PMGenesis: Chapter 12

Peter Milward's Autobiography: Genesis of an Octogenarian (2008)


<- Prev *** Next ->

Who is Peter Milward?
0. About PM Genesis of an Octogenarian
1. Attempt at an Autobiography
Pre-conscious World
Local Patriotism
Wimbledon in Wartime 
Pastoral Peace
Pastoral Philosophy
7. Life at Oxford
Between England and Japan 
9. A New Language and Culture
10. Rural Japan
Pastoral Theology
12. Teaching Shakespeare in Japan
13. A Missionary in Japan
Student Revolt  
A Floating University  
16. Literary Pilgrimages  
A Scholar's Paradise  
To and Fro in Japan  
Words, Words, Words  
Annus Mirabilis  
21. Renaissance  
Lost Years  
Two Papal Pilgrimages  
Two Peninsular Pilgrimages

More American Adventures
26. In the Footsteps of Hopkins and Newman  
Two International Conferences  
Catholic Shakespeare  
Last Words  
Bibliographical Afterword  













S. J. House, Tokyo
















 Gardens of the Shakespeare Institute, Burmingham































Who is Peter Milward?

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier


Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan

















  A Lifetime with Hopkins  by Peter Milward



















     Jacobean Shakespeare
by Peter Milward













Shakespeare the Papist by Peter Milward 













 Mystical Journey, the autobiography of William Johnston, S.J., author of Mystical Theology and many other works on mysticism
















 Arise My Love by William Johnston, S.J.

















All About Francis Xavier (Articles on Japanese Catholic History and Jesuits) 
























12. Teaching Shakespeare in Japan


   Shortly after I arrived in Japan – it may have been on the occasion of my first visit to Sophia – I was informed that in the field of English literature I should make a choice between two areas of expertise, Shakespeare and modern English.  The Japanese weren’t interested in anything else.  Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to decide in favour of Shakespeare.  Neither at school nor at Oxford had I made any special study of Shakespeare.  Or rather, at the undergraduate level we had to specialize in all areas of English.  Only modern English was omitted, if one counts modern English as beginning after the death of Sir Walter Scott.  Thus, apart from the one course I had been teaching at Sophia once a week on Chesterton’s Victorian Age, I had little knowledge of Victorian literature except for what I had read for myself in boyhood, and still less of literature in the twentieth century.  On the other hand, as I have said, after having gone through the whole course of English literature from Caedmon to Keats, I had come to the conclusion that only one great poet was worthy of special attention, and that was Shakespeare.  It was thanks to my destination for Japan that I had turned from the Classics to English, and now it was thanks to the advice I received at Sophia that I now began to specialize in Shakespeare.  It may not therefore seem surprising if, in the course of many years of teaching Shakespeare to Japanese students at Sophia, I have come to see Shakespeare as not only quintessentially English but even quintessentially Japanese.  At one time I even had the idea of publishing a book (in Japanese translation) with the provocative title, “Was Shakespeare Japanese?”  But unfortunately, the publisher, with more prudence than provocation, decided on the tamer title, Shakespeare and the Japanese.


   Anyhow, it was after my tertianship at Nagatsuka and my final vows as a Jesuit that I joined the Jesuit community at Sophia as well as the faculty of Literature.  Then in April 1962 I began my full-time teaching career, on April Fools’ Day, with myself as the fool and my students as my dupes.  I am not just being frivolous in admitting my folly.  Rather, I am being unashamedly Shakespearian.  If you study his plays, you will soon recognize the importance he attaches to his fools.  You might even say that, if we didn’t have the old tradition that as an actor he took the parts of kings and princes, including the ghost of the dead king in Hamlet, his part of preference in his own plays would have been that of the fool.  Yet we have the names of other actors in his company, William Kemp and Robert Armin, who played his fools.  It is even thought that he was criticizing the former in the outspoken words he puts into the mouth of Hamlet against the fools of his time.  From the beginning I had, of course, to teach other subjects besides Shakespeare, but I put special energy into my classes on Shakespearian drama, with a general survey of his plays, introducing them all one by one in their chronological order of composition.  For each lecture during the year I would take one play, or perhaps two of the lesser known plays, and prepare two pages of hand-outs for the students, one on the play and the other consisting of famous passages from the play.  In the lecture I would, of course, fuse the two pages together, using the second to illustrate the first.  In this way I introduced the students not just to the plots and characters, which the dramatist mostly borrowed from his sources, but to Shakespeare’s language.  After all, it is the language, difficult though it seems to the Japanese, which is most Shakespearian.  As I always had to remind my students, Shakespeare didn’t write his plays in Japanese but in English, and so in order to understand his plays properly, it is necessary to study them not in Japanese translation but in their original English.


