The Elizabethan Age underwent a continuing crisis Essay

This essay has a total of 4942 words and 19 pages.


The Elizabethan Age underwent a continuing crisis of religion that was marked by a
deepening polarization of thought between the supporters of the recently established
Protestant Church and the larger number of adherents to the Roman Catholic faith. Of these
latter, Edmund Campion may be taken as the archetype. Well known as an Englishman who fled
to the Continent for conscience's sake, he returned to England as a Jesuit priest, was
executed by the English government in 1581 and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church
in 1970.

It has been observed that the author of the Shakespeare plays displays a considerable
sympathy and familiarity with the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.i The
intent here is to show a link between this English Catholic leader and the writer of the
drama, Twelfth Night, as revealed by allusions to Edmund Campion in Act IV, scene ii of
that play.

A Brief Outline of Campion's Life
Though Edmund Campion (1540-1581) was a scholar at Oxford University under the patronage
of Queen Elizabeth I's court favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Campion's studies
of theology, church history, and the church fathers led him away from the positions taken
by the Church of England. From Campion's point of view, to satisfy the new orthodoxy of
the Church of England, a reconstructionist interpretation of church history was being set
forth, one chat he found difficult to reconcile with what he actually found in the
writings of those fathers [2]. Had the veil been swept away? Were St. Augustine and St.
John Chrysostom really Anglicans rather than Roman Catholics? Or were the church
authorities trimming their sails to the exigencies of temporal policy? Questions such as
these dogged Campion, and eventually his position at Oxford became untenable since he
could not make the appropriate gestures of adherence to the established church [3].
Instead, Campion retreated from Oxford to Dublin in 1569, where he drew less attention and
enjoyed the protection of Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy for Ireland, and the patronage of
Sir James Stanihurst, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, who planned to have Campion
participate in the founding of what was to become Trinity College in Dublin [4].

During this period a number of significant events took place. In 1568, the Catholic Mary,
Queen of Scots, was driven from her realm into England, where she came under the
protection and custody of the English Crown. Immediately after came the rebellion of the
northern Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland in the winter of 1569, who sought to
place Mary on the English throne. Then, in the spring of 1570, Pope Pius V issued a hull
excommunicating Queen Elizabeth and releasing her subjects from their obligation of
obedience to her. After the death of Pius V, an inquiry to Rome regarding this bull
elicited the response that "as long as the Queen [Elizabeth] remained de facto ruler, it
was lawful for Catholics to obey her in civil matters and cooperate in all just things...
that it was unlawful for any private person, not wearing uniform and authorized to do so
as an act of war, to slay any tyrant whatsoever, unless the tyrant, for example, had
invaded his country in arms" (Waugh, p. 94-95)

In short, English Catholics were rejoined to follow the path of Sir Thomas More, being the
Crown's loyal servant in all matters save religion. However, as Waugh concedes, "It was
possible to deduce from this decision that the [English] Catholics were a body of
potential rebels,who only waited for foreign invasion to declare themselves. This was the
sense in which [William] Cecil [Lord Treasurer and the Queen's most trusted councillor]
read it, for he was reluctant to admit the possibility of anyone being both a patriotic
Englishman and an opponent of his regime (Waugh p. 95). The English government then
enacted laws more restrictive to English Catholics. In 1570, the year of the Papal Bull,
it was made an act of high treason, punishable by death, to bring into the country "any
bull, writing, or instrument obtained from the Bishop of Rome" or "to absolve or
reconcile" any of the Queen's subjects to the Bishop of Rome (Waugh p. 117). In this
atmosphere even Dublin became dangerous for Campion. He fled Ireland for Belgium in June
of 1572, arriving at the English College founded by exiled English Catholics in Douai. The
next year he went on to Rome to join the Society of Jesus. After training in Vienna, he
became Professor of Rhetoric at the new Jesuit University in Prague, where he was ordained
a priest in the Society of Jesus in 1578 (Waugh p. 81-84). It was in Prague in 1580 that
he received the call to return to England to minister to English Catholics (More p.72-73).
During his ministry, which lasted from the summer of 1580 to the summer of 1581, Campion
traveled from town to town in disguise, passing via an underground network of English
Catholics, offering the Mass and other Church sacraments to Catholics. He was arrested in
the town of Lyford by English authorities, with the assistance of a paid informant, in
July 1581, and conveyed to the Tower of London [5].

