Character: Author And Work Essay

1299 words - 6 pages

The subject of religion in Shakespeare's plays, as well as the question of his own religion, has been one of the most studied and debated aspects in the analysis of his work. Shakespeare and Religious Change is a collection of essays on the former topic, edited by Kenneth J.E. Graham and Philip D. Collington. The writers each look at different plays, performances, or performance spaces and the interplay with religious ideas each must have had. The essays are categorized into four parts: Shakespeare and Social History: Religion and the Secular, Dramatic Continuities and Religious Change, Religious Identities, and Shakespeare and the Changing Theater: Religion or the Secular. Each essay even within these headings is independent from the others, arguing its own thesis from analysis of completely different subject material. Each must be criticized separately due to this, and the overall quality does vary widely.
The first essay is “Sanctifying the Bourgeois: The Cultural Work of The Comedy of Errors,” by Richard Strier. He argues that the actions within the play show a cultural shift from “Catholic” ideas of the sanctity of particular places to a supposed Protestant view of “inner-worldly holiness.” The last scene particularly shows this according to him, in that the abbey is sanctified by restoration of spouses that occurs within it. He says that “spousal rights trumped Catholic ones” (Strier, 33), a statement that makes little sense if the full view of Catholic ideas on marriage and sanctity is taken. Spousal rights are not opposed to Catholic ones. His basic claim is that the play shows a shift in the view of the sanctity in everyday, bourgeois, life. The play may show this sanctity, but perhaps a better understanding of the actual teachings he claims Shakespeare is disregarding would have been enlightening, or at least a further exposition of this knowledge if he has it. The next essay in this section deals with rectifying a historical error, and showing the other, true side: The change in early modern government was not from Christian to secular, in fact it was the exact opposite. With the removal or downplay of a strictly religious authority Christian rulers had to act on different motives. They moved from what the author, Debora Shuger, calls the win-lose binary or zero-sum game of honor, to Christian forgiveness. Richard II illustrates throughout the struggle between the two. This argument is interesting, and very well founded in the play and history.
The next section deals with dramatic traditions through the change from Catholic to Protestant England. The first essay, by Alexandra F. Johnston, looks at the career of William Cecil, particularly his and other Privy Counselors’ sponsorship of plays. The continuity in question here is propaganda: Do these plays reflect the political/religious content of Catholic and especially Cromwellian drama? There is a shift from small, local, sponsors to these national figures of Cecil and others, but...

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