Translated by Vittorio Montemaggi and Rachel Jacoff
University of Notre Dame Press, $27, 168 pp.
In recent years some Catholic scholars have revived the claim that Shakespeare was a crypto-Catholic—and was so at a time when being Catholic in Anglican England was against the law. In its milder form, this claim offers little more than an opportunity for Catholics to take pride in the great bard as one of our own. In its more extreme form, though, it is used to argue that Shakespeare’s plays are full of coded messages to his fellow recusants. Such arguments reinforce the unfortunate impression that Shakespeare’s plays are accessible only to a select few.
I am happy to report that Piero Boitani’s The Gospel According to Shakespeare takes no part in this trend. It addresses not the question of whether Shakespeare was Catholic, but a more basic one: Was he in any important sense a Christian poet? Boitani’s viewpoint as a Catholic European gives him insight into Shakespeare’s Christian art that a British or American critic might not possess—not because of any secret Catholic code at work in the plays, but because the English Puritanism that came after Shakespeare and was transplanted to the colonies so suppressed significant elements of Christian sensibility that Anglo-American readers may not recognize them when they encounter them in his plays.