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.
In this period of clashing theological ideals and vacillating religious leadership, Shakespeare produced works that explored numerous religious themes, raising universal questions concerning doubt, doctrine, and spirituality in the natural world. Most of his work incorporates references to religious literature, including the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Plays such as All’s Well That Ends Well, Henry VIII, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Merchant of Venice are set in a Christian world, but he also wrote many popular plays that include non-Christian deities, such as Antony and Cleopatra, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Troilus and Cressida, and Cymbeline. With these works, he conveyed a complex understanding of both public and private religious crises from multiple perspectives.
Featured Image: “Vitrail Cathédrale Troyes” by Vassil. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons