The Faith of William Shakespeare

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The Faith of William Shakespeare: a one-day conference
Saturday 20 May from 10.00am to 5.00pm, the Wolfson Hall, The Shakespeare Centre, Henley Street.

By Rev. Dr Paul Edmondson, Head of Research, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.


Imagine the world into which William Shakespeare was born and raised.
Five hundred years ago this year, a priest, monk, and professor of theology, Martin Luther, wrote to Archbishop Albert of Mainz setting out ninety-five reasons for his objections to some of the church’s doctrine and practices, specifically around salvation. He criticised the sale of indulgences (from which the church was gaining considerable wealth) and instead presented a fresh, biblical interpretation which found salvation to be rooted in faith alone, rather than in ‘good works’. Luther was presenting a scholarly discussion, initially. But it was also a matter of his conscience. It is believed that he later pinned his ninety-five theses to the door of All Saints’ Church, Wittenberg. They were also published and began to be widely circulated. Pope Leo X commissioned several theologians to argue against Luther, and in 1520 demanded that Luther retract what he had written. Luther refused. The European Reformation of institutionalised Christianity was underway.
Luther’s brave insights would have far-reaching and long-lasting effects, and would inspire the exploration and establishing of new churches and theologies, especially a reformed, catholic church which became known as the Church of England. Together with the European-inflected new and progressive learning (which for the English was significantly felt through the impact of King Edward VI’s grammar schools), the religious reforms set the tone for shaping and formation of many successive generations. They left their mark on Shakespeare’s hometown, and on his creative works.
To honour the anniversary of the what became the start of the Reformation, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is holding a one-day conference, ‘The Faith of William Shakespeare’. What was it like living in England, in Stratford-upon-Avon, during a time of such great religious, political, and cultural upheaval?
We have gathered together an impressive line-up of Reformation experts to tell us more. Professor Peter Marshall (University of Warwick) will present an overview of religion during Shakespeare’s time; Professor Graham Holderness (University of Hertfordshire) will talk about Shakespeare’s Calvinism; Dr Tara Hamling (University of Birmingham) will curate a special exhibition based on Reformation-related material from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Collections; Professor Ann Hughes (Keele University) considers Stratford-upon-Avon’s Puritans; Dr Jonathan Willis (University of Birmingham) discusses public worship; Dr Cathryn Enis (University of Birmingham) will speak about friendships at a time of religious division; and Dr Robert Bearman (Honorary Fellow, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) will talk about religion and Shakespeare’s daily mind.
You can register for the conference on-line by clicking here. The conference fee is just £25.00 (£20.00 for Friends of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) which includes refreshments (not lunch), and a copy of Graham Holderness’s new book, The Faith of William Shakespeare. We are especially grateful to Lion Hudson Publishing for sponsoring this event.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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