Thursday, November 1, 2007

Shakespeare and Catholicism

The annual Catholic Culture Literature Series originated in the Center’s desire to expose the Notre Dame community to the richness of the Catholic literary heritage. Through this series of lectures, we seek to promote writers known for the quality of their works and the uniquely Catholic dimension of their literary perspectives. In past semesters, we have focused on such major figures as Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Walker Percy, and J.R.R. Tolkien. The mission of this year’s Catholic Culture Series was to try to decipher the enigma and controversy surrounding Shakespeare’s Catholicism. We invited four renowned Shakespeare scholars to shed some light on the subject:

1. Joseph Pearce, Writer in Residence and associate professor of literature at Ave Maria University and internationally acclaimed author of numerous books, whetted the audience’s appetite with a lecture entitled, “Will the Real Shakespeare Please Stand Up? Evidence for the Bard’s Catholicism”;

2. Peter Holland, then-Acting Dean of the Graduate School, McMeel Family Professor in Shakespeare Studies and Chair of the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, focused on Shakespeare’s hidden symbols in a talk entitled, “Cracking the Shakespeare Code”;

3. John Finnis, the Biolchini Family Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School and lecturer, reader and a chaired professor in law at Oxford University, gave an in-depth analysis of several of the Bard’s works in a talk called “The Audacity of Shakespeare’s Non-Recusant Catholicism”;

4. Clare Asquith, independent scholar & author of Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, focused on the necessity of relating Shakespeare studies back to 16th century history in a lecture entitled “Shakespeare’s Dark Matter.” William Shakespeare is clearly one of—if not the—most recognized and revered figures in literary history; yet it is precisely because of this that we often study his plays and sonnets in certain established ways, leaving little room for originality to emerge. Through a thorough and multi-faceted discussion of different fascinating aspects of Shakespeare, these lecturers provided the audience with a fresh perspective through which to view his work. If we continue to read Shakespeare within the context of a broader scope, we will, as Clare Asquith said, “in 20 years have a much richer Shakespeare.”

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