shakespeare and catholicism





RELIGION IN SHAKESPEARE
The purpose of this web page is that of introducing you, an interested web user into the
religious nature of William Shakespeare\'s plays. This page covers three topics
surrounding Shakespeare\'s work: the of 16th Century England, Shakespeare\'s (school,
parents, & Stratford itself), and a brief introduction into the impact his society and
upbringing had upon his . In no way is this page comprehensive in its coverage of
Shakespeare and religion (honestly, what page could be?). Rather, its purpose is to
acquaint any person, just beginning in their quest for Shakespearean knowledge, to the
religious dimension of his writing. The links in this page provide more information to
you, the user, about certain topics and will further help your understanding of this subject.
And now, away we go to explore this fascinating topic...
I. THE RELIGIOUS CLIMATE OF 16TH CENTURY ENGLAND


In order to understand the religious content in Shakespeare\'s work it is helpful to first
understand what the religious environment in England was like around the time
Shakespeare wrote and lived. England, ever since it was ruled by the Romans, had been a
Catholic nation. Before Shakespeare\'s lifetime, a strange and drastic change occurred that
completely upended the existing of the English people. During King reign, the English
people were, for the most part, content with Catholicism. Through a series of very
complex political maneuvers, Henry eventually seized power of the English church. The
benefits of this control were enormous for the state. First of all, Henry obtained his
divorce from his first wife. Second, the state received the tithes and taxes from church
property, thus making the break very lucrative for the state. Finally, with the closing of all
of the monasteries, England gained large tracts of land to sell to land owners and tax
heavily. The break with the Church of Rome, on the other hand, was not welcomed by the
people. Through various laws and ordinances the monarchy effectively closed down the
Catholic church in England, but they did not stop the people from being loyal to
Catholicism in their hearts. This idea will be very important in the part about
Shakespeare\'s parents later on in this page.


One of the effects of the break from Rome was the welcoming of an English translation
of the Bible. If they were going to have an English form of Christianity, then they wanted
to have a Bible that was theirs also. One of the first English translations of the Bible was
written by . Known as or the Great Bible, this Bible along with the would have been the
two translations used widely during Shakespeare\'s lifetime . With the advent of the
before this time, the Bible was becoming more and more commonly a household item.
Certainly access to Scripture was at it highest point in human history to that time. The
accessibility of the Bible had an impacted greatly the work of Shakespeare because he had
such a resource at his disposal. Along with these two translations of Scripture already
available to Shakespeare came a new translation authorized by King James I. Today this
translation is known as the (Milward 86). At this point in time, the climate was right for
Shakespeare to learn a great deal about Christianity directly from Scripture, even if the
church in England was still in upheaval.
II. SHAKESPEARE\'S UPBRINGING
To bring this a little closer to home for Shakespeare, an examination of the effect the
English Reformation had on Shakespeare\'s town and family is in order. Shakespeare was
born and raised in . Being a small town meant that these religious changes occurred more
slowly and later than they did in London. As with the majority of English towns, Stratford
did not welcome the reformations of their religion imposed by the state (Milward 17). In
time, the town bore these mandated changes out of necessity.
There is some evidence that Shakespeare\'s parents were Catholic before the Reformation
and remained so at heart after it. John Shakespeare, William\'s father, held a high position
in Stratford. At one point in his life, in order to receive a promotion, John had to take an
oath that was anti-Catholic in nature and affirmed Queen Elizabeth I as the head of the
Church of England (Milward 18-19). Later in his life, when John\'s fortunes had slipped
some, his attendance in Protestant meetings stopped (Milward 19). Other evidence of
John\'s adherence to Catholicism comes from an archaeological find. A spiritual testament
of John Shakespeare was found after his death. Spiritual testaments were popular among
English