February 24, 2005

"New Light on Shakepeare's Catholicism"

while many of my classmates seemed to marvel over the complexities of this article, I must admit I sat the smacked the article onto my dorm room desk as I finished it thinking out loud "Yeah I don't think so." I just have trouble with believing that Shakespeare intended the Tempest to have catholic underscoring. I do not believe that Prospero's epilogue was a declaration to the church. While I am not well versed enough in my facts to argue this, I will tell you why I believe so.

First, the article talks of how Shakespeare was at least at some point in his life a catholic. while that fact can not be argued, I think that if you belong to a certain religion at some point in your life, those ideals stay with you. Yet, that does not mean that Shakespeare wrote the tempest years later with those thoughts in mind. As a creative writer, I assume he was basing his dialogue on his own experiences, and the ideals the catholic church holds would be stay with him in some part. Yet, I do not think he wrote the play with the catholic undertones in mind. They were simply a product of his upbringing.

Second, I have always felt "The Tempest" has more a pagan undertone than a Catholic one. In act IV while prospero performs a Christian marriage he makes many references to pagan mythology. He calls upon Hymen who is the God of marriage. Ferdinand refers to "Phoebus' steeds," as symbols of day-time and the sun, and the characters in Prospero's masque originate in classical myths as well. I know very little about pagan, mythology, but i have a dear friend at home who is obsessed. While we were casually talking he pointed out these references to me.

Actually i found an article on the internet shows pagan themes in king lear as well. its:


maybe shakespeare was a pagan. i want to investigate this furthur...

Posted by KellynMiller at February 24, 2005 02:47 PM | TrackBack

E.K. Chambers, in his book The Elizabethan Stage, mentions a 1576 decree that stated that "no play or pageant [should] be played wherein the majesty of God the Father, God the Sonne or God the Holy Ghoste or then administration of either the sacraments of baptisme or the Lords supper be counterfeited or represented or anything played which tends to the maintenance of superstition and idolatrie which can be contrarie to the lawes of God or the realme." In other words, there was a legal document that prevented actors from portraying drama with Christian themes, because of a long tradition of medieval drama that ce1ebrated the sacraments of the Catholic church. The Protestants felt threatened by these old traditions of Catholic drama, and though they tried to produce plays about the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer, they weren't nearly as interesting to the common people as the Catholic plays that had been produced for hundreds of years.

I often wonder what Shakespeare would have done, if censorship hadn't prevented him from producing a play about Adam & Eve, or Jesus and Judas. So it was actually the Protestants' desire to protect the people from Catholic art that made Shakespeare have to choose characters from pagan mythology to illustrate a point he wants to make in this play, which otherwise draws heavily on Christian themes.

If you'd like to know more about one particular kind of medieval drama, see this site


Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at March 2, 2005 12:58 PM

I did note some of the pagan imagery in The Tempest - I thought it was interesting and I was curious about it as well. I'm glad you explored this, Kellyn :c)

Posted by: moira at March 2, 2005 03:35 PM

thanks dr. jerz for the link. i really do want to investigate this further because it interests me why Shakespeare would choose a pagan theme to hide the Catholic references of the play. Do you happen to know, by chance, if that was one of few religions Shakespeare could have pulled mythology from?

My thoughts are maybe he chose paganism because it's sometimes seems to be the sole enemy of Christianity. I think there is even a reference to pagan's in the bible (but don't quote me on that Iím not sure) Therefore, paganism would counteract the strong Catholic references.

Any thoughts??

Posted by: kellyn at March 2, 2005 05:56 PM

I tried to post a comment to this but it won't work! Check my blog:


Posted by: moira at March 2, 2005 06:51 PM

sorry! the *real* link is this one:


i wonder why blacklist won't let me post it! Dr. J - any suggestions?

Posted by: moira at March 2, 2005 06:54 PM

wow moria, i did not know that at all. do u have any suggestions for sources i may be able to look up about this? maybe you do Dr. Jerz? One of my friends from home is Wiccan, which in the case of "good magic" from what i understand is based on paganism. I'm wondering if he has any insight on this topic. I sense a phone call...

Posted by: kellyn at March 2, 2005 09:20 PM
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