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Features \ Church History

The Pope likened to Hamlet

Pope Paul VI - ANSA

Pope Paul VI - ANSA

11/04/2016 12:18

(Vatican Radio)  To commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death there will be a performance here in Rome of ‘Hamlet’ by Shakespeare’s Globe. It will take place in the heart of the city on Wednesday 13th of April at the 'Palazzo della Cancelleria'. A building which stands in Vatican extra-territorial territory. 

You may already know how Blessed Paul VI was often likened to Hamlet, this most famous of Shakespeare’s characters. And how in the 1960’s, before being elected to the papacy, he attended a performance of Hamlet in Stratford- on- Avon.

The story Veronica Scarisbrick recounts begins in December  1964.  When during an impromptu press conference, Paul VI unleashed an unusual self-deprecating sense of humour, showing an awareness of a specific journalistic quirk: that of repeatedly reporting a quote likening him to this most famous of Shakespeare's characters: “The press which you represent can be a most important instrument of great good, always be faithful to the truth, that is the question”.

“That is the question”... The words of Pope Paul VI provoked hilarity among the journalists gathered around him. They immediately understood that reference to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

A programme presented and produced by Veronica Scarisbrick:

This likening of Paul VI to Hamlet goes back to the days when he was still Cardinal Archbishop Montini of Milan. And the Roman Pontiff, his predecessor John XXIII, enquired after the Cardinal in his home diocese of Milan saying: “Well, how’s your Hamlet Cardinal?"

A shrewd remark never to be forgotten by the press. One which re-surfaced when the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan was himself elected to the See of Peter in June 1963. And not just by the Italian press, the “Newsweek” issue marking Paul VI’s recent election to the papacy, which had his photograph still dressed as a cardinal on the cover, quoted it. And ran an editorial on 'The Hamlet Cardinal' in this same issue. 

No surprise then that when the Royal Shakespeare Company came to Rome in November of 1964 not only did Paul VI  attend their performance but also received the Company in private audience . Highlighting on this occasion the impression of “fantastic riches and psychological truth” Shakespeare affords us expressing the thought that this commemoration is particularly adapted to Rome, always avid and prompt as she is to honor the high achievements of the human spirit, and happy as she is today to celebrate, in this supreme writer, the magnificent cultural tradition and artistic genius of the English people”.

Adding on this occasion how. “ ..The profound humanity of Shakespeare, ever open to adventurous and poetic exploration, leads to the discovery of the moral laws, which make life great and sacred, and lead us back to a religious understanding of the world...His lofty genius and powerful language induce men to listen with reverence to the great verities he expounds, of death and judgement, of hell and heaven. The plots of his plays are a salutary reminder to modern man that god exists. That there is a life after this life, that evil-doing is punished and good rewarded...   Our enjoyment of the poet’s vision of humanity should not make us overlook the high moral lessons and admonitions contained in his words”… 

11/04/2016 12:18