« The Tempest Acts III,IV,V | Main | Shakespeare--"For all time?" »

EBSCO Shakespeare Catholicism Article

This academic article regarding Shakespeare and the evidence of Catholicism in his writings was one that I really enjoyed reading. (and that is a rarity) I usually don't like to read these over analyzed reflections on the text that we are reading but because of my interest in Shakespeare I seemed to relate to this topic. There is always something new to be found in his works of literature that hasn't necesarily been discussed before.

One of the first things I needed to look up when reading this article was the use of the word papist. Shakespeare was referred to as having been a papist when he died. The use of papist as a noun is as a disparaging term for a Roman Catholic. This form of the noun used to describe Shakespeare was as a Roman Catholic who is a strong advocate of the papacy. Papacy being: 1)The office and jurisdiction of a pope. 2)The period of time during which a pope is in office. 3) A succession or line of popes: the Medici papacy. 4)Papacy Roman Catholic Church. 5)The system of church government headed by the pope.

The article, written by David Beauregard suggests that Shakespeare was indeed a Roman Catholic. It has recently been argued that Willy was a RC but only in parts of his life. He did not take communion at the Church of England which lends more support to the claim. There is a lot of historical speculation surrounding Shakespeare's Catholic beliefs that can not whole heartedly be viewed as fact because of poor record keeping. The author argues that (in The Tempest) "Prospero's epilogue, contains a peculiar series of references to sin, grace and pardon that are the expressions of a sensibility rooted in Roman Catholic doctrine." This is an interpretation but that does not mean it loses any validity.

The particular references to 'pardon' through out the play can be interpreted as the giving of indulgences by the Pope. Indulgences being used for the remission of temporal punishment still due for a sin that has been sacramentally absolved. Specifically during the 16-17/18th centuries. In the end its really very hard to conclude the real meaning behind Prospero's epilogue in the Tempest. There is merit for the argument that it is a farewell to the stage by Shakespeare as well as an allusion to Catholicism. The thing that makes you wonder is the credibility of each claim. I personally think about the story content of Willy's plays when trying to draw any conclussions. There is a lot of mention of women in the 'Original Sin' role. There are also many lines that can be interpretted as references to the Bible rather than specifically Catholicism.

The question remains, are we reading too much into this? Maybe Shakespeare wanted this to be a thought provoking debate and in the end he meant for it to be left up to ones own interpretation. It could be both things but I feel more strongly in saying that we can't say for sure.

Prospero's epilogue in The Tempest ASN.
'New Light on Shakespeare'

Comments (2)


When reading I didn't know what a "papist" was either and had to look it up.

As with any article we read in class we are initially swayed by the author to believe in whatever they are claiming. As I first started to read the article I thought, "Hey, maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe it was a Catholic thing." Yet as I continued I saw that the examples provided did not give enough proof (at least for me) that the epologue was more a speech about Catholicism and not Shakespeare's theater farewell.

I'm glad to see that you approached this subject with an open mind. This article gives you a chance to see how the peer-review process works... even if you disagree with Beauregard's conclusion, the evidence he presents is still interesting, his methods are sound, and his claims aren't outlandish. While I suspect Beauregard would have privately offered his opinion that Shakespeare was Catholic, in this article all he does is point out that his reading of Tempest is consistent with the theory that Shakespeare was Catholic.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 22, 2005 7:33 PM.

The previous post in this blog was The Tempest Acts III,IV,V.

The next post in this blog is Shakespeare--"For all time?".

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.