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Shakespeare and His Religion

             It is known that William Shakespeare did not follow or support any one religion. However, he evidently had a great deal of religious education. The question of Shakespeare's personal religious beliefs has intrigued scholars for hundreds of years. The late Unitarian Minister, Dr. Paul Beattie, wrote, "Shakespeare never embodied the central Christian teaching regarding 'law and sin' in a play; nor did he write a play about Christianity. He may have been a Christian, or he may not. He may have been consciously or unconsciously a pagan. We will probably never know for certain." Professor Hopkins agreed, saying Shakespeare was probably a humanist (Shakespeare and Religion 1). Students of Shakespeare agree that though he may not have dealt with religion, he was concerned about human morality.
             In his play, Hamlet, Shakespeare uses his knowledge of religion and culture to manipulate the reactions of the audience for which it was originally intended. This is seen by observing the way in which he exploits the Elizabethans' confusion concerning religion, his use of conflicting cultures to evoke responses in the audience, and the significance of Hamlet's Christian knowledge. .
             The time in which Shakespeare's Hamlet was performed was one of great religious confusion for the Elizabethans. They had only recently come under Protestant rule, but they were all familiar with Catholic beliefs. Shakespeare used this knowledge to his advantage. The Ghost in Hamlet is an example of this. According to the Catholic belief system, the spirit of Hamlet's father is in purgatory. This means that he is not harmful but merely doing penance "till the foul crimes done in [his] days of nature are burnt and purg"d away." (I.v.12-13) This is necessary because he was "cut off even in the blossoms of [his]sin." (I.v.76) This attitude was not unknown to the Elizabethans. However, according to Protestant beliefs, purgatory did not exist, and any ghost was evil.

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