Friday, November 1, 2013

Saint Shakespeare

On All Saints Day, not only may you buy a secular "Saint Shakespeare" candle (, you may also ask: what saints did Shakespeare like? He wrote plays in a militantly Protestant England that had severely demoted saints during its Reformation some sixty years before. The famous shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury had been dismantled (and looted). No one was going on merry pilgrimage there, or to St. Mary at Walsingham, and it was forbidden to pray to St. Cuthbert of Durham, which is one of the reasons you've never heard of him. English saints were not marching in, but roving, sad, invisible and homeless, across the land. Yet they weren't forgotten. They were still enshrined in the calendar (St. Swithin's Day, St. Lucy's Day -- who are these people?). Even though the church nearest Shakespeare's Globe had its name changed from "St. Mary's" to "St. Savior's" during the Elizabethan period, many churches, not to mention towns, retained their traditional saints' names. And saints still throve in the popular imagination. So it shouldn't surprise us that references to this saint or that pop up all over the place in Shakespeare. Here, in honor of the day, are five notable Shakespeare saints.