“Against the Errors and Corruptions of Rome”: Shakespeare and the Victorian Anti-Catholics – Doctoral Inaugural Lecture, 13th March 2013

Next week the Graduate School and College of Arts, Humanities, and Law at the University of Leicester will host their annual Doctoral Inaugural Lectures. This year the two lecturers will be graduates from the School of English, Dr. Anjna Chouhan and Dr. Hannah Miodrag, who both completed their PhDs in 2012. Full details about the lectures can be found here.Image

Dr. Chouhan, whose research was undertaken at the Victorian Studies Centre, wrote her thesis on Shakespeare and religion on the Victorian stage, and she now works as a lecturer at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. Her lecture will deal with how Shakespeare and his works featured in Victorian Anti-Catholic discourse:

“Against the Errors and Corruptions of Rome”: Shakespeare and the Victorian Anti-Catholics

The relationship between the Church in England and ‘Victorian Shakespeare’ has been outlined by Richard Foulkes and, more recently, Charles LaPorte in his parallel study of biblical and Shakespearean criticism. My doctoral research extends Foulkes’ work on the official Church sanction of Shakespeare in the period, and asks how it was that religious attitudes, specifically anti-Catholicism, influenced critical readings and performances of Shakespeare’s plays. In my thesis, events such as the Oxford Movement, the so-called papal aggression and Public Worship Regulations Act are examined alongside scholarship on and performances of Shakespeare’s drama in order to trace the relationship between contemporary religious concerns and Shakespeare reception.

Victorian actor-manager Henry Irving as Cardinal Wolsey, by Arthur Reynolds (1892)© By kind permission of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Victorian actor-manager Henry Irving as Cardinal Wolsey, by Arthur Reynolds (1892)
© By kind permission of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

This lecture explores how superficial attitudes towards the national poet collided with actual interpretations of his work, and argues that Shakespeare’s plays were often interpreted within an anti-Catholic climate, where nunneries and confessionals were feared; idolatry was considered dangerous, and where Roman Catholic rituals and gestures were outlawed in the Church of England.

By re-assessing Victorian Shakespeare discourse as part of a tradition where the languages of Christianity and, specifically, anti-Catholicism were endemic, my thesis proposes that religion was a critical framework within which Shakespeare’s drama was interpreted; it was also a subject actively introduced to and explored in the visual and spoken world of the stage. Therefore this work is part of the expanding historicist study of Victorian Shakespeare reception, because it rationalises the celebratory interpretations of the plays from the period and, crucially, proposes that religious discourse facilitated a revolution in Shakespeare criticism.

The lectures will take place on Wednesday 13th March at 5:30pm in the Bennett Building at the University of Leicester (see here for directions). Free tickets can be booked in advance via the University website.

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