Thomas More College Students Explore Shakespeare’s Catholicity

by Thomas More College on December 3, 2008

December 3, 2008
Contact: Charlie McKinney
Phone: (603) 880-8308, ext. 21
Mobile: (603) 913-5939

(Merrimack, New Hampshire)— Students from the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts explored the newest and most controversial interpretation of William Shakespeare’s writings when they attended a conference entitled “The Mystery of Shakespeare” at the Russell Kirk Center in Mecosta, Michigan last month.

Thomas More College students Gemma Cowhig, Paul Kniaz, and Nicholas Smith, and alumna Anna Maria Mendell learned about the literary interpretation of Clare Asquith, who argues that noted 16th century English playwright William Shakespeare was a Catholic sympathizer who encoded religious and political messages in his plays. In her new book Shadowplay, Asquith discusses how Shakespeare may have been a dissident Catholic during the reign of Elizabeth I in England who tried to suppress the Roman Catholic religion. She claims that his works contain codes used by underground Catholics in Elizabethan England during an age of censorship.

Asquith, considered to be the first to break this code, says that Shakespeare was not a mere entertainer who downplayed his Catholicism during the repressive reign of Elizabeth I, but instead used his plays as a forum for religious and intellectual expression.

The conference included a lecture by Asquith on Shakespearean sonnets wherein she analyzed the religious tension concealed within Shakespeare’s poetry.  Other lectures given during the event were from Dr. Benjamin Lockerd, Professor of English at Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI), who spoke on Shakespeare and the Intuition.  Stratford Caldecott, a J.R.R. Tolkien scholar and director of Thomas More College’s Center for Faith and Culture in Oxford, England, compared the writings of Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkien.

“The weekend was a retreat for the mind and body.  I came back intellectually rejuvenated, and now I make sure to put a short time aside every day where I can read poetry!” Mendell said.  “It was wonderful to be included among so many different people who were excited about Shakespeare.  I found Clare Asquith’s lecture very convincing.  She discussed the ramifications of the religious and political conflict at the time, as well as Shakespeare’s personal battle between his loyalty for England and his sympathy for Catholicism.  It was fascinating to follow the tension in the sonnets and view them from within the Catholic tradition.”

Smith came away from the weekend with a more enlightened perspective on the noted English playwright.

“At the very least, we see that Shakespeare had Catholic sensibilities. Some evidence would seem to say more – that he was a Catholic who tried to steer the true course amid the turbulence of his times,” Smith said. “Clare Asquith sees Shakespeare’s sonnets in a very new light, explicating a hidden commentary on the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, the attractions of Catholicism and Anglicanism, the tumultuous culture of the day, and general precariousness of living in such a time.”

The Conference was co-sponsored by the Russell Kirk Center and the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.


If you would like additional information, or would like to schedule an interview with the students or President Jeff Nelson, please contact Charlie McKinney at (603) 880-8308, ext. 21 or (603) 913-5939, or by email at

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