What is Catholic or Jewish Revenge Literature?

A book called "Shadow Play: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare" (2005) by Clare Asquith presents the theory that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic and his various plays are at heart Catholic resistance literature. Chapter 6 is devoted to Catholic "Rage" as supposedly expressed in the play Titus Andronicus. Asquith proposes that the character Titus represents the Old Catholic Church (as opposed to the new Counter-Reformation Catholic Church) and that his daughter Lavinia represents the persecuted branch of the Catholic Church in Tudor England.

It is definitely worthwhile looking for Catholic sympathies in Shakespeare. Asquith, a Catholic herself, points out that even Elizabeth clung to certain Catholic fetishes that were strictly outlawed for her subjects. Certainly members of the Tudor court had been practicing Catholics and were well prepared to become upstanding Roman Catholics once more if that should for any reason become expedient. Some may have felt that a return to Catholicism was also in the best interest of the country and themselves.

We might expect an Elizabethan propagandist such as "Shakespeare" to allow the venting (apparent or real) of at least a modicum of Catholic protest, or even to lead Catholics to believe that their "salvation" was coming and to patiently (but very quietly) wait for it. I'm not seeing that yet in Titus Andronicus or other plays, but would not be surprised if it were there to some degree.

Scripture itself is an expose on the sins of royalty yet upholds the need for authority and obedience to authority. The Shakespeare plays are written very much in this same spirit. Roman Catholic rule is ridiculed as corrupt and murderous, however with respect to Elizabeth, only very light parody can be made. She is portrayed as being persecuted by Catholics, and not vice versa. It is her authority that is needed and must be obeyed. She, as Lavinia, is made to be a bloody sacrifice in the context of a Catholic Communion Banquet, a rite that is mocked in Titus Andronicus - not something one would expect an orthodox Catholic writer/proponent to do.

The main purposes of the Shakespeare plays were to glorify Elizabeth as "Gloriana", to frustrate her enemies, to charm the people, and to better secure her English throne and succession. This is more than obvious from a straightforward reading of the typology of Titus Andronicus and the Shakespeare plays in general. Certainly other interpretations are possible, even if they were not intended. Hoping against hope, Catholics could have somehow found comfort and encouragement from Titus Andronicus. I think it more likely that discerning Catholics were disgusted by what Catholic imagery and symbolism there is in that work and how it is abused.

The same logic would apply to Atwill and Hudson's theory that Shakespeare was a closet Jew and that the Shakespeare plays are Jewish revenge literature. One has to ignore the most direct interpretation of the plays as Elizabethan propaganda, albeit highly engaging propaganda. One has to ignore that the Elizabethan court had the motive, means, and opportunity to write sophisticated literature of this nature. The obvious and basic objectives of the plays are however lost upon scholars that do not understand royal culture of that time and do not know how to interpret classical works that were the by-products of royal courts in former times.

Shakespeare was a "brand" of literature produced by and for the purposes of the royal court. It was not a product of a rural prodigy but the prodigious output of an imperial literary factory modeled after the concept of Medici Florence that the royal court should be a "little university" unto itself. Shakespeare was the Elizabethan court's "cottage industry". Was it possible for subterfuge (or differences of opinion) to exist within the court and in the writings generated by that court? Of course, but again it would reflect the nature of royal culture rather than a complex masterminding of an ambitious commoner working alone.

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