Shakespeare, Catholicism, and Romance
by Velma Bourgeois Richmond
Continuum, 208 pages

If members of your family had been executed for their beliefs, and if your friends were rumored to be spies, traitors, and subversives, would you express all of your opinions freely? Or would you hide them, perhaps encode them, in the face you gave to the world?

Velma Bourgeouis Richmond believes Shakespeare did the latter, carefully closeting his Catholicism. Detailing the Shakespeare family's pro-Catholic leanings in Reformation England, Richmond tallies an impressive list of circumstancial evidence that suggests the Bard was a Papist: Shakespeare had Catholic patrons, and his mother's cousin was indeed executed for his faith (and his head set on London Bridge). Richmond admits, however, that these facts prove only that Shakespeare did not come from a fervently Protestant background. So she turns to Shakespeare's use of romance, which she claims is a distinctly Catholic form. Shakespeare's love for witchcraft and exorcism, his dramatic use of sacraments repudiated by the Church of England (like Extreme Unction), and his friendly depiction of Italian friars, are all fodder for Richmond's cannon.

Richmond's argument is intriguing, but not entirely compelling. Was Shakespeare a Catholic? Only one thing's certain: we'll certainly never know for sure.

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