The Faith of William Shakespeare

Graham Holderness. Lion Hudson, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-7459-6891-9
Holderness (Rewriting Jesus), a prolific writer on Shakespeare, makes a bold claim in his latest book: “that... Shakespeare was... a faithful Protestant in the way of the Church of England.” This may seem uncontroversial, given that Shakespeare lived in post-Reformation England, but recent scholarship has argued Shakespeare as both a closet Catholic and a closet agnostic, and almost no evidence exists about Shakespeare’s personal thoughts (he left no personal letters or journals). Nevertheless, Holderness reads 10 plays, from Henry II through Henry VIII by way of Hamlet, King Lear, and The Tempest, to tease out ways that they mirrored Anglican language and theology. For example, he explains how Hamlet’s exhortation that his mother examine herself mirrors language in The Book of Common Prayer. The readings are illuminating and informative, underscoring how deeply Shakespeare leaned into biblical and religious texts. If Holderness doesn’t show conclusively that Shakespeare himself believed in Protestant theology, the book is valuable all the same for highlighting Shakespeare’s persistent advocacy of mercy and kindness, and the deeply Christian underpinnings of his work. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/13/2017
Release date: 04/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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