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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: March 2007

‘He drew the Liturgy, and framed the rites’: The Changing Role of Religious Disposition in Shakespeare's Reception

Summary

For Garrick was a worshipper himself;

He drew the Liturgy, and framed the rites

And solemn ceremonial of the day,

And call'd the world to worship on the banks

Of Avon famed in song.

There is no more vulgar mistake, so I was taught, than taking metaphors literally or trying to check the truth-value of a poetic statement, especially out of context. Yet reading these lines of William Cowper's The Task, one is tempted to make an exception to see whether their literal meaning, if such a thing can be construed from a poem at all, will stand up to close scrutiny, and in what sense Garrick might be considered the founder of a new quasi-religion, initiating a newly formed community into its liturgy and ritual. In other words the question is whether Cowper's lines can be used as a heuristic device to reveal the underlying quasireligious pattern of the otherwise miscellaneous happenings at the 1769 Stratford Jubilee, and to discover the changing yet discernible role of latent religious attitudes omnipresent in our various dealings with Shakespeare ever since.

In view of this question Garrick's religious sensibility deserves more attention than it usually receives. The most amply documented biography tells us that the Lichfield of his childhood was dominated by the army and the church, hence much of the intellectual life of this cathedral town centred in the cathedral close, complementing the yearly cycle of services in the cathedral; we may also learn that Garrick inherited his place in this community because his mother was a granddaughter and daughter of vicars choral, he also had three uncles who were vicars choral and several of his acquaintances were sons of vicars, and his mentor, Gilbert Walmesley, was registrar of the ecclesiastical court and lived in the bishop's palace.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Online ISBN: 9781139052757
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521803411
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