Was William Shakespeare a Catholic ?


This article throws some light on the life of William Shakespeare and asks the question was Shakespeare a Roman Catholic ? :

His Life

Critic Daniel Wackerman argues in his essay, “To Be or Not to Be (Catholic, That is),” that there are many biographical reasons to believe that Shakespeare was a catholic. He writes about how from his birth Shakespeare was in the presence of some strong catholic influences. Wackerman and some other scholars, including Eamon Duffy, have pointed to the family’s religious affiliations to back this up. The Bard’s maternal grandfather was Edward Arden, Wackerman writes that, “Arden, was patriarch to ‘one of the most prominent Warwickshire Catholic families.” He is even said to have secretly kept his own catholic priest, disguised as the family gardener.”

Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt in his book Will in the World supports the claim that Edward Arden was a catholic. He adds that Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother, was “the youngest of eight daughters, Mary was her father’s favorite.” The tradition of Catholicism would have likely been passed down from father to daughter. If the claim that Edward kept a private priest is true, it is clear that Mary would have had some sort of opportunity to converse and interact with him.

Wackerman goes on and cites scholarship that claims Mary Arden, “made specific mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her will, a practice long out of fashion for all save Catholics in 16th-century England.” This with the connection to Edward Arden essentially captures the Catholic connection on the maternal side of the Bard’s family; however, since the England of Shakespeare’s time was thoroughly patriarchal it is important to examine the religious affiliations of the Bard’s father.

John Shakespeare was the father of William. Many scholars have highlighted the presence of a ‘spiritual testament’ that was found hidden in the rafters of John Shakespeare’s house after his death. Literary critic Ralph Berry writes about the testament, “The Spiritual Testament of John Shakespeare, William’s father, proves him a Catholic; the document no longer exists but its authenticity is generally accepted.” This idea is supported by Greenblatt, Wackerman, and others. They all discuss the testament that declared John Shakespeare a Catholic. Considering that his mother and father were Catholic then it is likely that the Bard would have been raised with the religion of his parents.

His surroundings would have all but guaranteed that he end up with Catholic beliefs by the time that he left for his career in London. His hometown Stratford-on-Avon was still very much a Catholic stronghold after the country officially moved to Protestantism. Even though it was nominally Protestant the town still held firmly to its old ways. Greenblatt writes about the cultural influences of Catholicism on Stratford ......




From an article by Matthew Colpitts and reprinted with kind permission of the Student Plus website

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