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Warning: My speculations are in italics. The rest is accepted historical fact.

Despite his great expectations for the son, Allen had a more immediate interest in the father. John Shakespeare was chamberlain (treasurer) for the Stratford government. He had considerable influence on the selection of teachers for the Gild School, and William Allen needed that influence. Allen wouldn’t establish his seminary for missionaries until four years later, but with John’s help, Allen hoped to turn the Stratford Gild school into almost a pre-seminary. Over the next decades, several of the Gild teachers would be devout Catholics.

In 1568, Allen founded his seminary at Douai, in the Netherlands. Threatened by the religious wars in the Netherlands, the seminary moved in 1578 to Reims, France, then back to Douai in 1597. The first graduates from Allen’s seminary arrived in England in 1574. The first seminary martyr was Cuthbert Mayne, who was drawn and quartered in 1577. By the turn of the century, Allen’s seminary had sent over four hundred missionaries back to England, and. one hundred and four of them had been captured and executed as "traitors," (including one of Shakespeare’s fellow students at the Stratford Guild school and the brother of one of his teachers.) The missionaries were well aware of the danger of their mission. As part of his training at Reims, a seminarian was required to visualize his probable capture and execution. If captured, he would be "questioned" by Topcliffe, the Queen’s chief torturer. Then he would be hung by the neck, gasping vainly for air until he lost consciousness. Then he would be cut down and revived to experience being drawn and quartered. "Drawn and quartered" has an innocuous sound to modern ears, but the actual practice was horrible beyond description. His belly would be cut open and his intestines "drawn" out and sometimes burned while he watched. Then, while he was still alive and conscious, his arms and legs were tied to four horses and he was pulled apart - into "quarters." Then he would pass into the "undiscovered country" to receive a martyr’s reward.

In 1570 the Pope issued a bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth and releasing English Catholics from their allegiance to her. A London lawyer named John Felton pinned a copy of the bull to the Bishop of London’s door. John Felton’s wife, the mother of their two-year-old son Thomas, was a former lady in waiting to Bloody Mary and a personal friend of Elizabeth. John was executed on August 8 (St Dominic’s Day), 1570, exactly eighteen years before England defeated the Spanish Armada which Phillip II of Spain (Bloody Mary’s widower) had dispatched to enforce the Pope’s bull. Twenty days after the defeat of the Armada, young Thomas Felton, then aged 20 and a graduate of Allen’s seminary, was executed.

Simon Hunt was Shakespeare’s teacher at the Stratford Gild school from 1571 to 1575. In 1575, Simon Hunt attended William Allen’s Douai seminary. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1578 and became the first head of St Peter’s College for English Catholics in Rome.

John Cottom was Shakespeare’s teacher from 1579 to 1581. In June, 1580, Cottom’s brother Thomas, a Jesuit missionary, was arrested in Shottery, a village near Stratford. Thomas Cottam was executed on May 30, 1581, on the forty-eighth anniversary of the coronation of Anne Boleyn, exactly twelve years before the murder of Christopher Marlowe. At about the same time, another, more famous priest, Thomas Campion, was arrested and executed. The Queen herself tried to persuade Campion to confess to treason and recant his Catholic religion so that she could spare his life. But he preferred martyrdom.

Campion’s "Gallows Speech"
"But we knew we were not lords of our own lives, and therefore for want of answer would not be guilty of our death."

He is not free to carve as he pleases,
For he himself is subject to his own birth.

he that is not guilty of his own death, shortens not his own life.

For want of answer? What was the question?

To be or not to be. That is the question.

To be or not to be -- what? That is the question.

After Horatio had explained that the impending war was caused by a duel over land fought by Hamlet's father, whose ghost they had just seen, Bernardo replied:

I think it be no other but e'en so.
Well may it sort that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch so like the king
That was and is the question of these wars.

To be or not to be so like the king that was and is the question of these wars. that is Shakespeare’s dilemma. Should he be true to himself or should he let filial duty lead him in his father's footsteps? "Whither wilt thou lead me?" Should he write plays to satisfy his artistic soul or plays to jeopardize his life?. Should he entertain his audiences or lead them into a bloody religious war?

Campion’s "Gallows Speech" minister the Sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors -- in brief, to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many my countrymen are abused.

This inspired Shakespeare to write the following lines, in which Hamlet compares an actor’s "dream of passion" with his own "real" passion, and in so doing expresses Shakespeare’s own feelings about Hamlet’s fictional passion compared to his own real passion:

...What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears,
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
[The Elizabethan penalty for hearing sedition was to have one's ears lopped off.]
Make mad the guilty and appall the free,
Confound the ignorant and maze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.

Campion said his mission was to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute cry alarm...against...proud ignorance. Shakespeare feared that in carrying forward Campion’s mission with his plays, he had twisted it to appall the free, confound the ignorant.

Campion at his trial:
In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, Bishops and Kings...For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach?...posterity’s judgment is not liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.

This speech inspired Shakespeare to take an oath, sworn to his father and his godfather, to write a series of history plays, which was originally planned to culminate in an incendiary version of Henry VIII.

Internal Links[]

Shakespeare, Breakspear, and Broken Pole - The Prophesy (previous article in biography)

Be All My Sins Remembered - The Politics of Purgatory (next in biography)

Where Truth Is Hid - A Speculative Biography of Shakespeare (main article)

External Links[]

wikipedia article on William Allen [1] Campion's Gallows Speech [2] - (disparagingly known as Campion's Brag)

wikipedia article on Edmund Campion [3]

--Ray Eston Smith Jr 23:55, 6 March 2007 (UTC)