   I was getting on into the winter of my first year at Sophia when I caught a bad cold.  This in itself might not seem to be specially worthy of comment, considering that few winters have passed without my catching a cold.  Only, colds in general have the effect of altering my voice, making me sound as if a frog has just jumped into my throat.  This was now the case with one of my lectures on Shakespeare that winter.  Now from the time of my study of Japanese in Taura, I had acquired a taste for haiku poetry, especially that of Basho, who lived about a hundred years after Shakespeare.  One of his most famous haiku was about a frog jumping into an old pond, “Furuike ya/ kawazu tobikomu/ mizu no oto” – “The old pond,/ a frog jumps in,/ the sound of water”, or as one translator put it simply and arrestingly, “Plop!”  So with my voice sounding like a frog croaking from within my throat, it was easy enough for me to adapt the past poem to my present predicament and to apologize to my students in the form of a haiku, “Shakespeare ya/ kawazu tobikomu/ nodo no oto” – “Shakespeare,/ a frog jumps in,/ the sound of my throat.”  It was quite an inspiration – not my first attempt at a haiku, since I had often tried in vain, but my first experiment in a genre that I subsequently christened henryu, or a foreigner’s odd form of the Japanese senryu, itself a comic form of haiku.  It was an immediate success.  My students broke into warm applause at my outstanding wit.  Whatever else they may have forgotten from those lectures, they at least remember that one joke!  They were my dupes, and I was their professorial fool!


   When these lectures came to an end in January 1963, I got the idea of collecting all my hand-outs and putting them together in book form, to be published by April 1964.  Then I wouldn’t need to make any more hand-outs for my course.  What was more, April 23 1964 was to be the fourth centenary of Shakespeare’s birth – supposing him to have been born on the day of his death, St. George’s Day 1616.  Thus it would be appropriate for me to bring out my first book, and my first book on Shakespeare, on that day.  I was therefore introduced by one of my Japanese colleagues in the department of English Literature to the chief editor of the publishing house of Kenkyusha, and the agreement was made with surprisingly little difficulty.  Nor was I content with bringing out my first book on Shakespeare from Kenkyusha on that day.  I was further entrusted by “the powers that be” at Sophia University with the task of organizing a series of events for the Shakespeare Year.  That year also happened to be the sixth centenary of the birth of Japan’s great Noh dramatist, Zeami, but no one seemed to pay any attention to him.  Their attention was all fixed on Shakespeare.  Of course, Sophia’s contribution would only be a tiny part of the nation’s festivities in his honour.  In the first place, through my friend at the British Council I was aware of the forthcoming visit to Japan of the great Shakespeare actor, Robert Speaight.  So I was able to persuade him to come and give us a lecture on Shakespeare, based on his forthcoming biography.  That was in January, and he brought the house down with an impromptu rendition of Macbeth’s “dagger” speech at the request of one of the students.  Then, for the great day itself I arranged a combined presentation of lectures on “Shakespeare in Elizabethan England”, by Dr. Muriel Bradbrook of Cambridge, and “Shakespeare in Modern Japan”, by Mr. Ken’ichi Yoshida, son of the former prime minister and a well-known critic – with a performance of Elizabethan madrigals in between presented by the Tokyo Madrigal Singers, led by Mr. Ken Kurosawa.  On another day we had a symposium involving the English poet Edmund Blunden, the former editor of the Times Literary Supplement, Alan Pryce-Jones, and the Japanese poet-professor Junzaburo Nishiwaki.  We also staged an exhibition of books on Shakespeare recently published in England and provided for us by the British Council.  Of course, we were also arranging a production of Macbeth by students of the English Literature department – one of whom had triggered Robert Speaight’s rendition of the “dagger” speech – for the coming May.


