The playwright’s religion is as hard to pin down as the man himself, as this pithy, elegant and eminently sensible overview makes clear.
Shakespeare’s confessional allegiance has been investigated with ever increasing vigour in the past two decades. Not only has there been a turn to religion in literary studies but there are now sophisticated ways to explore and compare early modern texts that promise to tell us more about what people thought, believed and shared.
As David Kastan points out in his pithy, elegant and eminently sensible overview, the question of Shakespeare’s possible Catholicism was raised so frequently in the popular press that it managed to quieten speculation that the man from Stratford was really the earl of Oxford.
But no definite conclusion has been reached. When Shakespeare lamented the “bare ruined choirs” of the destroyed monasteries in sonnet 73 he was not necessarily signalling his opposition to Henry VIII’s brutal reforms or secretly recording his sympathy for the Catholic underground. Rather, he was expressing his dismay at the fracturing of late-medieval Christendom, a traumatic division that horrified Catholics and Protestants alike.