Rowan Williams suggests William Shakespeare was probably a Catholic

Posted by Kendall Harmon

William Shakespeare was probably a Catholic, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury in an exploration of spirituality and secularism in the Bard's plays.

Dr Rowan Williams discussed the themes with Simon Russell Beale, the great Shakespearean actor, in one of the most eagerly-anticipated talks of the Hay Festival.

Little is known of Shakespeare's life and there is no direct evidence of his religious affiliation, but Dr Williams said he believed him to be a Catholic. "I don't think it tells us a great deal, to settle whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant, but for what it's worth I think he probably had a Catholic background and a lot of Catholic friends and associates.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & CultureTheatre/Drama/Plays* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic

10 Comments
Posted June 1, 2011 at 7:29 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. A Senior Priest wrote:

Does this man ever have an unpublished thought?

June 1, 10:43 am | [comment link]
2. Adam 12 wrote:

It is problematic to try to extrapolate Shakespeare’s views from his characters, as he often has murderers mouthing virtuous platitudes (e.g. ‘talkers are no good doers’) and the virtuous mothing self-contradictions. Lines from a play really apply to the character and not the author. People interested in this subject should read “As They Liked It: A Study of Shakespeare’s Moral Artistry” by Alfred Harbage.

June 1, 10:57 am | [comment link]
3. Bookworm(God keep Snarkster) wrote:

#1, probably not, but it would be good if he did.

June 1, 11:18 am | [comment link]
4. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

#1 and #3,

To be fair to Rowan Williams, much of what appears under his name is there because the internet makes redistribution of it so easy. I suspect that his statements appear in the popular press in much the same proportion as those of Davidson, Temple and Ramsey. 

If you go back to the nineteenth century, there were frequent “vanity” reprints of public addresses and sermons whose enduring relevance - except to scholars interested in the author - is debatable.   

Catholic and Reformed

June 1, 11:41 am | [comment link]
5. Terry Tee wrote:

Back to the main topic:  Shakespeare’s Catholicism has been well argued in scholarly books such as Shadow Play by Claire Asquith and The Catholicism of Shakespeare’s Plays by Peter Milward.  Shakespeare’s father was fined for recusancy and there are clues scattered here and there that indicate his own faith.  The thesis is usually opposed by those of the ‘Protestant Island’ tendency who like to see Shakespeare as the bard of a doughty Tudor English Protestantism.

June 1, 6:19 pm | [comment link]
6. deaconjohn25 wrote:

To be honest, in high school I hated Shakespeare. I only read some of his plays under duress (as in read or Fail). That archaic language was a terrible drag.
  But as an adult I began to realize some of the depth and beauty and creativity of so many of his works.
  And then some modern movies were made by Kenneth Branaugh and Mel Gibson that I thought were fantastic.
  But one thing bothered me.
    Long before it became almost a fad in some circles to consider Shakespeare a secret Catholic, my wife and I were baffled by what seemed so much Catholic imagery and lines in some of his plays. I’ve long since forgotten which lines or scenes seemed so strange from a writer who has been considered the bard of Protestant Elizabethan England.
  But for once, I find myself agreeing with Archbishop Williams.

June 1, 7:22 pm | [comment link]
7. MichaelA wrote:

Much of what people find ‘catholic’ in Shakespeare, on closer examination turns out to be concepts common to classical protestants as well as roman catholics. 

But no matter. Everyone has their theories about ol’ Will.

One thing in favour of the thesis: if he had been catholic and if Elizabeth I had known, it wouldn’t have bothered her: she “made no windows into men’s souls”!

June 1, 7:36 pm | [comment link]
8. MichaelA wrote:

I note reading the article, that ABC’s words are reported as:

“I don’t think it tells us a great deal, to settle whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant, but for what it’s worth I think he probably had a Catholic background and a lot of Catholic friends and associates.”

Perhaps a little less controversial than the headline!

June 1, 7:39 pm | [comment link]
9. Terry Tee wrote:

From the letters in today’s (London) Daily Telegraph
Archdeacon Davies, chaplain of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, wrote that Shakespeare “died a papist”. ... this document [is] among the Fulman manuscripts in the college library. Davies, an unimpeachable source, was also rector of Sapperton, Gloucestershire, in 1695 and Archdeacon of Coventry in 1703.

June 2, 2:05 pm | [comment link]
10. Larry Morse wrote:

Dead wrong. Shakespeare’s plays were written by Conan Doyle. Everyone knows this. Shakespeare himself was Elizabeth 1 in disguise.
RW had better read history more carefullly.  L

June 2, 7:03 pm | [comment link]
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