Unlocking the Mysteries of the Man and his Work
Email this review


 In his search for the historical Bard of Avon, religious historian Wilson (Jesus: The Evidence, 1991) penetrates the Elizabethan stage's shadow world with some success but tendentiously turns Shakespeare into a cypher for crypto-Catholic theories. Beginning with scholarly straw men (the Francis Bacon theories of authorship and the Stratford tourism version of Shakespeare), Wilson delves deeply into Shakespeare studies to recreate the world of the acting company, suggesting with some justification that the apprentice bard may have acted more important roles in much more elaborate and historically accurate productions in the newly discovered Rose theater than previously believed; Wilson also describes the bustling Elizabethan literary life of competitive poets and noble patrons. In a conjectural opening move for his crypto-Catholic theory, Wilson proposes the possibly recusant noble Ferdinando Stanley as Shakespeare's mysterious first patron who introduced him into the conspiracy-ridden court scene, which would later involve the playwright with the Essex rebellion. While Wilson rightly cites the uncertain post-Reformation stance of provincial Stratford, he oversimplifies the breadth and complexity of the Elizabethan experience with Catholic revisionism and reads highly tenuous interpretations into Shakespeare's texts, such as dubious references to Mary, Queen of Scots in King John or a pro-Jesuit reading of the porter scene in Macbeth. Most disingenuously Wilson obscures well-known evidence conflicting with his theory: He avoids the paper trail of an early multi-authored play, The Booke of Sir Thomas More, that links Shakespeare with Anthony Munday, a literary hack whom Wilson consistently vilifies for his pro-Protestant Elizabethan espionage; and he omits the fact that the London family whom Shakespeare lodged with for many years were Huguenots--which would have been an absurd risk for a recusant. Despite unearthing some controversial historical possibilities, Wilson ultimately displays as much wishful thinking in making Shakespeare a crypto-Catholic as others have in attributing his plays to Francis Bacon. (54 b&w photos, not seen; 14 figures)

Pub Date: Dec. 5th, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-11335-8
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994


NonfictionNOSTRADAMUS by Ian Wilson
by Ian Wilson
NonfictionBEFORE THE FLOOD by Ian Wilson
by Ian Wilson
NonfictionTHE BLOOD AND THE SHROUD by Ian Wilson
by Ian Wilson