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Shakespeare & Religion

With the country in religious transition, what do we know about Shakespeare's beliefs?

We do not know precisely when Shakespeare's father, John, was born but he would have been brought up a Roman Catholic. From 1534, however, when Henry VIII finally renounced the authority of the Pope and declared himself head of the Church of England, a new understanding of the faith began to emerge. We call this Protestant, but in fact The Church of England might be best understood to be a reformed Catholic church, rather than a rigorously Protestant one. Many people born before this time had difficulty abandoning their old faith but were generally left alone so long as they did not obstinately refuse to attend church (everybody had to attend regularly). John Shakespeare was cited once (in 1592) for failing to attend church, but he gave as his excuse fear of his creditors, so we should not, perhaps, read too much into this. However, even if we were to accept that John had difficulty in renouncing the faith with which he grew up, Shakespeare was brought up in the newly established Church of England, which itself had inherited much from the Roman Catholic tradition.


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