Everybody has read William Shakespeare at some point in their life, whether they know it or not, whether it was voluntary or coerced in high school. Next to the Bible, he has the most published writings, having sold about 3 billion copies. But as much as we know about him through his work, it has long been debated whether he was Catholic or not.
This past week on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale talked about this mystery and the top cases that suggest Shakespeare’s Catholicism. The first thing that he mentioned was the state of England at the time and the fact that Queen Elizabeth’s harsh crackdown on Catholics caused many recusants to flee into hiding. This may have been why Shakespeare chose to hide his Faith, as recusants were fined and imprisoned under such a police state.
Additionally, we have since learned that there were several secret Catholics amongst Shakespeare’s family members. “One of them was Shakespeare’s mother. Shakespeare’s mother’s maiden name was Arden and that was a very well-known, very influential, recusant Catholic family in Warwickshire…and John Shakespeare was fined for refusing to attend Anglican services…Shakespeare’s daughter, her name was Susanna, was recorded as being a Catholic.” The fact that both of his parents were Catholic means they most likely would have raised William Catholic, and since his daughter was a recorded Catholic, he probably raised her in the Faith as well. He was also recorded as having chosen to leave all his possessions to her and nothing to his Anglican family members following his death.
Shakespeare was married to his wife by an Anglican priest who was later accused of secretly being a Catholic priest, and the way he wrote about Catholics and their practices in his plays suggests that he had an intimate knowledge of the Faith. Lastly, there was a Catholic pamphlet found in the attic of the home Shakespeare was living in at the time of the pamphlet’s publication.
While none of this is conclusive evidence that he was in fact a baptized and practicing Catholic throughout his life, overwhelming clues certainly point in that direction. The oppression of Catholics in his time was so severe, he may had to hide his Faith even though he is one of the greatest writers of all time. Today, Catholics who suffer similar persecution around the world can look to figures like Shakespeare who found a way to live and know that God is always with us.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
Listen to the full talk below:
Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays 5pm CT only on Relevant Radio.