Highly regarded and best-selling literary writer and teacher, Joseph Pearce presents a stimulating and vivid biography of the world’s most revered writer that is sure to be controversial. Unabashedly provocative, with scholarship, insight and keen observation, Pearce strives to separate historical fact from fiction about the beloved Bard.
Shakespeare is not only one of the greatest figures in human history, he is also one of the most controversial and one of the most elusive. He is famous and yet almost unknown. Who was he? What were his beliefs? Can we really understand his plays and his poetry if we don’t know the man who wrote them?
These are some of the questions that are asked and answered in this gripping and engaging study of the world’s greatest ever poet. The Quest for Shakespeare claims that books about the Bard have got him totally wrong. They misread the man and misread the work. The true Shakespeare has eluded the grasp of the critics. Dealing with the facts of Shakespeare’s life and times, Pearce's quest leads to the inescapable conclusion that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic living in very anti-Catholic times.
Many of his friends and family were persecuted, and even executed, for their Catholic faith. And yet he seems to have avoided any notable persecution himself. How did he do this? How did he respond to the persecution of his friends and family? What did he say about the dreadful and intolerant times in which he found himself? The Quest for Shakespeare answers these questions in ways that will enlighten and astonish those who love Shakespeare’s work, and that will shock and outrage many of his critics. This book is full of surprises for beginner and expert alike.
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“Joseph Pearce writes piercingly brilliant books. This
is one of them. He usually writes dramatic biographies.
This is not one of them. It is not a biography
and it is the least dramatic book he has written. But it
is also the most important one. To see its importance,
try the following thought-experiment. Imagine a
book that convincingly proved that Homer was a
Jew, or that Milton was a lapsed Catholic, or that
Dante was a proto-Protestant. The idea would have
far-ranging consequences. It would cast a new light
on everything we knew about Homer, or Milton, or
Dante. In his next book Pearce will trace the consequences
of Shakespeare’s Catholicism in his plays.
In this book, he proves it historically. I mean proves
it. (Pearce would make a formidable lawyer.) The
evidence is simply overwhelming.”
— Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., Boston College,
Author, Summa of the Summa
“I’ve long suspected that there was a deep Catholic
sensibility in the plays of Shakespeare — an emphasis
on man’s powerlessness without grace, yet also
an openness to the sacramentality of nature, and to
the energetic work of dutiful yet often mistrusted
or despised servants. Pearce shows that Shakespeare
himself was such a dutiful servant, ever dutiful to
the Queen, but to God first. He does not leap to
conclusions, but builds a case that is meticulous,
reasonable, and convincing.”
— Anthony Esolen, Ph.D., Providence College
Professor of Renaissance English
“Joseph Pearce has brought together here a mass of
material on the vexed question as to Shakespeare’s
religious affiliation — a question which scholars
have traditionally tried sedulously to ignore. But it
is a question of more than merely neutral historic
curiosity. Readers, I feel sure, will be quickly drawn
in to the matter. Once again, we owe Mr. Pearce a
— Thomas Howard, Ph.D.
Author, Dove Descending: T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
“What more is there to be said about William
Shakespeare? Yet the supply of books on the great
dramatist is never ending. Now, however, there
is a new reason for this supply. The religion of
Shakespeare, and specifically his Catholicism, is
now recognized as a ‘hot topic’ both in the academic
and the publishing world. And now Joseph
Pearce, long recognized as a brilliant writer on great
English Catholics, has gone back in The Quest for
Shakespeare to this greatest of English Catholics,
showing precisely how his greatness consists in his
hidden Catholicism. This is a book that bodes well
to proving a literary masterpiece.”
— Peter Milward, S.J.
Author, Shakespeare the Papist
“Pearce writes with historical insight on one hand
and poetic imagination on the other. Perhaps our
greatest living biographer, Pearce has the uncanny
ability to get into the minds, hopes, fears, and motivations
of his subjects.”
— Bradley J. Birzer, Ph.D.
Author, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth
“Practicing the best virtues of detective, lawyer,
scholar, and storyteller, Joseph Pearce convincingly
reconstructs the historical crucible which produced
the world’s greatest poet. His explication of how
Shakespeare was shaped by realities of personal
courage, political danger, and eternal sacramental
love will unshutter long obscured lamps within the
plays and poems for every reader.”
— Gene Fendt, Ph.D., University of Nebraska,
Author, Is Hamlet a Christian Drama?
Clare Asquith’s Shadowplay (2005) argued from cryptic literary evidence that Shakespeare was a Catholic, necessarily clandestine during his era, when to be so entailed huge fines, arrest, and even execution. Eschewing Asquith’s method (merely pointing out a pun in the occasional sonnet), Pearce also concludes that Shakespeare was a Catholic and, indeed, that one must be prejudiced to insist otherwise. The evidence he cites shows that John Shakespeare’s will was based on a Catholic model; that John and son William each left bequests and executorship to Catholics; that Shakespeare’s daughters were named out of the Apocrypha (biblical writings by Catholic, but not Protestant, lights); that Shakespeare bought property that benefited Catholics, including a longtime venue for clandestine masses; that he was married by a Catholic priest miles away from his home parish; and so on and so on. Pearce also argues that Shakespeare’s talent may have led the authorities to wink at his Catholicism, as they did with the gifted composer William Byrd. It helps Pearce that, as usual, he’s a delight to read.
—Ray Olson, From Booklist