- In 16th-century England, Catholics practiced their religion
in secret, hoping they would not be discovered by the Protestant
monarchy. At the same time, William Shakespeare was writing drama
and poetry that would mark him, in the minds of some scholars,
as a closet Catholic cleverly protesting the English government's
Carol Enos, a retired Free State and Lawrence High English teacher
who received her master's degree from KU in December 1999, based
her master's thesis on a study of Shakespeare's religion.
While researching at the University of Oxford, England, Enos
came across The Seminary Priests, a book by Godfrey Anstruther
containing biographies of Catholic priests who lived in England
in the 1580s during the Counter-Reformation. The priests were
trained in seminaries in Flanders and France and sent secretly
to England to keep Catholicism alive in the newly Protestant
country. In the course of reading, Enos realized that the priests
frequently shared surnames with actors and playwrights. The repetition
of names between the two groups suggested a possible connection
between the theatre world and Catholic underground activity.
Enos also was reading Shakespeare: The Lost Years by E.A.J. Honigmann,
a book prompted by the 1581 will of Alexander Hoghton, a Catholic
whose home in Lancashire was a center for the secret activity
of the Catholic missions priests. The will named a William Shakeshafte,
who was a player (actor) in the home. Enos worked to corroborate
the theory that William Shakeshafte was actually William Shakespeare.
If Shakespeare spent his late teen years in this important Catholic
center, he was very likely a Catholic, at least in his youth,
Enos said. A focus of Enos' present research is to examine the
plays from the perspective of an English Renaissance Catholic.
Enos said that, in his writing, Shakespeare seemed willing to
risk violating government strictures against engaging in questions
of religion on the stage. Examples include his depiction of old
King Hamlet as suffering the torments of a purgatory that the
Puritans had outlawed, and his characterization of a very religious
Richard II, who publicly and on the stage tells his beads, a
Catholic form of prayer that was outlawed.
"I think that the plays are written so skillfully that they
are ambiguous," Enos said.
Enos said that her search for the truth behind Shakespeare was
difficult, because there are virtually no written records from
Shakespeare himself. Enos said that Shakespeare's life -- his
beliefs, social life and family -- is a multi-dimensional puzzle
that is missing many of the key pieces.
Despite Enos' difficulty, she managed to gather enough material
to prove her thesis. She also was asked to present her findings
at a Renaissance conference in Lancashire this past July.
Enos also has met Peter Milward, a Jesuit priest who writes about
Shakespeare's possible Catholic ties and is considered the foremost
scholar in that area.
"It was an unexpected honor to meet Father Milward, a scholar
who had been kind of a god for me," Enos said. "Frequently,
I reached conclusions regarding Shakespeare's Catholic connections
and then later read something by Milward which corraborated my
A few weeks after Enos returned home from the conference, she
received a critique from Milward.
"I particularly value his opinion, because he is quite outspoken
and aims to tell the truth, and he was happy to have someone
support his views who is not Catholic," Enos said.
Shakespeare and the Catholic Religion, a slightly revised version
of Enos' thesis, will be published by Dorrance this year.
Despite the coming publication, Enos said that she is not through
with her interest in Shakespeare.
"It's wonderful to have this consuming interest and to have
retired so that I have time to work on it," Enos said.