Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Articles Written For:

The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Martin Luther's 95 Theses

495 years ago today, on 31 October 1517 -- Martin Luther wrote a letter which would become known as his Ninety-Five Theses -- and with that the Protestant Reformation was born.

Luther was a German monk and priest who thought that the sale of indulgences was corrupting the Catholic Church. 

The sale of indulgences was a way that the Church could monetize the process by which you could save your soul and free yourself from God's punishment.

Luther taught that salvation should be earned by good deeds, not through payments to the Church.

His Ninety-Five Theses argued against what he saw as abuses in the Catholic Church. It was said of his document, that what he was writing was not "doctrinaire." It was not a set of rules. Rather, it was "searching."

Martin Luther was searching for an answer.

This directly challenged the Pope's authority. Luther was soon excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Luther later translated the Bible from Latin into German, and this process led to the creation of English-language Bibles, which resulted in the King James Bible.

Of course, this Reformation soon spread to England and as we know, Henry VIII broke off from the Catholic Church.

What does this mean to Shakespeare?

I do not think that Shakespeare was ignorant of any of this. I think he thought seriously on these matters, especially the effects the Reformation was having on every last man and woman in England.

I think it is very difficult for us to appreciate how important the Reformation was in Shakespeare's day -- we are so far away from it. But for Shakespeare it was a daily matter, and a daily concern.

He had to keep and protect his reputation as a Protestant in order to survive and provide for his family. But he also must have known people, neighbors perhaps, who could not renounce the Catholic Church in their hearts and who suffered for it.

I do not think that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic, nor do I think he was anti-Catholic. I do think he had a dislike for the Pope and he hated Catholic Spain, who was England's great enemy at the time.

I think Shakespeare wanted the religious turmoil to stop. He wanted an end to the fear and the persecution. 

Since Elizabeth was Protestant, she was persecuting Catholics. But it is wrong to say that Shakespeare wanted the persecution against Catholics to stop, just because they were Catholic. 

If Shakespeare had been born before the Reformation, I think he would have been upset by the abuses of the Catholic Church, and might have spoken out against them.

Just as Martin Luther wrote about at the abuses of the Church, I think Shakespeare was writing about the abuses in England. Just as Martin Luther's Theses were "searching" for an answer, Shakespeare's plays were searching for a better path. 

I do think that Martin Luther inspired him. After all, Martin Luther was changing the world with a few words. Perhaps Shakespeare could change the world with a few plays.

On this day, I think Shakespeare would have stopped for a moment and thought to himself about all that had been accomplished, and all that remained to be done.

Also, I think that Shakespeare would have had to admit to himself that without Martin Luther, without the Reformation, without the religious turmoil in Elizabethan and Jacobean England -- Shakespeare may never have become a playwright.