As has become customary, Fr. Peter Milward has written an appraisal of the contents of the new issue of the St. Austin Review. Also, as has become customary, I am publishing his comments on the Ink Desk:
Comments on StAR 17.3, May-June 2017
“The World’s a Stage, The Drama of Faith”
By Peter Milward SJ
The Editorial is, as usual, brilliant, in looking through the world of Shakespeare, as he himself does, to the “primary world of Creation”. It is as if God has first written Shakespeare, and he has in turn communicated the Word to the world. Bravo! And what a wonderful epithet to describe the Merry Wives of Windsor as “rambunctious”. And then there is the nihilism of Macbeth described as “cankerous and cantankerous”. Further, I may add, if God has written Shakespeare, then Shakespeare in turn (as Chesterton says) has written us. This is the very theme of my monograph onShakespeare Today. (2012).
Strangely enough, I have nothing special to say about the main articles devoted to the plays of Shakespeare, but only when it comes to Robert Speaight I do have something to say. It was in the centenary year of Shakespeare’s birth, in 1964, that I invited him (as he had been invited to Japan by the British Council) to come and give my students at Sophia University a talk on Shakespeare, about whom he had recently published a book. However, his talk wasn’t so interesting. Only, when one of my students who was directing a production of Macbeth ventured to ask him for advice, he answered that instead of any advice he might give he would present the soliloquy of Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger that I see before me?” and thus he brought the house down. Subsequently, when I published my Shakespeare’s Religious Background in 1973, he kindly reviewed it for The Ampleforth Journal. At the same time we had a meeting at the Garrick Club, where I was also introduced to my publisher, Lord Longford.
In response to Benedict Kiely, I quite agree that in today’s media, especially in such book reviews as the TLS, The London Review of Books, The New York Review, and The New York Times Review of Books, there is a “soft persecution of orthodox Christianity”, which is so characteristic of the postmodern period. Although one isn’t supposed to say so, for fear of being derided as “anti-Semitic”, I attribute this tendency to the prevailing admission of Jews after World War II to the worlds of academia, of journalism, and of the movies, especially when they give up their religious beliefs. This is what I see in the books reviewed and in the reviewers, namely that in so many cases there is something Jewish in their names and/or their preferences. As for Rod Dreher’s much discussed book (which I haven’t yet read), I think there is much to be said for “The Benedict Option”, as also for the Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, as also for the way certain colleges and universities in America, which are mentioned here, and which I have personally visited, seem to draw committed Catholics to themselves. I might add the name of Christendom College.
As for Dwight Longenecker’s article on “The Inklings”, I knew both Lewis and Tolkien during my time at Oxford (Campion Hall, 1950-54). Lewis was a splendid lecturer, whose every word one could hear from the back of a large class, but he was undercut by what his friend Tolkien referred to as his “Ulsterior motive”. He could never shake himself free from the Protestantism he had imbibed during his formative years in Ulster, as I came to realize on reading his volume for Oxford on English Literature in the Sixteenth Century excluding Drama (1954). Of course, the task of dealing with the drama of that age had to be assigned separately to a specialist on the subject, but I knew that Lewis himself was singularly unfitted to deal with it, both because of his preference for poetry over drama and because he instinctively recognized the underlying Catholic presence in Shakespearian drama. But why the Catholic Tolkien had a “dislike of Shakespeare”, I can’t say. After all his “Shire” is implicitly set in Shakespeare’s Catholic enclave of the Forest of Arden. Only, he may well have been misled by the prevailing secularism of what I call “the Shakespeare establishment”, swayed by Professor Stanley Wells.
In Kevin O’Brien’s article on “Everything Rotten”, I felt like applauding his “pearceworthy” epithet “cringeworthy”, till he repeated it, and then it seemed to me that his repetition was too “repetitious”. He went on to mention his review of the play Shakeshafte by Rowan Williams, and when Colin further stated that the play “ridicules Shakespeare”, I thought that the reference was to Williams’ play – with which I would have concurred. From what I have read about it in The Tablet it was a really shameful play, and I even wrote to the author himself about it but got no response.
As for the review by Trevor Lipscombe concerning Particles of Faith, I thought how wonderful is the contrast between science that merely “explains the how of the cosmos”, and God “who is its why”. But then nowadays, as I have noted, any suspicion of “God-talk” is dismissed out of hand as superstition.
Again, as for Marie Dudzic’s review of Lucy Beckett’s The Time Before You Die, I quite agree with her, and I can’t help prizing the review over the book reviewed – as I have had frequent occasion to criticize the opinionated writings of the lady author. Only, there are two points I have to take up against the review, first that I have had occasion to review no fewer than two books in defence of Mary Tudor, in contrast to one book on the “dissing” of Elizabeth. Still, one has to say, “Poor Mary Tudor!” She was such a good lady. Secondly, the name of the good Cardinal wasn’t “Robert” but “Reginald Pole”, though in a historical novel the change might be permitted. That is all.