Shakespeare, the Earl, and the Jesuit
John Klause

About the Author:
John Klause is Professor of English at Hofstra University. He received his PhD in English Literature from Stanford University and taught for ten years at Harvard. He has published a book on Andrew Marvell and edited the play Andronicus Comnenus for the series Renaissance Latin Drama in England. Among his many articles on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century subjects are studies of Shakespeare, Robert Southwell, Donne, George Herbert, Marvell, and Montaigne. Shakespeare, the Earl, and the Jesuit is part of a larger project in which Dr. Klause has placed, and will continue to place, Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the context of Elizabethan and Jacobean religious politics.

The name of Jesuit Robert Southwell has now and then been linked with Shakespeare’s, but vaguely and tentatively. The name of Henry Wriothesly, third earl of Southampton has perennially been linked with Shakespeare’s, sometimes not vaguely and tentatively enough. This book offers distinct and credible reasons for believing in a relationship among the three men, who were “kinsmen” as their contemporaries understood the term. Klause uncovers signs of a secret but continued “conversation” among them about the religious politics of their time, reading the evidence for it, with plausible speculation, out of the literary and biographical remains of the conversant, and founding his argument securely on the discovery that Shakespeare’s writing is influenced in a major way by Southwell’s. The Jesuit’s influence is pervasive, but most especially when the poet/playwright takes up in his own work issues of special concern to the earl in a crucial debate (1593-1604), after Southwell’s death, through the religious and political crises faced by the young nobleman during that time.

The book raises and answers questions that are sometimes fiercely contested in current debates about Shakespeare’s religious allegiances, charting a reasonable course between extreme denial (“An Olympian Shakespeare had no interest at all in the religious conflicts of his day”) and extreme affirmation (“A canny and elusive Shakespeare hid his strongly held and well defined sectarian beliefs from a persecuting establishment that would have crushed conspicuous dissent”). Instead of focusing, as some scholars have recently done, on what Shakespeare might have thought about religion as a young man in Catholic Lancashire, Klause finds him engaged by religious issues late into his career in London, a perilous but not wholly inhospitable place for those who were, like Southwell, certain of their faith, and those like Southampton and Shakespeare, who were not. Among different versions of Elizabethan and Jacobean Catholicism, it was, the author argues, Southwell’s that preoccupied Shakespeare, as the Jesuit’s works became available to him through the Catholic underground. That preoccupation was informed and complex, the author finds, sympathetic yet full of challenge and resistance—like the attitude of Shakespeare’s patron, Southampton. That Shakespeare had access to Southwell’s writing, perhaps through their kinsman Southampton, and that he recalled it in astonishing fullness over many years, relying on it as he fashioned his poems and plays, suggests that he was directly in touch with, concerned to keep, preserve, and offer for interpretation, contemporary sources of subversive political and religious ideology in his own land.

ISBN 978-0-8386-4137-8

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