Shakespeare And Catholicism Essay

1258 words - 5 pages

By researching the life and writings of William Shakespeare, it can be shown that many Christian values and beliefs are displayed through his literary works. 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 Shakespeare's time. England, ever since it was ruled by the Romans, had been a Catholic nation. Before Shakespeare's lifetime, a drastic change occurred that completely upended the existing Catholicism of the English people. During King Henry VIII's 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 profitable 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 this did not stop the people from being loyal to Catholicism in their hearts.
     One of the effects of the break from Rome was the welcoming of an English translation of the Bible. One of the first English translations of the Bible was written by William Tyndale. Known as Cranmer's Bible or the Great Bible, this Bible along with the Geneva Bible would have been the two translations used widely during Shakespeare's lifetime (Milward 85). With the invention of the printing press before this time, the Bible was becoming a household item. Access to Scripture was at it highest point in history to that time. The accessibility of the Bible greatly impacted 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 King James Authorized Version (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.
     Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford, England. 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...

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