Books & Papers: Shadow Play

I’m reading Clare Asquith’s Shadow Play – a book about the beliefs and politics that may be expressed in Shakespeare’s plays. It’s fascinating, especially since a recent commission of my husband’s has brought our minds back to the Elizabethan persecution of Catholics.

The icon commissioned was St. Nicholas Owen, a man I’d never heard of until this autumn. He built priest-holes in 16th century England where devout Catholic could hide their spiritual fathers while state officials searched and plundered. If the priests were diacovered, they and those who sheltered them would be tortured and killed in ways that bring to mind Macbethean madness more than modern efficiency.

Nicholas Owen not only devised ingenious ways to hide these holy men, he also masterminded the successful escape of two Jesuit priests from the tower of London. He was eventually captured, brutally tortured, and died under the hands of England’s most notorious executioner.

After meeting St. Nicholas Owen, Shadow Play caught my attention from it’s dusty perch on the bookshelf. I’d borrowed it a year ago from a friend and almost started it once or twice.

The book has me pulling out our Shakespeare compilation again and again to cross refereance; has given reference for appreciating the duller poems and darker plays; and has, more than anything else, given me a deep love for the saints of that period of history – uncomfortably near and yet too often entirely unappreciated.

It’s so sad to know these men and women had their martyrdoms erased in much of the history we read today; but it’s fascinating to think that maybe the greatest literary figure of their age memorialized in suble, subverise ways. I’m only midway through the book, but Ms. Asquith’s agruments are good and her intimacy with the text is impressive. She’s more than half convinced me already.

What are you reading today?

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