Rorate Caeli

Socci: Shakespeare, the Great Voice of Catholic Resistance Against the Tyranny of Elizabeth and Co.

Contributor’s note
I heartily endorse every word of Antonio Socci’s review on Elisabetta Sala’s first novel “The Execution of Justice” published below and which I read this past summer – all 465 pages. It is truly a page-turner written by an exceptionally talented author. She is the only Italian scholar that I know, who has addressed “The Enigma of Shakespeare”. I will be sure to inform our readers at Rorate Caeli when the “The Execution of Justice” is published in English, as I have heard that it is a work in progress.   F.R.
Antonio Socci
Libero Quotidiano
September 22, 2019

It’s the finest, most exciting, most poignant novel I have read in a long time. A real surprise. It captures the reader’s attention from the very first page. 

It is a historical novel, easy to read, set in the London of the year 1605, amid the alleys, taverns, palaces, shops and theatres on the banks of the Thames.

We become deeply immersed in the London of the early 17th century -  so much so - that you don’t want this story (also of love) to end, full as it is of intrigues, heroic martyrdoms, plots, cowardly betrayals, spies and power-struggles. 

Historical events with consequences, for that matter, that were hugely dramatic for Europe and the entire world. It may be said that you cannot understand modern History, whether it be European or American (and even Italian), if you don’t know about this English historical period. 

The title – to tell the truth – may appear somewhat off-putting: “The Execution of Justice” (D’Ettoris Editori). It would seem more suitable for a treatise on criminal procedure. But in reality, as you progress in the reading of the novel, you discover its “dramatic” origin.
The writer, Elisabetta Sala, professor of History and English Literature, reveals absolutely extraordinary narrative skills. 

In our present somewhat mediocre literary panorama, it is to be hoped that her talent is tested soon with other novels and that she becomes further and further known (by readers) and recognized (by critics).  

Until now, Sala has been known as a most valiant scholar of the tragic age of Henry VIII and Elizabeth, at the time “the rape” of the English people was consummated, or rather, the violent breach – decreed by the Crown – of an entire population from the Catholic Church, resulting in the founding of the Anglican Church, under the direct authority of the Crown. 

Under Elizabeth, in reality, it is she who is the “divinity” demanding adoration and absolute submission in the public and private lives of individuals; it is she who has undisputed power over the life and death of everyone. She brings about a Reign of Terror which probably represents the 16th century anticipation of the modern totalitarianisms. She is the exact opposite of the official, celebrative representation of the so-called “Elizabethan Era”.

For England, whose Catholic roots are ancient and deep, it was a spiritual and human catastrophe (with the stripping of convents and monasteries, it developed also into an economic disaster).

It was the violent uprooting of a people and their history. Perpetrated with the horrendous slaughtering of priests and English Catholics - a massacre carried out amid barbaric tortures,  nowadays practically unknown, but which Sala has reconstructed in two splendid books: “The Wrath Of The King Is Dead” [“L’ira del re è morte”(Ares)] and “Bloody Elizabeth”[“Elisabetta la sanguinaria”(Ares)].

The central character in Sala’s novel is an adolescent, Jack Digby, son of an English nobleman, of great courage. On November 5th 1605, Jack finds himself amid the crowd, in a square, witnessing the horrendous slaughtering of his father, as a traitor and conspirator under James I.  
From this a truly captivating story unfolds, full of  surprises and unexpected turns, which brings about the meeting of Jack with that playwright admired so greatly in the London theatres of the time: William Shakespeare. 

It is in fact, the Age of Shakespeare and young Digby – in his troubled adventures – will find himself discovering the great Bard’s secret, which afterwards is the key to understanding and interpreting his masterpieces. 

The novel reveals, in fact, the historical reasons for the many mysteries surrounding the life of Shakespeare and illuminates those enigmas in his works which appear to be unsolvable, due, presumably, to the climate of terror in which he had to work, which rendered necessary – for the playwright – to tell [stories to] the people – using allusions, bygone historical examples, metaphors and puns. He recounted what was in reality the tragedy of the events unfolding in England.
Elisabetta Sala, a great expert on Shakespeare and that historical period, has dedicated another large volume to the mystery of Shakespeare – The Enigma of Shakespeare (Ares), wherein she avails herself also of the most recent English studies, which over the past years are revealing more and more documentation on the Catholicism of Shakespeare, who was well-acquainted with the martyrdom of Catholics, as he had relatives and friends among the martyred.  
He used such high artistic expressions for this population of people which tried hard not to have its soul ripped out by the tyrant. 

It is paradoxical the he who is celebrated as the light of the Elizabethan Era, the national poet, a symbol of British culture in the world, was in reality, not the bard of the dictatorship, but the powerful voice of  the Catholic people’s resistance against the despot.  
In the “Enigma of Shakespeare”, Sala runs through step by step, the biographical events of the playwright; his ties (also among his relatives) with the Catholic dissidence and positions every one of his works in the precise historical context wherein they were conceived, illuminating an extraordinary wealth of meanings and allusions, which the people understood and loved. 

Allusions sometimes far too daring and explicit which probably drove the playwright, in the last phase of his life, into silence and retreat in Stratford upon Avon.

Generally speaking, critics do not grasp the wealth of historical references in Shakespeare’s works and prefer the abstract, literary analysis.  Nonetheless, they have grasped their power very well. 

In Harold Bloom’s “Western Canon” , he writes that “Shakespeare and Dante are the centre of the Canon because they surpass all the other Western writers in terms of cognitive acuity, linguistic energy and capacity  for invention”. Indeed – continues Bloom – “Shakespeare will continue to explain ourselves to ourselves, in part because he invented us. [...] Shakespeare surpasses all his predecessors and invented the human that we know today [...].”

Also George Steiner makes a similar observation: “We meet his voice in every angle of our sensibilities. Even our weeping and laughter are ours partially; we find them where he left them, and bear his stamp. We seek the measure of Shakespeare and we become breathless. [...] Shakespeare and Dante each share one half of Western literature.  There is no third.”   

Bloom goes as far as saying: “His effect on world culture is incalculable. After Jesus, Hamlet is the most-quoted figure in Western conscience; nobody prays to him, but nobody can avoid him for long.” 

But that Hamlet of Shakespeare, in point of fact, represents the drama of a Catholic population that had God ripped out of their soul. 

Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana