August 2nd, 2013Fighting the Shakespeare Warsby Joseph Pearce
Last night I was fighting the Shakespeare Wars at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. I had been invited by the priest who runs the university's centre for faith and culture to address the controversy surrounding the Catholic Shakespeare as part of DeSales' annual Shakespeare Festival. Instead of giving a speech followed by a period of questions, I was asked to make only a few brief introductory comments so that the bulk of the event could be devoted to a period in which I would field questions from the audience. A lively session followed in which I addressed questions connected to Shakespeare's life and to many of his plays.
Immediately after the event I took my seat at the university's theatre to see a performance of Measure for Measure. It was well directed and extremely well acted, though the production succumbed, all too predictably, to the modern tendency to vulgarize and accentuate the bawdy elements to the detriment of the main moral thrust of the drama. Nonetheless, the palpitating presence of Isabella's holiness exorcised the demons and shone forth Shakespeare's patently Catholic purpose. Her role and presence in the play serves as a timely and timeless mataphor for the power and purpose of the presence of the saints in the vale of tears. Indeed her presence tears the veil so that the light of heaven can penetrate the darkness. Although the non-believers in the audience did not know it, they were being evangelized with the light and love of the Gospel.
On a darker, uglier note, I was saddened to see that the theatre's bookstore offered only two books on Shakespeare, both of which are examples of woefully poor scholarship. The first was Bertram Fields' pathetically shallow attempt to show that Shakespeare was not really Shakespeare but that he was really the Earl of Oxford in disguise. The other was Germaine Greer's equally pathetic and perverse effort to show that Shakespeare was a male chauvenist pig. The bookstore also offered a pink t-shirt for sale with a picture of the Bard wearing heavy make-up and transformed into a transvestite. Thus the false Shakespeare, the feminist Shakespeare and the queer Shakespeare were all on gaudy display. Needless to say, the real Shakespeare was nowhere to be seen. Such crass injustice to our Catholic Bard merely encourages me to fight all the harder in the Shakespeare Wars.