- Beliefs

The two major religions in Elizabethan England were the Catholic and Protestant religions. The convictions and beliefs in these different religions were so strong that they led to the executions of many adherents to both of these Elizabethan religions. They also strongly believed in God and Magic. They were extremely supersticious.

Knowledge of William Shakespeare's religion is important in understanding Shakespeare and his works because of the wealth of biblical and liturgical allusions. He is both Protestant and Catholic in his writings.

There is no direct evidence of William Shakespeare's religious beliefs, however over the years there have been many theories about the personal religious beliefs that he may have held.

Some evidence suggests that Shakespeare's family had Catholic sympathies and that he himself was a secret Catholic; although there is disagreement over whether he in fact was so, many scholars maintain the former consensus position that he was a member of the established Anglican Church.


 Schools taught the official religion decreed by the reigning Queen or King

  • Failure to adhere to the 'favoured' religion could often lead to great danger - Imprisonment! Torture! Execution!

  • Adhering to the 'wrong' religion brought risks to personal wealth, freedom and life

  • Queen Mary I (r.1553-1558), Elizabeth's sister, believed passionately in the Catholic religion and persecuted Protestants who were burned alive for their
    beliefs ( hence her nickname Bloody Mary )

  • Queen Elizabeth I (r.1558-1603) succeeded her sister Queen Mary and adhered to the Protestant religion and restored Protestantism as the official religion. She did, however, firmly believe that people should be allowed to practice the Catholic religion without fear of recrimination so long as it presented no threat to peace in the realm and her rule over England

  • There were, however, many Catholic plots against Queen Elizabeth I - many Catholics wanted to replace Elizabeth with her cousin Mary Queen of Scots. These plots eventually led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots

Catholics and Protestants

  • Elizabethan Catholics believed that Church Services and the Bible should be in Latin, as it had been for 1000 years.
  •   Elizabethan Protestants believed that Church Services and the Bible should be in the language of the people so that the ordinary people could understand them.
  • Elizabethan Catholics believed that Priests were the link between God and the people and that the Pope was ordained by God.
  • Catholic Priests were viewed as special and expected to devote their lives to God and remain unmarried and wear special robes
  •  Elizabethan Protestants believed that people could find God without a priest or a Pope and that Ministers were ordinary people who should lead normal lives and wear ordinary robes
  • Elizabethan Catholics believed that Priests and the Pope were able to forgive sins - at a price. Gifts, or indulgences, were given to the church
  •   Elizabethan Protestants believed that only God could forgive sins
  •   Catholics believed that Churches celebrate God and elaborately decorated with statues and shrines
  •   Protestants believed that Churches should be plain allowing the people to concentrate on the sermons

The four humours

  In ancient Greek and Roman times, there was a medical belief that the body consisted of 4 humors or fluids. These humors were: blood, bile, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm.

It was thought that when these four humors were in balance, a person was healthy. A surplus or imbalance in one of these fluids would not only affect their physical health, but also their personality and complexion.

This belief became popular once in again in medical practice during the Elizabethan era. Practices such as bloodletting stemmed from this theory.

  Elizabethan Beliefs For Women

    • According to Shakespeare's society, women were meant only to marry.
    • As their single occupation, marriage held massive responsibilities of house management and child rearing.
    • Additionally, women were expected to be silent, chaste, and obedient to their husbands, fathers, brothers, and all men in general.
    • Women were thought to be physiologically and psychologically inferior to men.

England - where Elizabethan times were.