“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” If you are an admirer of Shakespeare’s plays, you’re sure to have heard this soliloquy. It is, of course, a phrase from one of his most well-known and tragic plays, Hamlet.
William Shakespeare is considered the best playwright in the English language. For an individual of such fine penmanship ability, very little is known about his opinions. There have been several theories concerning his beliefs and ideologies. During a time when women were forbidden to engage in plays, quite a few of Shakespeare’s plays involve a strong female lead, for instance, Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), thus implying that he was an ardent supporter of feminism. A few theories also label him a ‘democrat’ because of his play, ‘Julius Caesar’, where the senators of Rome assassinated Caesar, as they feared he would overthrow the Republican Government to claim the title of king. Following the death of Caesar, Mark Antony rose to power, and from there on, Rome spiraled into a civil war.
Shakespeare has also been labelled as an ‘abolitionist’ because of his play ‘Othello’. King Othello is presumed to be a Sub-Saharan African, hence, rejected by society. He weds Desdemona, a beautiful and white Venetian. Her father disapproves of him due to his black origin. During those times, it was rare for a black immigrant to take center stage, yet Shakespeare did not hesitate to let his character do so. He is the composer of 154 sonnets and writer of thirty-nine plays. A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem with a certain rhyme scheme intended solely for expressing courtly love. Shakespeare showcases his rebellious side in sonnet 130, where he describes his mistress as simple, poor, and average-looking in contradiction to the set tradition of sonnets, involving a fine-looking lady hailing from an aristocratic family.
Shakespeare was a staunch supporter of England’s status quo and monarchy, which meant opposing the Puritans. The Puritans were English Protestants whose main objective was to rid the Church of catholic practices and incorporate Protestantism in its place. The rebels and usurpers have always played the role of villains in Shakespeare’s plays. In Hamlet, we can perceive the sheer disgust Prince Hamlet harbours toward his uncle, King Claudius, who assassinates King Hamlet. Even in The Tempest, Antonio, who usurps the dukedom of his brother Prospero is the villain.
His religious views are yet another mystery to us. Although he conformed to the official state religion, there are speculations of him being a Protestant due to the structure of his will. Even though being a part of the Catholic Church during those times was against the law in England, there have been claims of his family members being Catholics. His father endorsed a Catholic statement of faith, indicating him to be a catholic, but it is impossible to identify Shakespeare’s personal views on religion.
Even after his death, he’s managed to leave us in utter surprise. The inscription on his grave is yet another enigma for us. It says:
Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
There is a possible explanation for such an engraving. In those times, it was common practice to exhume the bodies of the dead for research purposes or simply to make room for other burials. Shakespeare probably did not want his body to be exhumed, hence the engraving on his grave.
Of course, these are all just assumptions on our part. Although Shakespeare’s ideologies have gone away with his passing, he will forever be known for his tremendous contribution to the field of English literature. His works paved the way for modern English. He is considered to be the greatest poet in mankind’s history, hence titling him ‘The Bard of Avon’.