Do Signatures Prove That Shakespeare was a Catholic?

Father Andrew Headon, vice-rector of the Venerable English College, has offered some compelling evidence of William Shakespeare’s Catholicism.

Shakespeare’s covert Catholicism has been debated by scholars for many years.

According to the The Times of London, Headon has produced a leatherbound guestbook with the cryptic inscriptions “Arthurus Stratfordus Wigomniensis,” “Gulielmus Clerkue Stratfordiensis” and “Shfordus Cestriensis,” all inscribed in the book by a visiting pilgrim who sought refuge at the college between 1585 and 1589.

The names, says Father Headon, can be deciphered as “[King] Arthur’s [compatriot] from Stratford [in the Diocese] of Worcester,” “William the Clerk from Stratford” and “Sh[akespeare from Strat]ford [in the Diocese] of Chester.”

All of the entries fall within the playwright’s “missing years” between 1585, when he abruptly left Stratford, and 1592, when he began his career as a playwright in London.

Father Headon said that it’s very likely that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic who had visited Italy during his “lost years” and stayed at the college during return trips to London.

The book is part of the “Non Angli sed Angeli” exhibit illustrating the history of the college from its origins as a pilgrim’s hospice to a refuge for persecuted Catholics.

Authors such as Joseph Pearce and biographer Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel have argued that Shakespeare was Catholic. Both suggest that his religion is key to understanding his work.

Five of Shakespeare’s 37 plays are set in Italy; another five in Rome; and three in Sicily. Plays such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “Measure for Measure” are filled with Catholic thought and rituals, with positive depictions of priest and monks. Professor Hammerschmidt-Hummel says that Shakespeare’s parents, friends and teachers were Catholics, and that his purchase of the eastern gatehouse at Blackfriars, which was a secret meeting place for fugitive Catholics, attests to his covert Catholicism.

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