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Leicester Special Collections

Section 3: 'I see you have some religion in you'

The Book of Martyrs

Frontispiece of John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs. It reports the sufferings of Protestants under the Church of Rome. 1563.

Although scholars may disagree about Shakespeare’s spiritual beliefs and the extent to which his plays support or contest religious views and dogmas, it would be difficult to dispute the notion that knowledge of the Bible informs all his work. It has been argued that it is Shakespeare’s capacity to infuse the human with the divine and to translate the divine into human that gives his characters depth and significance.

Religion was perhaps the most powerful influence on the lives of Elizabethans and Jacobeans. It permeated everything  ̶  from personal relationships, to politics, to the theatre. Above all, with the Reformation, religion and politics were inseparable since the Monarch became also the Head of the Church of England. Those who advocated and fought for their religious beliefs, either defending the Protestant faith or secretely keeping the Old Roman faith could,  at different points during the Tudor dinasty, find themselves at odds with the Monarch. Such disagrements could lead to the Tower, to the Tilbury Gallows, or the stake.

Religion and politics on the theatre had therefore to be treated with extreme caution. No playwritght or theatre company would like to find themselves in trouble with the Master of Revels, the offical responsible for the royal censorship.

(Cymbeline, 1.4)

Section 3: 'I see you have some religion in you'