   But, as I so often have occasion to say, “Man proposes, but God disposes.”  It even seems to be the divine delight, or divine humour, to dispose otherwise.  Everything seemed to have gone swimmingly for the Shakespeare Year – till the end of April.  But by then I had become noticeably thinner and weighed down with fatigue.  I had gone too far.  My first two years at Sophia had been too much of a strain for me.  So when I asked my superior at SJ House for a week’s rest, considering that Golden Week, in the first week of May, was coming up, he said – with an unconscious echo of that divine humour – “No! What you need is a medical check-up at the hospital.”  When I went to the hospital, they took X-rays of my lungs, and there they found tell-tale shadows, a sign of incipient TB.  So without more ado – though it turned out (after six months) to have been what Shakespeare calls “much ado about nothing” – they whisked me off to another hospital that specialized in such ailments on the outskirts of Tokyo.  Sakuramachi Hospital, to which I was now driven, specialized in two kinds of ailment, tuberculosis and neurosis, and in aftertimes I had to insist that my problem came under the former, not the latter category – for all the pride I took in Shakespearian folly.  The day I arrived there was a Saturday, and the doctor in charge of TB patients was away.  So I had to wait till Monday before I could receive his diagnosis.  Then on his eventual inspection of my lung condition, he was none too certain.  The shadow on my lungs was certainly there, but I didn’t have other characteristic symptoms of TB.  All the same, I was kept in the hospital and treated for TB, to be on the safe side.  It wasn’t so bad, as I was given a Japanese-style room in a low wooden building with a view of pine trees outside the window, not to mention the kind care I received from the Japanese sisters.  So I was at least able to have the rest which I certainly needed.  It wasn’t so good, however, for many of those I had suddenly left behind me at Sophia, whether for my students who were now deprived of my classes and my jokes, or for my colleagues, who had to fill in the gaps left by those empty classrooms.  Now I was to be hospitalized for an indefinite length of time.  I wasn’t yet sure if it was TB, but in that case I would probably remain in hospital for several years.  The suddenness of it all was so dramatic, an ironical effect of my devotion to Shakespearian drama.  At least, I was comforted to hear that the student production of Macbeth had been a great success, in spite of my confident expectations to the contrary.


   Now I began to receive an unending stream of visitors from the great capital and the little university – for Sophia was still little in those days.  Friends and students came to sympathize with me in my misery, but as a mild spring moved into a hot, sweltering summer, it was rather I who had to sympathize with them.  I was quite happy where I was, in that quiet room, with a bowl of goldfish beside me to keep me company.  Birds were always singing from the pine trees without having to be kept like canaries in cages.  My visitors, however, by the time they entered my room were bathed in perspiration.  Of course, many of them were students who had been involved in the arrangements for the Shakespeare Year and the production of Macbeth, and I would respond to their kind visits with little poems of appreciation.  The doctor had forbidden me to read any kind of book, on the odd assumption that the effort of reading would draw the blood from my lungs to my eyes, but he made no mention about writing poems.  Anyhow, I judged it prudent not to ask him, lest he should say “No!”  The result was that I took this opportunity of having nothing to do, by composing not only songs for my students but Shakespearian sonnets on anything, everything and nothing – my favourite subjects! 


   A couple of months passed and I seemed to have returned to normal.  But Japanese doctors don’t let their patients out of their clutches so easily.  For the time being I had to stay in the hospital, but from now on I was allowed to read light literature.  First, I asked a friend to bring me one of PG Wodehouse’s books, and it turned out to be his masterpiece Summer Lightning.  While reading it, however, I was laughing so much that I feared it might endanger my lungs.  So instead of reading more Wodehouse, I turned to GK Chesterton and his Father Brown stories.  In next to no time I had read all of them.  They didn’t make me laugh so much – after all, they are detective stories, often involving murder – but they invariably put me in a good humour.  So when I was subsequently released from hospital, I attributed it to GKC and Father Brown.  Then I recalled that not only had I begun my academic career in Japan with Chesterton’s Victorian Age in Literature, but several of my colleagues in the department of English Literature at Sophia had written articles on Chesterton or at least shown interest in him.  So from this time I began to entertain thoughts of founding a Chesterton Society of Japan, as one of the many literary societies that flourish in this country.  At the same time, I also began to link the name of Chesterton with that of Shakespeare, after noticing that, though the former hadn’t published a book about the latter, he often spoke about him in his many essays.  So it occurred to me that I might well gather these essays together in a little volume for Japanese students entitled Chesterton on Shakespeare, which was eventually published by Kenkyusha in 1968.


