Occasionally I come across a book review so scathing that it makes me laugh, cringe, repent for laughing (in that order) and then pray that I am never the recipient of such harsh language.
It is rarely surprising to find such reviews. After all, there are doubtlessly numerous worthy books published each year. It is surprising, however, to read such a review directed at an author as respected as Joseph Pearce.
Robert Miola, whose article on Shakespeare’s Catholicism in First Things I discussed previously, had ridiculously harsh words for Pearce’s new book on Shakespeare’s purported Catholicism in the most recent issue of First Things (not available online):
A promising beginning, you might think. Unfortunately, The Quest for Shakespeare proves to be a patchwork of other people’s work, indiscriminately selected, hastily stitched togeter, and served up with self-congratulatory fanfare. Seldom has such a slight book managed to combine ignorance and arrogance on such a grand scale.
It gets worse:
But Pearce’s failure is hardly surprising. What he doesn’t know about Shakespeare and the Catholicism of his times would fill several large libraries.
Miola saves his most interesting criticism for the end:
[The unqualified conviction that one can read the author’s life from the work and vice versa] is widespread in Shakespeare studies, true enough, but the business of wrenching passages out of dramatic context as evidence of the playwright’s personal beliefs usually reveals more about the critic than about Shakespeare. Pearce endorses this method for himself–then vents his spleen on anyone else who dares use it for different conclusions. Thus, for example, he ridicules the ‘doyens of postmodernity’ for writing into the plays their own ‘prejudiced agenda.’ As Pearce notes about much contemporary work on Shakespeare: “For the proponents of ‘queer theory’ he becomes conveniently homosexual; for secular fundamentalists he is proto-secularist; for ‘post-Christian’ agnostics he becomes a prophet of modernity.”
Quite right, one wants to say. But what shall we do when Joseph Pearce comes along to say, in essence: “You’re all stupid to think that Shakespeare is just like you. Actually, Shakespeare is just like me”? There is a parable about a mote and a beam that applies somewhere here.
As they say, “Move along, folks. Move along.”