To an increasing extent Shakespeare was writing for this audience. The England of Shakespeare, like the Spain of Cervantes, was in the throes of a great social and economic revolution. This was a very turbulent and painful change, which thrust a large number of people into poverty and created in the towns a large class of dispossessed lumpenproletarian elements : beggars, thieves, whores, deserters and the like, who rubbed shoulders with the sons of impoverished aristocrats and defrocked priests to create an endless reserve of characters for Shakespeare's plays.
The Protestant Revolution that began with the revolt of Martin Luther plunged the whole of Europe into a bloody conflict in which, under the banner of the new religion, the rising bourgeoisie assembled its forces. A central point in the Protestant creed was that the Bible, the Word of God, should be in the possession of every man and woman without the need for any mediation by priests.
The translation of the Bible into the vernacular therefore became the spearhead of the new movement. Even before Luther openly challenged the domination of the Vatican, the English reformer John Wycliffe had translated the Bible into English. His followers, the Lollards, had participated in revolutionary movements that culminated in the Peasants Revolt of That revolt ended in defeat, but in the 16th century the Protestant Revolution in England produced a new and brilliant translation of the Bible by William Tyndale.
For the crime of translating the Bible into English, Tyndale was convicted of heresy and treason and put to death by being strangled and burned at the stake by Henry VIII, Elizabeth's father. The role of religion then was very different from what it is today.
People were very religious and the Church held colossal power in its hands. Men and women were prepared to die for their beliefs. And under the Tudors they had plenty of opportunities to do so. Henry was originally a staunch defender of Catholicism and an enemy of the new religious tendency.
For his services to the old religion, the Pope allowed him to use the title Fidei Defensor defender of the Faith which appeared on the coinage of the realm for centuries after it had lost its original meaning: defender of the Catholic faith. Henry needed to break the Church's power in England - he soon discovered that this was an excellent way to make money.
The dissolution of the monasteries instantly made him the owner of vast riches in the shape of all the buildings, land, money and everything else that had belonged to the Church. By selling off the proceeds to the wealthy nobles and rising bourgeoisie, he raised the money he needed to fund his pointless and expensive wars against France and Scotland and simultaneously gave a powerful impulse to the process of the primitive accumulation of capital.
The break with Rome was a major historical turning-point. But from a doctrinal point of view, it did not represent the kind of radical change represented by the Protestant Revolution on the European Continent. Henry, like his daughter Elizabeth, was no friend of Puritanism, which he saw as a threat to the established order.
He therefore left much of the old Church rituals unchanged. That changed radically under the brief rule of his son Edward VI , a devout Protestant. For the first time England became a genuinely Protestant nation.
Edward introduced a new prayer book and all church services were held in English. Catholics were repressed and bishops who refused to conform were locked up. But Edward died young and was replaced by his older sister Mary, a fanatical Catholic. England found itself once again a Catholic nation. The pope became the head of the church and Church services changed back to Latin. Now repression was directed against the Protestants. About leading Protestants who would not accept Catholic beliefs were burned at the stake.
Among them were Bishops Latimer and Ridley. It is said that as the flames rose, Latimer encouraged Ridley, "Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out. All this earned the Queen the nickname of "Bloody Mary", although to tell the truth she killed far fewer per year than her murderous father. Nevertheless, these actions produced a violent reaction against her. Following her death, England swung sharply in the direction of Protestantism, underlined by a hatred of Spain, which became the main national enemy.
The accession of Elizabeth on November 17, , following the Catholic reaction under Mary, was greeted by general rejoicing.
ITS HISTORY AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE
Bells rang and bonfires lit up the sky. Now it was the turn of Catholic priests to go to prison or to go underground. Many churches were closed.
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Elizabeth attempted to balance between the opposing forces, compromising between the Protestants and Catholics. In Elizabethan England it was illegal for Catholics to hold or to attend a Mass. However, the rich and powerful could usually escape punishment for their religious practices.
Wealthy Catholic families kept private chaplains in their homes, a practice to which the law usually turned a blind eye as long as they did this in the privacy of their own homes and did not engage in subversive activities against the Crown. But this uneasy balancing act was doomed to failure. Tensions continued to increase and were driven to fever point by the news of massacres on the European mainland. In , on St. News of this caused outrage in England and a further backlash against Catholics. The assassination of the Dutch Protestant leader, William of Orange, added fuel to the flames.
In , the Pope stated that it would not be a mortal sin to assassinate the Queen of England.
This announcement automatically meant that all Catholics were under suspicion for treason. An army of Jesuit agents was dispatched to England to work underground, organising plots with the collaboration of Catholic noblemen, and preparing the ground for a Catholic uprising. For 18 years, the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots had been held prisoner by her cousin Elizabeth, who regarded her as a useful bargaining chip for her dealings with France and Spain.
There was a well-founded suspicion that Mary was a focal point for Catholic subversion. Elizabeth's advisers, members of the Protestant party, decided to get rid of this potential threat. The Queen's network of spies was controlled by Francis Walsingham. Its network extended everywhere. Walsingham accused Mary of being involved in an assassination plot aimed at the overthrow of Elizabeth, who would be replaced by Mary herself.
He claimed to have discovered compromising letters that proved her guilt. Whether these letters were genuine or invented by him we will never know. In any case, they had the desired effect. In February , Elizabeth signed the death warrant and Mary was beheaded. The religious revolution that swept through Europe like wildfire at that time affected literature in a very direct manner. When Elizabeth's Protestant government banned mystery plays, the door was open for the rise of a new secular theatre.
Shakespeare's Time () | Shakespeare's Staging
Until then, the only theatre was closely linked to the Church. It was this that made the success of Shakespeare possible. The religious element surfaces in his plays. They are made to look ridiculous for the amusement of the audience. They are depicted as covetous, greedy intriguers.
http://taylor.evolt.org/jolyl-san-pedro-de.php The bishops are worried about a bill that has been brought up for the consideration of the king, Henry V. The reason for their concern is that if it became law it would authorize the government to lay its hands on the Church's land and money, which would be used to maintain the army, support the poor, and augment the king's treasury. The clergymen, who have been made wealthy and powerful by this land and money, are determined to keep it for themselves.
To this end, the Archbishop of Canterbury persuades the young King Henry into believing he has a claim to the throne of France. A nice little war in France would distract the king from the bill to confiscate Church property. To encourage Henry, Canterbury promises the king: he will raise a generous donation from the Church to fund the war effort.