In Shakespeare’s lifetime, not attending church could land you in jail.
The religious and political history of England is intertwined significantly, with monarch after monarch using the Church as a way to control the popular opinion and retain control of the nation. Queen Elizabeth, the reigning monarch of England during most of Shakespeare’s lifetime, was no exception. Given good reason to be highly suspicious of catholicism from her sister Mary, Elizabeth outlawed the Roman Catholic religion and demanded that all good Englishmen and women attend Protestant church. Not attending was a treasonous affair by the time William Shakespeare was 17 years old.
“To cut his throat i’ th’ church!” – Laertes, Hamlet IV. 7
“Now, thou dost ill to say the gallows is built stronger than the church.” – First Clown, Hamlet, V. 1
“I’ faith, and thou follow’dst him like a church” – Doll Tearsheet, Henry IV Part 1, II.4
“Name not religion, for thou lovest the flesh, And ne’er throughout the year to church thou go’st Except it be to pray against thy foes.” – Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI Part 1, I.1
When we ask the question: Did Shakespeare Go to Church? The answer is yes! He definitely attended Stratford Upon Avon, and that for his whole life and religiously (pun not intended, but it works nicely here, doesn’t it?) when he was in town. It appears from Shakespeare’s epithet which forbids the removal of his bones to a location of more prominence, like Westminster Abbey that was common for many poets of his stature to be reinterred, that the bard held a strong affection and loyalty to this church in his hometown, regardless of how unclear we can be as to his personal religious beliefs in light of the government mandate that he attend there.
This is a fascinating topic and there’s tons to know. One of the best ways to learn is to visit Holy Trinity Church, which we will be doing in our travel tour September 2019. Early Bird Tickets are available now, but ONLY an option for the first 8 people who sign up to get them. You can sign up here and select “shakespeare” from the list provided.
To learn more by reading and exploring (an excellent way to learn!) here are some articles, book, and links I think you will enjoy. Typically, book links are amazon affiliate links.
Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography
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