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The following work has little claim to originality, the greater portion of it being based on manuscripts of the late Mr. Richard Simpson. From his singular acquaintance with Elizabethan literature, these writings offer a sound foundation for the study of Shakespeare in relation to the religious thought of his day. The State Paper documents, the Harleian, Ashmolean, Sloane, and Lansdowne collections, the Rutland and Salisbury Papers, Visitation Returns, the libraries of Paris and Lille, the archives of the English College at Rome, the Douay Registers, the Registers of the Jesuit Colleges of Malines and Bruges, the Stonyhurst MS., were all within the range of his research. It must be remembered also that many of these documents, now printed, indexed, and ready to hand, existed in Mr. Simpson's time only in manuscript, and thus their contents could only be acquired by laborious personal investigation. His note-books are abiding memorial of his exploring zeal. They contain autograph copies of every rare play, tale, or ballad, cognate to his subject, and abound with varied and recondite data and references.
But Mr. Simpson was not merely a collector of rare or curious material. As Shakespeare's plays
were professedly composed under “the pressure of the time,” Mr. Simpson's object was to inquire what contemporary event may have furnished the political motive of the play, or at least suggested some of its incidents and characters. The political allegory, did it reflect on the Government, would be necessarily veiled, and would pass unheeded by the ignorant or the inattentive, but would have spoken clearly to the wise. Doubtless this desire of solving the dramatic riddles of the past may lead to merely fanciful and arbitrary assertions, but the art of the interpreter, soberly exercised, discovers in a play a real though hidden motive, which would otherwise be lost, and is of genuine historic value. Thus Professor Gardiner, from his intimate knowledge with the times of James I. and Charles I., has been able to trace the political element in the plays of Massinger. In these dramas, Mr. Gardiner says, “Massinger treated of the events of the day under a disguise hardly less thin than that which shows off the figures in the caricatures of Aristophanes or the cartoons of Punch. Now Mr. Simpson's political interpretation of “Richard II.” and “Measure for Measure" rests on evidence as sound, we think, as that produced by Mr. Gardiner in his solution of "The Emperor of the East,” or “The Maid of Honour.” In any case Mr. Simpson's power to decipher the political, religious, and dramatic allusions in Shakespeare can be gauged by his writings published in the New Shakespeare Society, Transactions, 1874–1875, and
1 "Political Element in Massinger," New Shakespeare Society, Transactions, 316. 1875.
in various separate treatises. It is true, indeed, that occasionally his interpretations may seem strained and far-fetched, but even then they are interesting as proofs of his ingenuity and research.
The present work is based on a folio MS. of Mr. Simpson's of some 200 pages, which was composed under the following circumstances. In 1858 Mr. Simpson published three articles in the Rambler, in which he defended the probability of Shakespeare being a Catholic. In 1864 there appeared a work on the subject from the pen of M. Rio, the author of L'Art Chrétien. Taken with Simpson's argument, Rio allowed his imagination free rein, and described the poet as an ardent and avowed champion of the Catholic faith, a conclusion far beyond that of Simpson's. The two writers, notwithstanding the totally different character of their works, were however made the object of a common attack in an article in the Edinburgh Review, January 1866, which was publicly attributed to Lord Mahon. It was primarily as a reply to this article that the folio above mentioned was written, but it developed into a comprehensive treatise on the subject of Shakespeare's philosophy and religion as manifested in his writings.
But Mr. Simpson's treatise has needed both remodelling and additions. In Simpson's day Shakespeare was regarded, at least by such writers as Knight and Bishop Wordsworth, as an orthodox Protestant, a faithful follower of the established religion. He is now represented as a pioneer of “ modern thought.”
Thus Professor Dowden, Professor Caird, Mr. Tyler, and in Germany Kreysig