View Full Version : what is Shakespeares religion?

05-23-2006, 02:55 PM
what is Shakespeares religion? and how do you know?

05-23-2006, 05:21 PM
Well, is it really important?

I just supposed that he was anglican because he was favourite poet of Elizabeth Ist but that's only a suggestion as it was not a time for toleration even for poets.

I hope someone has a better answer than mine.

10-13-2006, 03:56 PM
he was C of E m'dear cause he was raised in my hometown & was baptised here too as *shock* C of E

10-23-2006, 07:43 PM
What do you mean, C of E? I'm at a loss... just for you to know im a stupid american.. so im unable to comply.:lol:

10-23-2006, 09:01 PM
C of E is short for Church of England, the members of which are called Anglicans.

The plays sometimes make veiled references to the Catholic/Protestant struggle that so shaped the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Hamlet for example, Old Hamlet is said to be locked in purgatory (which Protestants don't believe in) and Hamlet wonders whether or not he is simply a devil sent to decieve him (this is a controvertial interpretation, and I don't buy into it all that heavily). Shakespeare probably wasn't particularly religious; he references the ancient Greek and Roman gods at least as often as the modern Christian one.

10-24-2006, 07:44 AM
A) The Religion.

Most people who know anything about the Elizabethan and early Stuart period would agree that it is not a simple question and that the sort of evidence we need to answer the first part of the question doesn't exist.

When Elizabeth came to the throne, the official religion was changed (again) from Catholic to Protestant. Shakespeare's father must therefore have 'officially' changed his religion - and there is some evidence that he did so reluctantly, possibly hedging his bets. However, he was elected the equivalent of Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon - which would have been difficult for a known Catholic to be!

About Shakespeare himself: We don't even know the exact date of his birth - and next to nothing about his personal religion, other than he was married and buried inside a church.

What is known is that Shakespeare was almost certainly a Christian - forget the atheism claims - and almost as certainly a Protestant - an Anglican one at that.

Germaine Greer (bbke) in her (excellent) SHAKESPEARE: A Very Short Introduction, makes the point that he presented 'Protestant Ideology' in many of his plays, including the Protestant ideology of marriage in Romeo and Juliet and the Merry Wives of Windsor.

There have been attempts to claim Shakespeare for the Catholic Church - the most glaring recent example in the UK being Michael Woods, In Search Of Shakespeare, but the case requires considerable faith, and has little hard fact to support it.

(As an aside, it never ceases to amaze me the extremes people will go to, to 'prove' Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare: No one has yet claimed, to my knowledge, that his plays were written by an Inuit living on an ice cap whilst fighting off Polar Beers, but the time will come: Mind you, some people believe that the earth is flat and the moon made of cream cheese.)

B) Does it matter?

Yes, and no.

1. Yes.

To understand what Shakespeare meant when he wrote plays like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Merchant of Venice, knowing the belief system he is working under is essential.

As a simple example, take the ghost in Hamlet - to a Protestant, the ghost is a messenger of the devil - a temptation to evil and sin. There is no 'Purgatory' - many sermons had been preached against this belief in Elizabeth's Anglican churches - and the ghost's claims are therefore a lie. Hamlet had studied at Wittenburg - the home of Protestantism - and the doubts which prevent him from acting are totally justified - the devil is tempting Hamlet to the great sin of killing a king.

To a Catholic, Purgatory existed - and the ghost could be a real spirit of his father. Hamlet's doubts therefore become less justified, etc., etc.

Looking at the plays through the lens of Anglican Protestantism makes a lot of sense and solves several important issues – and it would be almost impossible for Shakespeare to have hidden ‘Catholic Doctrine’ in such publicly performed works, even if he had wanted to.

If you are studying the plays, some knowledge of what was originally meant can be a very useful way of introducing the issues and characters.


2. No, Shakespeare’s religion is irrelevant.

We are dealing with a play text, and no matter what was originally intended, we can (I would say must) add and change to make the words relevant to our world, our thoughts and our beliefs. (See my post on Empty Spaces)

Why else is Shakespeare not only ‘acceptable’ but truthful in many parts of the world which are not Christian?

Not only that, Shakespeare himself never intended to give answers – he was raising issues, asking questions, and frequently presenting two truths at once!
This is the, ‘negative capability’ Keats identified – the ability to present conflicting arguments at the same time.

If we want to be entertained, stimulated, thrilled by a performance of the works of Shakespeare, the religion of the ‘original’ can be an irrelevance, or worse.

12-10-2006, 03:10 PM
I just checked an internet web page and it turns out that Willy's Family was forced to be Protestant by Queen Lizzy I.:( But some articles were recently found stating the families standing as Catholic.

12-13-2006, 12:46 PM
That is most interesting... what web search bowser do you use... Because my google browser came up with nothing...:(