Since his ministry had attracted a great deal of public attention, the government
initially made an effort to persuade Campion to abandon his faith. Failing that, it made a
second effort to discredit him. Four times in September, Campion was brought from his
dungeon in the Tower for public "conferences," at which scholars and clergymen
representing the Crown and the Church of England disputed with him in an effort to best
him intellectually. William Cecil (Lord Burghley) and First Secretary Sir Francis
Walsingham, Burghley's spymaster, also sought to taint Campion with the brush of treason
by maintaining that the primary goal of his mission was to incite the English to rebel
against Queen Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. While Campion's
ministry was in itself, by English law, sufficient for the death penalty (in that he
offered Mass and heard confessions), the government preferred to show that his ministry
also involved stirring English Catholics to rebellion. Finally, on November 20th, a trial
was held in which Campion and seven other Catholics taken with him were charged with
treason. Suitable witnesses endeavored to make the label of traitor stick; the trial ended
in a guilty verdict, and Campion was executed by hanging at Tyburn on December 1, 1581 [6]
[7] .

Twelfth Night and Edmund Campion
The allusions to Campion are found in a single scene --Act four, Scene two in which Feste
the Clown disguises himself as "Sir Topas the Curate" to harangue the unfortunate
Malvolio, who has been shut up in a cellar as a lunatic as the result of pranks engineered
by Feste, Sir Toby Belch and Maria. In the following speech by Feste to Maria and Sir
Toby, the Campion allusions are highlighted in boldface.

Clown: Bonos dies, Sir Toby: for, as the old hermit of Prague, that never saw pen and ink,
very wittily said to a niece of King Gorboduc, "That that is is" ; so I, being master
Parson, am master Parson; for,what is "that" but "that"; and "is" but "is"? (IV.ii.15-19)

In this speech of less than 50 words, which appears to resemble nothing but clownish
nonsense, there are no less than five phrases which refer directly to Edmund Campion and
his 158O-81 mission to England.

The old hermit of Prague: Prague was Campion's last assignment before his mission to
England; indeed, nearly six of his less than nine years on the Continent were spent in
Prague. He may be thought of as a hermit in either of two ways in that hermits were holy
men who sought solitude in their quest for holiness, or that Campion's stay in Prague was
considered to be an exile not only from England but from Englishmen. Waugh notes that,
while at Prague, "the only Englishmen with whom he appears to have had any contact
(besides Father Ware, who was at the college with him), is Philip Sidney [son of the
former Lord Deputy for Ireland], who arrived in 1576 as English Ambassador to congratulate
the Emperor Rudolph on his succession" (Waugh p. 81-82).

Never saw pen and ink: This refers to an episode which occurred in the "conference" of
September 24, 1581, the third of four such conferences, in which Campion was opposed by
one Master Fulke:

"If you dare, let me show you Augustine and Chrysostom," he [Campion] cried at one moment, "if you dare."
Fulke: "Whatever you can bring, I have answered already in writing against others of your
side. And yet if you think you can add anything, put it in writing and I will answer it."

Campion: "Provide me with ink and paper and I will write."
Fulke: "I am not to provide you ink and paper."
Campion: "I mean, procure me that I may have liberty to write."
Fulke: "I know not for what cause you are restrained of that liberty, and therefore I will
not take upon me to procure it.'7

Campion: "Sue to the Queen that I may have liberty to oppose. I have been now thrice
opposed. It is reason that I should oppose once."