   When I left hospital in September, after only five months of hospitalization – surely a record for TB, if it had been TB – I was astonished at the change that had come over Tokyo.  All my time in hospital preparations had been under way for the celebration not so much of Shakespeare’s centenary as of the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics.  On my way to the hospital in May I had seen signs of preparation everywhere, but I had felt little assurance that anything would be ready in time for the Olympics.  In this respect Japanese workers had a reputation almost as bad as British workers, and I couldn’t see how anything would be ready in time.  Yet on my return from the hospital to Sophia I could enjoy a smooth ride all the way, in contrast to the bumpy road I had traveled before.  It was a miracle of modern progress, which must have finally caught up with Japan!  The new motorways, the monorail to Haneda airport, the Bullet train to Osaka, the nearby New Otani Hotel, all were ready for the numerous visitors expected to come for the Olympics.  As for myself, it was thought I still needed rehabilitation, and so I was sent for further rest to the Jesuit high school at Kobe, where I would be able to see the Olympics on TV at my leisure.  I was really pampered!  Still, from the end of October it was thought I could resume classes at Sophia till the end of the school year in January.  Then I was granted a whole year off as a sabbatical rest.


   For the purpose of this sabbatical my good friend at the British Council, Mr Tomlin, arranged for me to be invited as a research fellow at the Shakespeare Institute, Birmingham University.  But first I spent a couple of months traveling in a leisurely manner through the United States, for my first experience of that incredibly vast country.  I could see that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have been American.  The country was much too vast for the vastness of his genius.  On the other hand, I considered, Milton might have been an American, even as one of the emigrants on board the “Mayflower”.  As a Puritan poet, he might have fitted in very well with them.  On the other hand, it was only natural, I thought, for Shakespeare to have been taken up in a big way by the Americans.  As I went from one Jesuit university campus to another across the length and breadth of the States, I was astonished to see how many we had and how large they were.  I was also careful to follow in the footsteps of the American-English poet T.S. Eliot, whose poetry I was also teaching in Japan.  He had been born and brought up in St Louis and he had spent his university days at Harvard and Cape Ann, before going on to England.  I recalled a train journey I had once taken back in England with a copy of his Four Quartets to while away the time, and I had read through the whole poem without understanding a word.  Yet now I was teaching it to my poor Japanese students and writing a word-for-word commentary on it.  My visit to the Mid-West and New England now helped to clarify many things in my mind about him.  But I still had to continue my “Eliotic pilgrimage” in old England, to Gloucester Road and Russell Square in the city of London, and to Burnt Norton, East Coker and Little Gidding in various parts of the English countryside.


   After visiting those places with my younger brother John, I spent the summer relaxing as chaplain to a community of nuns at Felixstowe on the Suffolk coast.  There I discovered a dormant skill in the game of croquet, which I haven’t had the opportunity of playing since then.  I was also able to visit the country home of Edmund Blunden at Long Melford in the same county.  The time at length came for me to take up my appointment at the Shakespeare Institute, then under the direction of Professor Spencer, from September till the following spring.  Now I could really begin to specialize in Shakespeare.  Not that I had come to study for a research degree, but I was free to indulge in my own line of research, which was “Shakespeare’s religious background”, a subject that eventually took published form under that title in 1973.  I stayed at a Jesuit retreat house not far away in a suburb of Birmingham, from which it was a ten-minute bicycle ride to the Institute.  I was given a room of my own, from whose window I was able to listen to the song of the blackbird every morning.  He reassured me that I was really back in England and in the countryside, if so close to the industrial city of Birmingham.  In the rare books room of the university library I was happy to make the discovery of a copy of Henry Smith’s Sermons, which had been published just after his death in 1593.  Though a book of sermons, and by a Puritan, it was for me fascinating reading and I found his language remarkably close to that of the dramatist.  His publisher, Richard Field, had been a fellow townsman of Shakespeare from Stratford and also went on to publish Shakespeare’s two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, in 1593-94.  Thus it seemed to me that the dramatist must have been influenced by the preacher, who was also giving his sermons in London till the day of his death.  To him I devoted half a chapter of my book.


