Vatican: there is ‘little doubt’ William Shakespeare was Catholic

18 Nov 2011

The Vatican has reignited the debate over whether playwright William Shakespeare was Catholic by insisting there was ‘little doubt he was’.

Historians have been in two minds over Shakespeare’s faith with splits between whether he was a Roman Catholic or a Protestant and the argument has surfaced again with the release of blockbuster film Anonymous.

The political thriller stars Rafe Spall and Rhys Ifans and is set against the backdrop of 16th Century England and controversially claims that Britain’s most prolific playwright was in fact a fraud and cover for the then Earl of Oxford.

Questions have also long surrounded his religion and there is little direct evidence of his faith, although he is buried in the Protestant church of Holy Trinity in Stratford Upon Avon, historians say there is some evidence that he was secretly Catholic.

However the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano in an article headlined: ‘More Catholic than anonymous’ insisted that although ‘Shakespeare’s identity was the matter of debate his religious faith was not.’

L’Osservatore – which last week published an article praising new film Tintin – added that in its belief Shakespeare ‘convincingly adhered to the Catholic faith,’ pinning its argument on the fact that in his famous play Hamlet he spoke of purgatory.

According to the Roman Catholic faith purgatory is the place souls go to after death and is between Heaven and Hell and where they are purified – the belief, as L’Osservatore notes is not shared with the Church of England and would have been evident in ‘Elizabeth’s violently anti-Catholic England’.

The newspaper went on: ‘Shakespeare’s identity will long be the subject of morbid curiosity but there can be little doubt over his faith,’ adding that although he was ‘a member of that Protestant society proudly and cruelly defended by Queen Elizabeth the reality was very different’.

It is references to purgatory within this play that have convinced the Vatican that Shakespeare must have been Catholic

L’Osservatore also picked up on a comment made by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, earlier this year at the Hay on Wye book festival in which he said: ‘William Shakespeare in all probability was Catholic.’

In 1559, five years before Shakespeare was born, England finally severed its links with the Catholic church and everyone was forced to accept the Church of England or face the ultimate punishment – although some historians have claimed that Shakespeare’s parents secretly maintained their faith.

Source: Daily Mail

Joseph Pearce on Shakespeare the Catholic

Joseph Pearce has made a specialty of exploring Catholic literary lives in such books as Literary ConvertsThe Unmasking of Oscar WildeTolkien: Man and Myth and many others. He is writer-in-residence and professor of literature at Ave Maria University in Florida, co-editor of the St. Austin Review, editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions, and editor-in-chief of Ave Maria’s Sapientia Press.

In Pearce’s latest book, The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome (Ignatius Press),he puts the greatest writer of all under the microscope, building a careful case for a Catholic Shakespeare…. Read it all