From Mr Russell Sparkes SIR – Your report (January 8) about Shakespeare possibly visiting Rome is intriguing although uncertain.
But the evidence is overwhelming that he not only grew up in a devoutly Catholic family but remained so all his life. This has been demonstrated in a number of books by the distinguished Shakesperian scholar Peter Milward SJ, most recently in Shakespeare the Papist.
Shakespeare was writing at a time when it was extremely dangerous to proclaim Catholic sympathies publicly. Clare Asquith lived for a number of years in the Communist Bloc where it was equally dangerous to criticise the regime, and she used insights gained from this experience in her book Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, which came to similar conclusions to Milward.
Bearing in mind this background, Shakespeare’s Catholic beliefs are obviously, though subtly, scattered through his works, as I noted in my poetry anthology Sound of Heaven. Take, for example, Shakespeare’s positive depiction of the friars in Romeo and Juliet or in Measure for Measure at a time when friars were generally portrayed as sexually licentious rogues. The doctrine of Purgatory and prayers for the dead were traditional Catholic practices most fiercely attacked by the Protestant Reformers, and yet the Ghost in Hamlet proclaims a staunchly Catholic view. The Ghost’s tortured account of his death ends: “unhousled, unannealed” (no Last Rites, no Blessed Sacrament) “O horror! O horror! O horror!” It is striking how the politically correct media and academe ignores this fact; were evidence uncovered showing Shakespeare was gay or of “ethnic” extraction, one suspects that it would be front-page news.
Yours faithfully, RUSSELL SPARKES London SW14