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HHH and Catholic Will

I found this expose of Sh’s life on a link to Judge Stephen’s in the Wall Street Journal. The triple H is the German professor Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel. She’s one of us BUT she is a believer in Catholic Shakespeare.

At least her scenario gives poor Will of Stratford a chance to actually live and breathe. And gain an education. Ever since I first read of Jesuit drama I thought it may have an influence on WIll’s (as well as others and members of a theatre going public) development.

But then Catholic Shakespeare is ruled a heresy in Orthodoxy. All the pieces are put together by Triple H from education to death mask. There is no mystery. So agree or not agree? Judge for yourself:

William Shakespeare: The Features, Education and Diseases of a Genius

The genius of William Shakespeare, the creator of immortal works for the stage who is celebrated today as an icon of world literature, was already fully recognised in his own day.

One drama in particular, Hamlet, after 400 years still among the most fascinating, most read, most frequently staged, most discussed and surely most intensively studied plays of all time, had a profound emotional effect on its contemporary audience, in part because of its dangerous political content.

However, the student youth of his day had a penchant for Romeo and Juliet, and eagerly devoured his lubricious verse epic, Venus and Adonis. According to one literary source, they kept a copy of the text under their pillow, and hung a picture of the author above their bed.

As befitted the famous author, Shakespeare’s family had a lavish funerary monument erected to him, in the Jacobean Renaissance style. It was a monument that can be classed among the funerary memorials of scholars and writers of Tudor and Stuart times, to which Shakespeare as an outstanding poet was entitled.

It was embellished with a coloured, true-to-life limestone bust, based on a death mask, and bore eulogising inscriptions putting the deceased on a par with the great literary authorities of classical antiquity (Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil).

In 1623 his actor colleagues and friends published the first edition of his plays, in which they included for the first time those dramas that were politically explosive. (say what)?

Perhaps the most precious book in the world, the First Folio contains a frontispiece engraving depicting the dramatist, proclaiming his ‘work-author identity’ and thus safeguarding Shakespeare’s intellectual property. Many laudatory poems were included in the volume.

This early homage to the poet was negated, however, by the effect of the English Civil War from which the iconoclastic Puritans emerged victorious. Stratford-upon-Avon did not escape their ravages, which almost certainly included serious damage to Shakespeare’s bust in Holy Trinity Church.

But where, one may ask, did Shakespeare, the son of John and Mary Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, obtain his sound education in the humanities and also his early training as a playwright?

It all has to do with the change in religion. Just like hundreds of Catholic parents in England at that time, the Shakespeares, adherents to the old faith, must also have sent their son William to the then only Catholic English College on the Continent at Douai (which was moved to Rheims from 1578 to 1593) as soon as he had reached the entrance age of fourteen. This was in 1578.

The Shakespeares knew that they were breaking the law. It was the English ambassador to France who advised his government to punish the parents of these students severely.

Hitherto it could not be explained why John Shakespeare was summoned to appear before the Queen’s Bench in Westminster in 1580 – together with 140 other persons from all over the country. At that time the number of students at the English College was c. 140. (need to see more info on this)

It is no accident that William, who would have finished his studies in 1580, was employed as an illegal Catholic teacher or tutor in the household of Alexander Hoghton in Lancashire. Hoghton’s brother, Thomas de Hoghton, the head of the family, had left his native England for reasons of conscience and emigrated to Flanders in the late 1560s. He was a close friend of the founder of the English College (William Allen, formerly a fellow at Oxford University) and had helped building it. He also left the college 100 pounds when he died.

It is significant that the theatrical performances at Douai/Rheims were modelled on the great Jesuit theatre of the time. The Jesuits were astonishingly indifferent to Aristotle’s concept of the Three Unities of Action, Place, and Time. They preferred hybrid forms of drama, and tragicomedy in particular.

All this can easily be recognised in Shakespeare’s theatre. It was the English College at Douai/Rheims where the young Shakespeare must have obtained his academic education and his early theatrical training and practice.[1]

Despite his illustrious literary career, the playwright was only 49 years old when he withdrew to the seclusion of his Stratford retreat.

He died three years later – probably as the result of a systemic skin sarcoidosis, an internal disease to which all organs are vulnerable, and which leads to death normally after many years.

The outer signs of this illness can be seen in all four likenesses of Shakespeare whose authenticity I was able to establish,[2] working closely with many scientists and academics from other disciplines, including a number of medics and experts from the German Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BKA = CID or FBI).

All the tests used to establish identity led to the same unexpected and sensational result, namely that all the images investigated show the same man: William Shakespeare, taken from life.

The symptoms – in the same location each time, though reproduced at different stages of development – diagnosed by the medics show that the artists must have seen them on the living model or that they were extant in Shakespeare’s face after his death.

Thus they are significant indicators that the Chandos and Flower portraits, the Davenant bust and the Darmstadt Shakespeare death mask are true-to-life or true-to-nature representations of Shakespeare.

The thoroughly researched and publicly documented morphological and pathological characteristics of Shakespeare’s face now form a kind of catalogue of criteria, which can be applied whenever the claim is made that a well-known or newly-discovered portrait represents Shakespeare.

The Janssen portrait in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, and the Cobbe portrait in the collection of Alec Cobbe, have both been tested for authenticity.

The investigations showed that the painter of the Janssen portrait was quite familiar with Shakespeare’s characteristic features and with the symptoms of his early-stage illnesses.

The artist who painted the Cobbe picture, however, was not acquainted with all the morphological characteristics of Shakespeare’s face, and in particular was unaware of pathological details, apart from a slight swelling of the left upper eyelid, of which there is only a ‘suggestion’ in his portrait.

Therefore the Cobbe picture can hardly be an authentic portrait of William Shakespeare painted from life. Neither can it have served as the model for the Droeshout engraving.

Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel
Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz

[1] See H. Hammerschmidt-Hummel, The Life and Times of William Shakespeare, 1564-1616. London. Chaucer Press, 2007).

[2] The images concerned are the Chandos portrait, dating from c. 1594-99 (National Portrait Gallery, London); the Flower portrait, painted in 1609 (in the Royal Shakespeare Company collection until c. 1999, and since vanished without trace); the terracotta Davenant bust of c. 1613 (Garrick Club, London);

and the Darmstadt Shakespeare death mask, taken one or two days after Shakespeare’s death (Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Darmstadt). See Hammerschmidt-Hummel, The True Face of William Shakespeare. The Poet’s Death Mask and Likenesses from Three Periods of His Life. London: Chaucer Press, 2006).

So she doesn’t think the Cobbe portrait is life-like. Already enough to make her unliked in Stratters. Is this documentary of hers about the death mask in English or German? Stick around, I will be true.

And what about that politically charged plays entered the Folio comment? Where’s that list of 18?

As usual, more questions than answers.

If you are tired of hearing the guff about illiterate daughters and women as toys and playthings while the men do all the work and thinking. Just have a read of Aemilia Lanyer’s work.

The introductory poem to Queen Anne has so many echoes of the sonnets it makes my head spin. I’m not saying she’s Shakespeare but he was lucky if she was the Dark Lady!

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