Was Shakespeare Catholic or Anglican? Does it matter?

"On Tuesday, 25 November 2014, word spread about the discovery of a “first folio” of the works of William Shakespeare, an artifact that news outlet placed somewhere between the holy grail and a black rhinoceros on the scale of metaphorical rarity. It was uncovered by some industrious librarians in St.-Omer, France, near the city of Calais, at a public library that already boasts possession of an even rarer Gutenberg Bible.

The folio, as the BBC noted, “collects 36 of Shakespeare’s 38 known plays for the first time, and was originally printed in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death.” As Jennifer Schuessler reported, the folio’s unearthing brings the total number of known Shakespeare compendiums to 233.

So how did a public library in northern France come into possession of such an artifact? Well, the mystique is only enhanced by the fact that the folio was absorbed by the library from a collection held by a now-defunct Jesuit college. Add that flourish to an already semi-simmering theory that Shakespeare was secretly a Catholic and you’ve got yourself a mystery (or a Dan Brown novel).

For centuries, Shakespeare’s status as an upstanding member of the Anglican Church was unimpeachable. His father held community positions that only Protestants could hold and his family’s names appear in church registries. Throughout his life, Shakespeare was said to be a member of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.

But over the past century-and-a-half, based on his works and some biographical plot points, scholars and religious figures have begun to debate Shakespeare’s faith. In 2011, the Vatican’s official paper offered that Shakespeare “convincingly adhered to the Catholic faith,” submitting his inclusion of purgatory in “Hamlet” as part of the evidence."


I tend to think he was Catholic. Does it matter? It might be the only thing that matters to Shakespeare now…

Once someone has gone to Purgatory, does it matter what faith he was?


He’s definitely Catholic now.

Purgatory is the biggest RCIA in the cosmos.


Who says he’s definitely in Purgatory?


Hopefully he is no “longer” there (time not being a factor as we know it in Purgatory) if he ever was.

However, IIUC, great saints and great sinners both being very rare in humandom, pretty much everybody needs Purgatory.


I don’t see the connection of the tome coming from a Jesuit college, and Shakespeare being Catholic. It would make sense that a college of any religion would have a tome of his works even if he was not Catholic.
I think he had some family members who were Catholic? And of course, his works may have been influenced by themes in religion…a writer takes and uses all that is around him and her for ideas and inspiration and ways to tell a story so that the public will understand it.
But even if he was baptized Catholic, it seems he himself adhered to the Anglican church.

His most famous play glorifies and romanticizes two young lovers who have unabashed sex before marriage.
This does not sound like the work of a devout Catholic.


It would not have been the work of a devout Anglican, at that time, either.

Whether or not WS was a Catholic, nobody is arguing that he was a saint.


It doesn’t matter to me! He was a literary genius who expressed the human condition in exquisite poetry better than any other writer in the English language.

AGREED! God Bless, Memaw

I don’t think anyone said he was “definitely” in Purgatory! God Bless, Memaw

I don’t know that it really matters except to include in the picture of who Shakespeare was in his times.
Wasn’t there even speculation if it was really shakespeare who had written the works at one time?

I don’t know that it really matters except to include in the picture of who Shakespeare was in his times.
Wasn’t there even speculation if it was really shakespeare who had written the works at one time?

Some folks still have that as a literary hobby.


Look at the turmoil of the times in which he lived. You didn’t have a choice of religion in those days. One minute you thought you were Catholic…the next …you’re Protestant…and then you can/have to be Catholic again!
For those unfamiliar with English history of the time:
Henry - broke with the pope…but still liked the pomp and rituals
Edward - fiercely Protestant …
Mary - fiercely Catholic…
Elizabeth - Protestant and fed up with all the OTT bloodshed…so trying to be more tolerant…

I over simplify for the sake of space, but that’s about how it was and it was a highly dangerous business. Both ‘sides’ were very blood thirsty. Shakespeare would have been brought up in a Catholic tradition. His father was a successful tradesman and rose to some status in Stratford. He was fined at some date for not attending Protestant worship. Their local church changed (as all local churches did) from Catholic to Protestant. The fact that Shakespeare’s father went to Holy Trinity church doesn’t tell us his real beliefs! It was his local church - he had to go.
This church was highly decorated as was the norm, and it seems that for some time it remained so. In the reformation all churches had to paint out their wall paintings and lose their statues, but Holy Trinity managed to keep 'under the radar ’ for a while. Eventually they had to whitewash the walls…

1564 - January John Shakespeare notes in his accounts as Chamberlain, 2 shillings ‘paid for defacing images in the Chapel.’( They were only whitewashed over). Rood loft taken down. (4 years late!) The chancel was partitioned off, with pictures intact until 1641…The Dance of Death on North Wall was allowed to remain. Stone altars in HT probably gone/hidden by now.
(From a history time-line of Holy Trinity church)

Anyway, they only put a very thin layer over the paintings - I expect they thought they might go Catholic again!
William Shakespeare was a genius at character observation. (I myself, think he must have gone to Italy, but this isn’t generally accepted!) Anyway, he got to the nitty gritty of human relationships - AND he’d had to get married! He wouldn’t have been such a great writer if he hadn’t shown humanity warts and all. They were not times for being squeamish or for advertising your true religious beliefs (whatever they were) too vociferously - in case the wind changed!


Joseph Pearce’s book The Quest for Shakespeare addresses this question. After reading it, I firmly believe Shakespeare was Catholic, and there are a lot of clues in his writings.
It was a time when, as mentioned above, Catholics were persecuted, sometimes violently. He may have witnessed people being hanged, drawn and quartered for their beliefs.

From the notes:
"Pearce’s quest leads to the inescapable conclusion that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic living in very anti-Catholic times.

Many of his friends and family were persecuted, and even executed, for their Catholic faith. And yet he seems to have avoided any notable persecution himself. How did he do this? How did he respond to the persecution of his friends and family? What did he say about the dreadful and intolerant times in which he found himself? The Quest for Shakespeare answers these questions in ways that will enlighten and astonish those who love Shakespeare’s work, and that will shock and outrage many of his critics. "


I vote Catholic. I see it in his works. He was very human. I understand that secret Catholics requested that a document stating so be placed in their coffins. I would not go that far-- let him rest in peace.

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