Like the present Supreme Pontiff, William Shakespeare channeled an inner Franciscan. Despite Elizabethan persecution of Roman Catholics, the dramatic genius who, according to Harold Bloom, invented the human personality, gave several pivotal roles to characters belonging to an order that had virtually disappeared from England several generations earlier during Henry VIII’s first dissolution of the monasteries. These characters, while not leading protagonists, were much more than bit parts. Shakespeare took a huge political risk in overtly portraying them in their traditional garb onstage, where the royal censor, the Master of...

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