The Reformation has a great influence on western culture and literature. The Reformation in England is during 14 and 15 century. It is initiated by Henry VIII, the king of England during the year 1509 to 1547. He made himself the headman of Anglican Church.

But from my part of view, religion is just a tool for Henry VIII to control his country. We can find a lot of information from the internet that at the beginning of Europe Reformation, he is against with it.

“亨利八世并不是一个天生的宗教改革者,起初他对英格兰的宗教改革运动态度坚决,那就是把这些异教徒送上火刑柱。”(web)[“Henry VIII is not born to be a reformer. At the beginning he is quite opposite to the Reformation. He killed a lot of those heathenry. ”(my translation)].

It seems he did not care which religion he should believe in but which one is useful to control his country and citizens.
On the other hand, there are also some others for The Reformation, for example the Renaissance. The main idea of the Renaissance is the importance of human beings. It is against Roman Catholic Church in some ways. And the Renaissance has a large influence in European countries. As a result of that, the old dogmas of Roman Catholic Church are not suit for the society. It is an initiative of The Reformation.


In the later years, Henry’s Roman Catholic daughter, Mary resumed the control of Roman Catholic in England and killed many Proestants. And soon after her death, Elizabethan, who was in the same period with W. William Shakespeare took her palace to be the King of England. She resumed the Protestantism.


From these changes we can notice again that religion is just the tools for the rulers, but the inference of religion will affects the country tin many facts, especially culture and literature.  



Mysterious W. William Shakespeare —— Catholic?  Protestant ?  Atheism ?


When touching on the knowledge of Shakespeare’s religion, many scholars will stand out to contend their opinions. Because there is no certain answer to the Shakespeare’s religious affiliation ,the arguments can be heard without end. Generally speaking, their standpoints include three main kinds: Catholic, Protestant, Atheism.



The dominant voice in that debate is that Shakespeare is a secret Catholic. The judgement is based on some circumstantial but significant historical evidences:


●(FAMILY)Shakespeare was born in a family which had Catholic tradition.(FAMILY) His mother, Mary Arden, was a conspicuous Catholic. His father, John Shakespeare, signed a tract which suggested that he secretly profess Catholicism.What’s more, England’s final break with Rome was still within his living memory.


●    (EDUCATION)The Stratford grammar school, which Shakespeare once attended in, had contacts with the Catholic “Old Faith.” I can cite from Park Honan, Shakespeare’s most recent biographer, “all of Shakespeare’s grammar school teachers (if he indeed attended Stratford’s grammar school, as is universally assumed) were active Catholics or had close connections with the “Old Faith.””


●    “Shakespeare’s last will and testament also provides a glimpse into Shakespeare’s life and faith.” Shakespeare mentioned ten non-family members in his last will. In those ten people, five of them were Catholic or Catholic sympathizers. 


●    Richard Wilson points out that “the person named” William Shakeshafte” who lived with the Catholic Houghton family in Lancashire is really young William Shakespeare from Stratford.” Shakespeare lived at the age of Elizabeth Ⅰ.At that time,England’s Catholics were supposed to convert to the Protestants. Any service which was not fit in Protestantism was illegal. As a famous playwriter ,he has the necessity to hide his true identity so that his career won’t be destroyed. 


●    He shows his Catholic elements metaphorically in his works. In Romeo and Juliet , Friar Laurence was created into a complex figure more than just a good or bad guy. But in the plays written by other writers in the same time, Catholic clergy is simply described into one-dimensional bad guy. “In Hamlet ,he mentioned Catholic sacraments ,During the discussion between Hamlet and the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father, the ghost description of  the horrors of his current situation, which strongly resemble the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.”  

And he often writes the story happened in older time and other places. This setting forces me to think whether he wanted to hide something or not.


●    “Some surmise Shakespeare wed in Temple Grafton rather than the Protestant Church in Stratford in order for his wedding to be performed as a Catholic sacrament.”



As we all known, society puts the most pressure on individual’s belief. In the Elizabeth Ⅰ’s time, people were supposed to believe in Protestanism. Shakespeare was so famous that I think he had to go with the main stream.



Does Shakespeare have to believe in something? If so, maybe the only thing he believes in is himself.

●    To be an Athesim accords with Shakespeare’s character. After reading his plays, it is very easy to find that he is really a humorous (sometimes ”evil” and ”dirty”) man. All the religious elements mentioned in his plays maybe just a kind of sarcasm.

●    Too much religious changes in that time shaked religions’ position in people’s mind.For shakespeare ,who is educated and effected by the Renaissance, should had his own choice. It could happen to him that he believe in no religion.



