Sunday, April 27, 2014

Shakespeare and Christian Britain


I was reading what the Archbishop of Canterbury had to say about Britain being a Christian country. He mentions how the faith had shaped the laws and values of that nation; he also gives a nod to its impact on it artistic and cultural heritage. 

That got me to thinking about Shakespeare (whose 450th anniversary is being celebrated this year) - his works have the Christian faith woven through them. Take, for example, his perhaps greatest play, Hamlet. The scene with the prince and his father's ghost, for example, is imbued with a Christian understanding of the afterlife. So too is the scene where he refuses to take his revenge on his uncle while the villain is at his prayers - it would be a poor revenge if the result is that the murderer goes to heaven instead of hell (although, it must be said, it doesn't make Hamlet sound like the best of Christian men!). There's even the joke 'get thee to a nunnery!'

Reading the scene with his father's ghost led me to another thought. I have often heard speculation that Shakespeare was a 'closet' Catholic. Reading what the ghost had to say, I'm not so sure about the closet part:
I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.

The Bard, it seems, believed in Purgatory. Sounds pretty Catholic to me.

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