The Authorship Question
The Catholic Question
Cast of Characters
The Author's Mind
Edmund Campion
Edmund Campion as Shakespeare
The Works
Coincidence or Clue
The Devil's Advocate
Notes and References
Contact Me
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When pondering the nature of Shakespeare’s genius and how it is that his work has continued to appeal over the centuries to so many different individuals and societies, Jonathan Bate concludes that the answer lies in Shakespeare’s rhetorical mastery.


In the long term, it was Shakespeare’s mastery of the art of

making so many different voices persuasive that led to his

renewability. Good rhetoric means having an effect on your

audience; what I have called the Shakespeare Effect has been

so strong, so varied, and so persuasive because Shakespeare

was such a good rhetorician. [24]


Are we to believe that this greatest of all rhetoricians in the English language received adequate training in his youth at a grammar school to display such refined knowledge of the art later in adulthood? Or is it much more plausible that this master rhetorician studied further for many years at university before becoming himself a Professor of Rhetoric. In this manner his skill was honed over decades of learning, teaching and continual practice of rhetorical skills and methods.

In The Origins of Shakespeare Emrys Jones deplores the fact that “Shakespeare is still under- intellectualized, his mental powers still underestimated.” [25] . Jones explains how Shakespeare, more than any other writer of the time, profited from academic training in Rhetoric and based his dramatic method on the writing of controversiae i.e. the devising of situations which could be broken down into a structure of division and opposition. ..where the pupil must defend all positions in an argument. This method was “peculiarly congenial to Shakespeare’s mind...and his whole-hearted submission to this principle of rhetorical dialectic- his willingness to lend a voice of the utmost eloquence to every point of view is his dramatic secret.” [26]

As has been noted many times, Campion was a master of the art of Rhetoric, and a gifted and acclaimed orator, talents developed at Oxford and then in his position as Professor of Rhetoric at Prague. He spent approximately four hours a day with his students wherein

“his method was rigidly prescribed to him: the object of his lessons was to teach the use of language, and to cultivate the faculty of expression in prose and verse; the art of speaking, the style of writing, and the store of rhetorical materials and commonplaces were to be his care. In speaking and style, Cicero was to be almost the only model; for matter his storehouses were to be history, the manners and customs of various nations, the Scriptures, and a moderate stock of illustrations from arts and sciences....On holidays, the exercise were more exciting: they were either historical lectures, disputes on questions of scholarship, or brief dramatic scenes. Every Saturday there was a repetition of the week’s lectures. The chief aim was to give facility of speech and eloquence of style. All great days were celebrated with epigrams. inscriptions, or copies of verse; every month an oration was pronounced, and a play acted, in the chapel and hall; and the life and soul of the whole method was the Professor of Rhetoric..” [27]

 Marion Trousdale is another critic who acknowledges the fact that Shakespeare’s plays are technically rhetorical exercises; such exercises that comprised the daily work and toil of Campion’s years at the university in Prague.

In addition to his reliance on rhetorical training, another distinguishing trademark of Shakespeare’s art is his olde worlde style. Unlike other Elizabethan authors, Shakespeare seems to belong to an earlier tradition. As Jones observes “by the side of such contemporaries as Chapman and Jonson, Shakespeare seems distinctly old fashioned, a conservative Elizabethan temperament. His outlook belongs to an older world, which in turn reflects an earlier phase of Tudor humanism.” [28] . Jones also comments on the importance of the Catholic dramatic tradition in Shakespeare’s work noting that “he was the only dramatist of his time to put to deeply significant use the originally Catholic mystery plays of his youth, just as later he was to revive such outmoded forms as the romantic saint’s play.” [29] The use of relatively old fashioned and outmoded forms and Catholic traditions by Shakespeare makes more sense if he were a Catholic author writing his works during the 1560s and 1570s as Campion would have done.

Although from a historical perspective the emergence of Shakespeare’s genius seems sudden and incredible in its prolificacy, Jones qualifies that “he is in an entirely good sense a derivative writer, never effecting singularity but going after the classical view of his subject, the inherited ‘right’ way of treating it. Hence his invisibility; he is lost in his works.” [30]. Even though his talent seems extraordinary Shakespeare retains a place within the tradition of English writing, rather than standing isolated and alone.

Some of his subjects seem to surface as if by a kind of inevitability

from earlier in the century. In his early histories and tragedies, for

instance, he had a strong predilection for what had often been treated

before- not necessarily on the stage, but at least in some literary form,

whether in non dramatic poetry, in history or prose fiction, or as part

of the study of rhetoric as it was taught in the schools. [31]


Regarding the desirable subject matter and content of a young man’s learning, Campion’s views on this subject were revealed in a discourse De Homine Academico on which he based his oration to the students and teachers of the English University at Douai . In addition to learning Latin and Greek, the ideal student should, according to Campion, display “a mastery over his native tongue, in which he had to write verses and epigrams. His other accomplishments would be painting, playing the lute, singing at sight, writing music with facility and correctness, quickness in summing, readiness in answer, and practice in writing.” For older students, Campion stressed the importance of mastering the works of Cicero; the histories of his own country, the Roman then the Greek and those of other countries; the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato; and the books and speeches of Virgil, Ovid, Horace and Seneca. The ideal student would also be a competent mathematician, logician and dialectician; a perfect poet and orator; an accomplished historian, astronomer and “in his last year.. a good Hebrew scholar.” [32]

Did Campion perhaps base this description on his own education? The list of accomplishments certainly brings to mind Campion’s outstanding personal achievements in all those areas which critics over the years have postulated as the acquired knowledge and skills of Shakespeare himself.

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