William Shakespeare on Religion

On this date in 1564, William Shakespeare was born in England. He died in 1616. The “master” playwright was eulogized by 19th century agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. In one of his famous lectures, Ingersoll said that when he read Shakespeare, “I beheld a new heaven and a new earth.” (The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Interviews, Vol. IV, p. 39.) “All well-educated ministers know that the Bible suffers by a comparison with Shakespeare.” (Vol. VIII, p. 297) “If Shakespeare could be as widely circulated as the Bible . . . nothing would so raise the intellectual standard of mankind. Think of the different influence on men between reading Deuteronomy and ‘Hamlet’ and ‘King Lear’ . . . The church teaches obedience. The man who reads Shakespeare has his intellectual horizon enlarged.”

No one knows Shakespeare’s personal religious views, although he certainly was not orthodox, and put many different types of sentiments into the mouths of his characters. His philosophy seems most succinctly described in the famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech from “As You Like It,” which begins: “All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players:/ They have their exits and their entrances;. . .” ending with “mere oblivion./ Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Below are several of Shakespeare’s most famous irreverencies. D. 1616.

“In religion, what damned error but some sober brow will bless it, and approve it with a text, . . .?”
~ “The Merchant of Venice,” Act III, Sc. II

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