   It was also during my stay in Birmingham that I found myself hot on the trail of some missing letters of Shakespeare, presumably written to his favourite daughter Susanna.  She would have left them at her death to her only daughter Elizabeth, who had no children by either of her two husbands.  Then whatever letters Elizabeth had received from her mother, she would have left to the eldest daughter of her second husband by his previous marriage.  Thus the letters would have passed as a family heirloom from father or mother to son or daughter, till they ended up in what is called the “muniment room”, a room for keeping family records, of Thurgarton Priory, which before the Reformation had been an Augustinian priory in Nottinghamshire. That building with its large estate passed into the hands of the Milward family in 1833.  There is a strong likelihood – for which I have given the full evidence in The Shakespeare Quarterly Vol.XX (1969) – that these missing Shakespeare papers, which had been mentioned as possibly surviving somewhere by the great scholar Edmund Malone, had remained here undisturbed till 1833.  But what happened to them then?  Either the previous owner of the house and estate, John Gilbert Cooper Gardiner, took them with him to his place of retirement in Gloucestershire, or he left them in the muniment room of Thurgarton with other possessions, to be taken over by my ancestor.  It was an exciting search, but I soon realized that I wasn’t the person to undertake it.  That is why I published my findings in The Shakespeare Quarterly shortly afterwards.  I fully expected crowds of American literary detectives to be crossing the Atlantic in search of what would have been the literary “find” of the century.  But so far, it seems, no one has made the discovery.  All I could say about it, as I revealed at a conference of the Shakespeare Society of Japan held at Matsue, was that I had discovered that “the missing Shakespeare letters were still missing”!  If only I had found them, I might have financed a new medical faculty for Sophia University, besides ensuring my reputation as a Shakespeare scholar.


   Residing with me at the Jesuit retreat house, Harborne, was an elderly priest who had an amateur but passionate interest in the recusant background of Shakespeare, especially in the noble families of the Elizabethan age who were clinging to the “old faith” of their fathers in spite of severe and continual persecution.  So we had much in common.  We not only shared notes on the subject but on one occasion he took me on a round of the noble families of the district.  First, we visited a former pupil of his from Stonyhurst College, now Earl of Gainsborough, who claimed descent from Shakespeare’s noble patron, the Earl of Southampton.  He was living at Exton Hall in Rutland, and we stayed at his home overnight, before going on to visit the Duke of Rutland at his nearby Belvoir (pronounced “Beaver”) Castle, since the duke was descended from Southampton’s friend the Earl of Rutland.  He even showed us a relic he had in his possession, an impresa or heraldic device supposedly designed by Shakespeare for his ancestor.  Then, from his castle we went on to visit a Lady Fermor-Hesketh at Easton Neston Hall in Northamptonshire, as she was descended from one of the dramatist’s early patrons in Lancashire, Sir Thomas Hesketh.  Though we didn’t gain much by way of evidence for Shakespeare’s religious background, I found it interesting to visit these places and people with such hallowed associations.


   Otherwise, what I chiefly remember from Birmingham was the daily experience, as it were repeated from my boyhood days of going to school, of riding on a borrowed bicycle through the cold and rain of a typical English winter.  Then I could feel the force, if not the factual truth, of the Fool’s song in Twelfth Night, “For the rain it raineth every day.”  Of course, living as I did in Birmingham, I had many occasions to visit Stratford.  Both towns were in the same county of Warwickshire, and the Shakespeare Institute had both begun in Stratford and was destined to return in a few years to Stratford.  Only, for academic purposes it had moved to Birmingham under the umbrella of the “redbrick” University of Birmingham.  There I was close not only to Shakespeare but also to the great Catholic thinker John Henry Newman, who had founded the Oratory of Birmingham not far from Harborne.  So I was able to think of him, as of Chesterton, in connection with Shakespeare, especially as he was one of the first to recognize the probable Catholicism of the dramatist – which is also the emphasis of my study on “Shakespeare’s religious background”.  This recognition he expresses in a lecture contained in his Idea of a University, and Chesterton further develops his intuition in his book on Chaucer.  So it is on their shoulders I take my stand.

 <- Prev *** Next ->