For several hundred years, Shakespeare was read as a Protestant poet of a providentially Protestant nation—what John of Gaunt in Richard II called, “This other Eden, demi-paradise,/ . . . This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, however, scholars began toying with possible alternatives for the poet’s religious creed. At one extreme in 1848, William John Birch’s An Inquiry into the Philosophy and Religion of Shakespeare suggested that Shakespeare was an atheist, which, shockingly, became a common reading of his plays. Since then, more voices have sounded off with opinions spanning the entire religious spectrum. Some, like Eamon Duffy, see a particularly Catholic flare in the “bare-ruined choirs” of Sonnet 73, and others point to the recusancy of Shakespeare’s father as evidence of...


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