1.PAULJ.VOSS ,“Assurances of Faith: How Catholic was Shakespeare? How Catholic are his Plays?




Religion, since moment of its birth, bring into play a tremendous influence to the whole world especially Western world. Religion appears in the various branches of human culture, in various fields. A lot of literary works contain religious ideas or even  created all by religious ideas. We can not calculate how deep the religion effect the literatrue world.

Shakespeare, as the greatest Western world’s playwright, in his numerous writings, also give readers much senses of religious consciousness obviously. This may be inevitable, and it is very natural too. Because at the period of his life, people believed in religion absolutely. Belief is the spiritual pillar, people do everything according the religion doctrines. Shakespeare himself is also a Christian. In his works, God, ghosts, a mysterious force, death and other religious element often appears.Moreover, especially in these tragedies, he revealed the mystery what are based on Christian ideas and expressions. Some of its most representative features, exception, are all link with Christian religious feelings and understanding of Christianity.

We can believe that Shakespeare’s classic tragedy works are “Christian tragedy.” Because of the complexity of religion itself and the delicate association, so the religious issues appear in his works is also very complex and delicate. Here, we would take Hamlet as an example to make a simple analysis.

As we have already learned the four major tragedies written by Shakespeare, Hamlet gives us more clearer evidents than others. The content of Creation and the God’s doctrine control of history form Bible, make this world undefined of the rewards and punishments of sin as the most important issue.

“《圣经》中关于创世和上帝控制历史的教义,使得当世间的罪恶及赏罚不明的问题变成了悲剧的首要问题,以致人们在探讨莎士比亚悲剧时,不得不要么把它看成是在隐约地为神圣秩序作辩护,要么指责它不道德,要么干脆否认它的存在。”(web) [“Regularly, the issue lead into a tragedy. so while people exploring Shakespeare's tragedy, they feel like to had to either treat it as in the vague to justify the order for the sacred, or accusing it of unethical, or simply deny its existence.”(my translation)].

In Hamlet, the hero who embodies both of them directly and indirectly.

Hamlet: You’re right. Mother, this was an act of ruthlessness, but yet it doesn’t compare to your horrid deed! You killed my father and married his younger brother. (Pick up to portraits) Look at my noble father, the King! After he had been dead for only short time, you married his younger  brother, his murderer! (act1,scene3) 

Hamlet knows the moral principles of this society, so he concludes that the sin of his uncle(king) is unforgiveable, go and kill the King to solve the ugly issue directly is reasonable and justicial. But the result is a manslaugter of Polonius. On the other hand, in religious doctrine, women’s virginity is respected, and Hamlet definately think so. He consider that every woman should do exactly as the same expecially Ophelia. But in real life, he does not believe anyone could obey the principle as an woman.

 Hamlet: Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof.I did love you once. (act3,scene 1)

He does not understand the true inner thoughts of a woman. Eventually,the wrong judgment of Love directly leads Ophelia suicide. He plunges into a deep pain. That’s the conflicts between ideaological and so-called sacred Law.



To be, or not to be, –that is the question:–


Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;

And enterprises of great pith and moment,

With this regard, their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!

The fair Ophelia!–Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remember’d.           (act 3,scene 1)

His monologue is even more revealing of his inner ambivalence. Despite the how deep he hates the evil social, he worries about what kind of values to follow. That ‘s the conflict between man’s ideaological and so-called sacred Law. As we all know, in a variety of religions, Christianity is well-known in dealing with “physical” and the the sin of body harshly. he found that person’s ideological have huge conflicts with the present law of the society. Therefore, Hamlet’s fear of sensual, resentment of his mother’s infidelity, thinking of death, what can not help him escape from some hidden religious moral constraints, eventually led Hamlet to the tragical result. His father’s ghost appears for several times, what deified the drama on the other hand, add more religious overtones.



Works Cited


W. William Shakespeare. Hamlet; Pearson Education, Inc. 1980. Print.

Zhang Honglin, 《论莎士比亚悲剧的宗教思想》“Religion in Shakespeare’s tragedy”. English Institution of Jilin University. Web. 2008



Questions and answers:

1.Does the religion have an effect on the orientation of the advanced culture? Or The orientation of the advanced culture has an influence on the development of religion?

Each of them afects each other. As religion is very important in western countries, it is of course, has an importanteffect on culture. But on the other hand, religion is a tool for those rulers,it is “man-made” in some ways. So The

orientation of the advanced culture will also affect the religion.


2.Why did Shakespeare like to use some stoies in the age that there is no Christianity,to express the spirit of Christianity?

From my part of view, this is a good way to avoid giving offense to the leaders. it is also same in ancient China, writing something about the polity is very dangerous. So many writers are used to not writing something very targeted.