothing to do with either medicine or magic,” p.23. [cci] Ibid, p. 170. [ccii] Ibid, p. 171. [cciii] Cf. “The spells are composed in the archaic language of the disadvantaged and the disempowered of previous centuries… The archaicity and the low-class provenance of the language of spells account for much of their expressive power. Without embarrassment, they mix the appeals to God, God’s Mother and the Archangels, with sexual and scatological obscenities; and the language of prayer with that of secular supplication and mundane curse. The archaicity of the language, the use of colloquial and even foul words next to those from devout or pious discourse, mark the poetics of spells, and account for their expressive effectiveness,” p. 174. [cciv] Ibid, p. 197. [ccv] Ibid, pp. 171-172. [ccvi] Ibid, p. 173. [ccvii] Ibid, pp. 171-172.
[ccviii] Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971, p. 668. [ccix] Ibid, p. 667. [ccx] Ibid, p. ix. [ccxi] The news of Hillary Clinton’s séance had, of course, international resonance. Among the many sources relating on the incident, see The Choice (1996), in which Washington Post reporter Robert Woodward describes how the First Lady, aided by medium and psychic Jean Huston, sank into a trance and ‘channeled’ the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. [ccxii] Cf. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Keynote Address at the Dedication of Eleanor Roosevelt College. San Diego, CA, January 26, 1995. It was reported that Huston also advised Clinton to ‘establish contact’ with Jesus Christ – but Clinton declined, saying that it would be “too personal.” (Cf. ‘Methodist Bishop Defends Mrs. Clinton’s Talks with Deceased Leaders,’ Expression, August 1996, p. 8) According to Methodist Bishop Richard White, Mrs. Clinton’s dabbling with necromancy was perfectly legitimate: “I think it’s marvelous that she’s having experiences like this.” Bishop White praised Clinton as “one of the most profound lay theologians in the United Methodist Church,” p. 6. [ccxiii] Cf. Internet source available at: www.jeanhoustonfoundation.org [ccxiv] A “Partial List” of Jean Huston’s publications is available on her .org website. Here we can remember: Jump Time: Shaping Your Future in a World of Radical Change, 2004; Mystical Dogs: Animals as Guides to Our Inner Life, 2002; The Possible Human: A course in Extending Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities, 1997; Manual for the Peacemaker: An Iroquois Legend to Heal Self, 1995; Public Like a Frog: Entering the Lives of three Great Americans, 1993; Life Force: The Psycho-Historical Recovery of the Self, 1993; The Hero and the Goddess: The ‘Odyssey’ as Mystery and Initiation, 1992; A Feminine Myth of Creation, 1988; Listening to the Body: The Psychophysical Way to Health and Awareness, 1979; Mind Games, 1972; and of course: The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience, 1966-2000. [ccxv] To form an idea of Huston’s well-established Mystery School, see her online presentation with Deepak Chopra at www.youtube.com/watch? v=xUwE5Yt0D4I. The following transcript of her speech has been amended of the main grammatical and syntactical idiosyncrasies: “There have been Mystery Schools in all times and places, because a Mystery School is essentially a place where you learn the things that you don’t learn in your habitual culture or in regular schools. It’s a place where you discover WHO you are… WHY you are… WHAT you can be… HOW you can amplify your physical and mental capacities, so that you can live in a larger way of being.
It’s the place where you put your local self in service of the higher self. And where you discover… really… in a communion and a companionship with others who are… on the larger path… how you yourself can be living the much larger life and have the capacities to do this. The Mystery School now is in its 27th year [in 2010]. I teach the things that I love the best: Anthropology, Mythology, History, the New Science, and Neurological and Psychological Development. So people learn essentially to cook on more burners, to become the people that they really need to be, and to answer the call of being a steward in this the most critical time in human history. […] I also run a school in ‘Social Artistry’: Human Development in the light of Social Change. I have discovered in my work with leaders all over the world that frankly too many leaders have been trained to be white males of the year 1926. They simply have not been trained for present complexities. So I try to bring leaders at all levels up to a place in the development of their own capacities, so they bring new mind [sic] and new perspective to bear upon social change and thus can evolve into far, far more creative people in the evoking [sic] of social change and make a better world.” [ccxvi] Cf. Fr. Amorth, Esorcisti e Psichiatri (1996). According to the results of a research conducted by Prof. Cecilia Gatto Trocchi, the number of Italian citizens who regularly pay for the services of sorcerers, mediums and astrologers is twelve millions, out of a population of sixty millions. Amorth also comments on the data presented by Armando Pavese’s Come difendersi dai Maghi (1994), according to whom the number of sorcerers who publicize their activity through the Yellow Pages in Italy is no less than 1300. One of the most famous, due to his frequent television skits, was Marco Belelli, aka ‘Il Divino Otelma.’ In 1987, he rented the cruiser Enrico Costa to host the first advertised ‘magic cruise’ connected to occult practices. Among the amenities, there were classes in astrology and divination, palm reading, tarots and hypnosis. Belelli was sentenced for fraud after stealing 20 million Lire from a young man affected by depression. Another notorious name in the Italian magic business is Bruno Bassi, aka ‘Il Mago Bassin.’ He sells magic courses by mail, and his catalogue includes items such as: dragon blood; black incense; love potions; waxen dolls for hate and love hexes, Satanic five-pointed stars to command demons, etc. Last but not least, mention must be made of ‘MAGICA,’ the first industrial fair of astrology, esoterism and occultism organized in Italy (Turin, 1993). The 71 marketing stands produced revenue in the millions. [ccxvii] Self-appointed Love Guru Deepak Chopra has ‘written’ more than 57 books, selling over 20 million copies worldwide. This seems extraordinarily good revenue, indeed, for a prophet of true and disinterested Love. In fact, ‘Chopra’ is a label under which a number of shadow writers regularly produce pop-trash titles to be sold as mass products to an incredibly credulous reading public. Let us consider some of the more picturesque titles, as they are sponsored on Chopra’s commissioned Wikipedia page – the irrelevant vanity presses are omitted for brevity: [...] [ccxviii] Cf. Huston’s recently republished The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience: The classic Guide to the Effects of LSD on the Human Psyche. Park Street Press, 1966-2000. [ccxix] Huston, Jean, Ph.D. Mystical Dogs: Animals as Guides to Our Inner Life. Hardcover edition: Inner Ocean Publishing, 2002; Paperback edition: New World Library, 2004.
[ccxx] Cf. White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan’s For the Record (1998). [ccxxi] Cf. ‘Nancy Reagan’s Astrologer,’ TIME (Monday, May 16, 1988). [ccxxii] Versluis, Arthur. The New Inquisitions. Heretic-Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 95-96. [ccxxiii] Crowley, Aleister. Thelemic Magick, Vol. Two. Washington, DC: Publisher unknown, 1991, p. 139.
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Doctorate canditate Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Comparative Literature Yale University
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