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Neither L'Osservatore Romano nor the Daily Mail (link to the printer version of the story, not the semipornographic sidebar-included version) understands the argument about Shakespeare's Catholicism, argues Joseph Pearce, author of two books on the subject, The Quest for Shakespeare and Through Shakespeare's Eyes. Both publications have run articles on the controversy over Shakespeare's identity, the Daily Mail basing its story on the Vatican newspaper piece, and both are inspired by the new film Anonymous, which spotlights a different controversy--the issue of whether Shakespeare was, well, Shakespeare, or whether someone else--in this case Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford--wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare.

Though encouraged by the mainstreaming of the Catholic Shakespeare thesis, Pearce is critical of how the thesis is covered in the two publications.

"The Mail regurgitates discredited arguments for Shakespeare's Protestantism and atheism, without considering the solid refutation of this evidence by scholars," writes Pearce.  Meanwhile, "L'Osservatore Romano parrots textual evidence for Shakespeare's Catholicism, such as the references to purgatory in Hamlet, without providing any of the biographical or documentary evidence that is readily available."

Mr Pearce underscores the fact that while L'Osservatore Romano is published by the Vatican, it does not represent Vatican when it comes to matters literary. This important point extends well beyond literary issues addressed in the newspaper, a lesson some reporters, even some whose "beat" is religion, sometimes miss. The more careless in that category are, no doubt, awaiting the next encyclical by Pope Benedict, which they may well expect will dogmatically define the Catholic identity of the Bard.

 
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Mark Brumley is President and CEO of Ignatius Press.
 
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