Fulke: "I will not become a suitor for you." (Allen 15)
In this exchange, we see that Campion, having been deprived of the means of preparing a
defense, such as access to books containing the teachings of St. Augustine and St. John
Chrysostom, seizes upon Fulke's apparent offer of writing materials. Fulke immediately
realizes that the has made a tactical error, for the government's plan in no way involves
providing Campion with the means to write, since much of Campion's success lay in his
writings. First there had been an exposition and explanation of his mission, written by
Campion in the summer of 1580 immediately after arriving in England, which circulated
throughout the country in handwritten copies, yet comes down in history under the ironic
title of "Campion's Brag.77 In it, Campion disavows any political aspect to his ministry.
Then a book bearing the name Ten Reasons was published by an underground Catholic press
(Edwards p. 19). It first appeared at the Oxford University Commencement of June 27, 1581,
having been surreptitiously placed on the benches of the church at which the exercises
took place.

In the exchange quoted above, Campion plainly had bested Fulke in their battle of wits,
for Fulke denies Campion the wherewithal to write even though he himself had challenged
Campion to do so. Nonetheless, it may be said of Campion with good reason that he "Never
saw pen and ink."

Niece of King Gorboduc: Gorboduc was a mythical King of England and the subject of an
early Elizabethan play by Norton and Sackville [9]. Since the play contains no role for a
"niece," the allusion is not to be found in the text. Let us look at the issue from
another point of view: did Queen Elizabeth I have an uncle who can be identified as a
"mythical King of England?" Arthur, Prince of Wales, was the first son of King Henry VII
and older brother to Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII. This prince would have become "King
Arthur" except that he died before his father, who was succeeded instead by the younger
brother, Henry. If you are seeking the niece of a mythical King of England, the niece of a
potential King Arthur might do.

A second possible link between Elizabeth and the "niece to King Gorboduc" may be found
through one of the dramatists, Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and later 1st Earl of
Dorset. The father of Lord Buckhurst, Sir Richard Sackville, had been a first cousin to
Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth's mother [10]. Given the predilection of people of the time
for imprecision in designating family relationships (cousin, uncle or niece was taken to
mean almost any blood relationship), it is not farfetched to consider Queen Elizabeth I to
be a "niece" of one of the authors of King Gorboduc.

"That that is is": Spoken by the Hermit of Prague, this is taken as a religious
affirmation, just as Campion's mission to England was a religious affirmation. The
reconstructed church history that Campion was expected to embrace at Oxford was, from the
Catholic viewpoint, a denial of reality, and his mission was to affirm the truth in the
face of official displeasure. On a deeper level, this could be an allusion to one of the
most profound passages in the Old Testament, in which the Lord, speaking to Moses (who had
asked what name he should give for the Lord) declares, "I am that I am." [11]. This may be
interpreted as, "Because I exist, I exist," which very neatly identifies the subject "I"
in scholastic logic. In other words, all that exists owes its existence to a separate
Creator, save one, the Creator of all, who is the source of all existence, even his own.
The Hermit of Prague is not the Creator; thus, he renders the phrase in the third person,
declaring that God Is, because He Is; he owes his existence to no earthly agency,
certainly to no King or Queen. To such a Person, Campion owes a higher allegiance than his
allegiance to the Crown. Thus, "That that is is" is the essence of Campion's position
vis-a-vis his God and his Queen.

Master Parson: Robert Persons was a fellow Jesuit who traveled with Campion from Rome to
France; the two separated to enter England and, for reasons of security, pursued their
ministries in England individually, meeting each other occasionally. Persons, sometimes
referred to as Parsons and a former Oxford classmate of Campion's,was in charge of the
Jesuit mission to England, including the clandestine press that was used to set forth the
Catholic position until its capture [12]. Persons continued his ministry within and
without England for several decades after Campion's death.

The allusions referred to here should not be thought of as topical in being timely
references from which the theatrical audience would be expected to recognize and draw
delight. Certainly, events during 1580-1581 would no longer be timely in 1602, the first
production of Twelfth Night, as noted in Manningham's diary. Moreover, considering the
official attitude toward Campion and his fellow Jesuits, inserting sympathetic allusions
to Campion into a play would have been quite risky during the 1580s, and would remain so
well into the next century. Nonetheless, one would have needed specific background
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