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Portraits of religion in Shakespeare’s time

Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries was marked by years of political and religious turmoil and change. From papal authority to royal supremacy, Reformation to Counter Reformation, and an endless series of persecutions followed by executions, England and its citizens endured division, freedom, and everything in between. And with such conflict among Christians, there was the perennial need to identify the “other.” Stereotypes of non-Christian groups surfaced in several media. Caricature-like depictions of Jews and Muslims became increasingly prominent among artists. William Shakespeare drew upon the religious unrest of this time period, and incorporated various religious indicators — from accurate portrayals to oversimplified ideas — into his plays, most notably Jewish stereotypes in his character Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Peruse a slideshow of various works created during the most tumultuous period in English religious history to discover where Shakespeare, and other artists, could have learned these cultural markers.

Featured Image: “Life of Martin Luther” by Breul, H. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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