What was Shakespeare’s religion? It’s possible to answer this seemingly simple question in lots of different ways. Like other English subjects who lived through the ongoing Reformation, Shakespeare was legally obliged to attend Church of England services. Officially, at least, he was a Protestant. But a number of scholars have argued that there is evidence that Shakespeare had connections through his family and school teachers with Roman Catholicism, a religion which, through the banning of its priests, had effectively become illegal in England.
The politics and religious turmoil of 16th century England provided Shakespeare with the fascinating characters and intriguing plots. From the publication of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, which some historians argue ignited the Protestant cause, to the publication of the Geneva Bible in 1560, English religious history has dramatically influenced Shakespeare’s work.
There is nothing new about the notion that the English, and their history, are exceptional. This idea has, however, recently attracted renewed attention, since certain EU-sceptics have tried to advance their cause by asserting the United Kingdom’s historic distinctiveness from the Continent.
In All’s Well that Ends Well (3.7), Helena devises a plan to ignite the affections of her husband, for which she needs the help of her new acquaintances, a widow and her daughter. The widow is naturally suspicious, but Helena persuades her by offering to pay for her daughter’s marriage.
Would you like to pay a halfpenny for a small beer, 1 shilling for a liter of wine, or less than 2 pounds for a horse? If you lived in 17th century England you could buy all of these and even afford Shakespeare’s First Folio, which was only £1 when it was published.
What would it be like to live in Elizabethan England? One might be lucky enough to dress in embroidered clothing and commission portraits, or one might be forced to beg for alms or peddle trinkets in order to survive.
Terrorism in the early modern world was rather different from terrorism today. In the first place, there wasn’t any dynamite or automatic weaponry. It was harder to kill. In the second place, the idea of killing people indiscriminately, without regard to their identity, didn’t seem to occur to anyone yet. But still, there was lots of violence using terrorist tactics.
Without Islam there would be no Shakespeare. This may seem surprising or even controversial to those who imagine a “national bard” insulated from the wider world. Such an approach is typified in the words of the celebrated historian A.L. Rowse, who wrote that when it came to creatively connecting with that world, Shakespeare, the “quiet countryman,” was “the least engaged writer there ever was.”
Shortly after her coronation in 1558 Queen Elizabeth I reasserted and maintained royal supremacy within the English church, thus confirming her power as a Protestant leader. Shakespeare’s writing flourished under her reign, when Catholic and Protestant doctrines developed distinct methods of worship, mediation, and, perhaps most significantly, power and authority.
When we think of Christmas cards, we usually picture images of holly, robins, angels and candles, or snow-covered cottages with sledging children, Nativity scenes with visiting Wise Men, or benevolent Santas with sacks full of presents. Very rarely, I imagine, do we picture a summer woodland scene features lounging female figures in classical dress and a lyre-playing cherub.
Given that Shakespeare’s company enjoyed royal patronage, performed regularly at Court, and became known as the King’s Men upon the accession of James I in 1603, you’d be forgiven for assuming that his plays were bent on buttressing rather than subverting the status quo. That assumption certainly seems to be backed up in Troilus and Cressida by Ulysses’ apocalyptic vision of the anarchy that’s bound to ensue when “degree, priority and place” are not strictly observed: “Take but degree away, untune that string, / And hark what discord follows.”
As 2015 draws to a close, Who’s Who is already ushering in the new year with its latest cohort of changemakers from the United Kingdom. From government and media, to business and the arts, over 1,000 new entries provide a glimpse into the lives of the world’s most influential leaders.
If you were living in Elizabethan England you would find that common goods, such as spices and books, would cost you no more than a pound or two. However, you would probably be earning about the same amount depending on your trade or craft.
In 1812 Benjamin West completed his portrait of John Eardley Wilmot. The portrait was two paintings in one: it depicted its subject, Wilmot, lawyer and former Chief Justice of Common Pleas, at the foreground; in the background was a painting within a painting, a scene of American loyalists, including Native Americans, African slaves, women, and children.
Happy 240th birthday, Jane Austen! Jane Austen was born 16 December 1775 in Hampshire, England. Birthdays were important events in Jane Austen’s life – those of others perhaps more so than her own.
People often find their interest in a cause awakened by a dramatization on stage, screen, between the pages of a book or, these days, on YouTube. This fall, Americans are learning about the highly dramatic battle in Britain to win the vote for women.