Shakespeare on religion: 8 quotes from the greatest English writer

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the greatest poet and dramatist ever to write in English, was probably born on April 23, but was baptised on this day (April 26) at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.


It was a time of religious turmoil in England. Henry VIII had broken with Rome and established the Church of England in 1534. His son Edward VI was another Protestant, but died in 1553 at the age of only 16. His sister Mary, who ruled until 1558, sought to restore Catholicism and persecuted Protestants fiercly, earning the name 'Bloody Mary'. Under her sister Elizabeth I – another Protestant – relative harmony returned, though Catholics were feared and distrusted.

Shakespeare was christened into the Church of England, though many have speculated based on clues in his writings that he was secretly a Catholic.

We will probably never know, but what's clear is that his work is shot through with religious references and spiritual concerns. His characters take God seriously, and talk the language of belief. Here are nine quotes from Shakespeare on faith.

1. Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven (Henry VI, pt II).

2. Now, God be praised, that to believing souls /Gives light in darkness, comfort in despair (Henry VI, pt II).

3. However wickedness outstrips men, it has no wings to fly from God (Henry V).

4. God shall be my hope, my stay, my guide and lantern to my feet' (Henry V).

5. 'Tis mad idolatry/ To make the service greater than the god (Troilus and Cressida).

6. There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Hamlet).

7. My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: /Words without thoughts never to heaven go (Hamlet).

8. The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose (The Merchant of Venice).