Notes on Parallels between the Plays and Catholic Tenets and Ritual
There are numerous passages in Shakespeare’s plays that show he had a deep understanding of Catholic dogma and practice . The overall theme of Hamlet could be viewed as the religious conflict between adherence to the old faith and adoption of the new and how this choice must affect the individual conscience. The following verse spoken by the ghost of Hamlet’s father echoes lines from the English translation of the Borromeo Testament Item I, which talks about the possibility of being “cut off in the blossom of my sins”.
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhous’led, disappointed, unanel’d
No reck'ning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head.
O, horrible, O, horrible, most horrible!
In the oft cited lines, again spoken by the ghost, we have an image that clearly represents the dogma of purgatory:
I am thy father’s spirit;
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes, done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg’d away.
Peter Milward and Christopher Devlin both acknowledge that there are a number of parallels in theme and language between the devotional work The Christian Directory, attributed to Campion’s fellow English missionary Robert Persons, and a number of the plays, especially Hamlet. . It is likely that Campion would have been very familiar with the subject matter in the Directory and may well have helped Persons compile it.
Notes on the Characters
Michael Cumming observes that Shakespeare “often cast Catholic characters in a favourable light in conflicts involving moral principles, unjust traditions and practices, and theological and philosophical issues”. . He gives the example of Aemilia, the abbess in The Comedy of Errors , Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, Friar Francis in Much Ado about Nothing and Thomas More in Sir Thomas More. Cummings does, however, acknowledge that Shakespeare also casts some Catholic characters in an unfavourable light. The playwright appears not to wish to judge individuals on their faith. This can best be seen in his sympathetic portrait of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice.
Shylock is one of a number of outcasts or isolated individuals who take centre stage in Shakespeare’s plays. Many of the titles of his plays refer to, or are indeed the very names of, these exiles: The Merchant of Venice; Timon of Athens; King Lear; Hamlet and Sir Thomas More. The question is posed in Cumming’s discussion whether Shakespeare uses his outcasts as Catholic surrogates. If Campion was the playwright, it is certainly understandable that he would have had great sympathy for his religious pariahs.