It is always tantalizing for a Christian interested in literature to speculate about the question of whether Shakespeare was a Christian. The materials for such speculation are, obviously, 1. what little we know about his life (and among that, several incidents—perhaps apocryphal—which give little evidence of piety), and 2. the corpus of his writings. Even though it is commonly assumed that he was at least a nominal member of the Church of England, an adherent of the Via Media of the Elizabethan Settlement, neither of the above sources answers the question with any finality. As for the first, it needs only to be pointed out that there was no Boswell for Shakespeare, and that the gall required for interviewing and the patience to pursue the minutiae of people’s lives are of fairly recent origin. And as for attempting to deduce Shakespeare’s personal response towards the Christian faith from his writings, we are confronted with an almost impossible task. It is commonly observed that Shakespeare is no systematic philosopher or theologian, that his plays are woven from many strands—the Christian among them—and that it is dangerous at any point to equate the speech of this or that character with Shakespeare’s own position. Thus, Hiram Haydn, in his book titled The Counter-Renaissance, after examining thoroughly the various winds of docrine which constituted Shakespeare’s intellectual climate, concludes:
Finally, then, I am admitting the traditional defeat. I can establish Shakespeare’s awareness of the intellectual conflicts of his time, his use of Counter-Renaissance ideas and themes. And I can indicate the consistent elements in his point of view as he expressed it in the major tragedies. Yet, when that is done, it is little ...1
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