ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Shakespeare Religion and God: Was Shakespeare an Atheist?

Updated on July 30, 2018
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare | Source

Religion and god in Shakespeare's time

It is a long standing fact that no writer writes in a vacuum. Circumstances in their lives will impact their writing with the zeitgeists of the period. For example, Philosopher Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in response to the industrial revolution and Aldous Huxley's inspiration for his novel Brave New World came from the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century. These writer's works are connected to the period in which they wrote them. William Shakespeare is no different.

Shakespeare was born in Stafford-on-Avon in 1564. England at the time was fresh out of its religious reformation that broke its church away from the Roman Catholic church to create the Church of England. The conflict between the churches was felt by all of its citizens and did not spare Shakespeare's family despite their high place in English society. Shakespeare was born into a wealthy family. But due to the religious conflict, Shakespeare's family was subject to social reversals. Shakespeare's father was Catholic. Catholics were not treated well by the protestant Church of England. However, His father still managed to maintain an upper class living for his family as a landowner, money lender, and dealer in agricultural commodities.

The wealth of his family maintain afford Shakespeare a good education and access to the upper echelons of society. At the same time the Church of England transformed England's adherence to God, all around Europe Humanism was transforming the medieval mind. According to historian Marvin Perry, the Humanist Revolution "mark[ed] the birth of modernity...[where] individuals in all endeavors [were] not constrained by a destiny imposed by God from outside, but [were] free to make their own destiny guided.only by examples of the past, the forces of the present circumstances, and the drives of their own inner nature". Shakespeare, with his place in society, undoubtedly was witness to the beginnings of the movement, but would have initially been influenced by the religion of his culture, because, as it is often noted by religious critics, a child's religious upbringing is an accident of birth. Therefore, the backdrop of Shakespeare's writings was a tumultuous battle between the belief system he was born into and the sweeping reforms in human perspective that threatened to overthrow the religious stranglehold on human thought.

The English, in breaking from the confines of the Catholic tradition, formed a curiously humanist, secularist belief in their divergent path. For example, priests were allowed to marry, divorce was permited, and formal education became commonplace. The infallible commandments of the pope also lost favor in the minds of the English. These changes in thought gave raise to the Church of England in 1534.

Did Shakespeare believe in God

Shakespeare humorously wrote the following on his epitaph:

Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

And Richard Davies, a contemporary to Shakespeare and archdeacon of Lichfield, wrote after Shakespeare's death that he was a Catholic. But There is a conspicuous lack of evidence for a belief in God. In fact, there is little evidence for Religion in Shakespeare's life other than his family history. And in a time period as religiously ripe as the 17th century, a seemingly non god stance raises eyebrows. This is especially true when compared to his contemporary writers like John Donne.

Was Shakespeare an Atheist

Many of the plays written by Shakespeare show a seemingly overt Humanistic stance on Human beings. From Julius Caesar to King Lear, Shakespeare's characters show deep humanistic qualities. This is one of the hallmarks that makes Shakespearean plays so powerful. His characters show that he was very much in tune with the human spirit, emotion, and most importantly the flaws that make humans who they are. And overcoming these obstacles takes even great human qualities and abilities. It does not come from anything supernatural. Religious belief and adherence is as conspicuously absent from His writings as it is from his life. This could make sense because of his cultural surroundings in England in the 17th century. With religious turmoil on one side and the humanist ideals on the other, Shakespeare may have renounced religion all together.

For a more in depth analysis of humanist and atheist qualities in the writings of Shakespeare see my page on atheism and humanism in Shakespeare's King Lear entitled "King Lear and Shakespeare: King Lear Character Analysis shows Shakespeare Was Atheist"

Please comment and check out my homepage (link below)


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Lesley T profile image

      Lesley T 

      8 years ago from Australia

      Tis not a two-pence matter! i would love to know if he really even wrote it cause if he did it surely was a joke not only on those who were friends of Jesus but on his own writing skills: it's just like a limerick and he was the great bard. (I come from Sydney Australia)

    • RyanBuda profile imageAUTHOR

      Ryan Buda 

      8 years ago from Windsor, Connecticut

      Ya, I'm aware of that quote. I don't know what to make of it though. To me, it almost comes across as tongue and cheek in a way that only Shakespeare could do. It might have been the only way to voice his atheism in a time period that was so god centered and religion oriented. Thanks for the comment.

      p.s.- I had to look up the word tuppence. I feel so much more cultured now! We don't use that word in America.

    • Lesley T profile image

      Lesley T 

      8 years ago from Australia

      I just did a hub on Shakespeare and researching it found the epitaph on his grave which mentions Jesus. This makes me think he was a Christian. (There's my tuppence worth)Interesting topic.

    • shalini sharan profile image

      shalini sharan 

      9 years ago from Delhi

      an excellent hub, covering a topic less covered


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)