Was William Shakespeare a Catholic?

Updated: Dec 30, 2009, 12:42 PM IST

London: Three cryptic signatures on a leather-bound parchment might prove the theory that William Shakespeare was a secret Catholic who spent his “lost years” in Italy.

An exhibition at the Venerable English College, the seminary in Rome for English Catholic priests, has revealed cryptic names in its guest books for visiting pilgrims, suggesting that the playwright sought shelter there.

“Arthurus Stratfordus Wigomniensis” signed the book in 1585, while “Gulielmus Clerkue Stratfordiensis” arrived in 1589.

Father Andrew Headon, vice-rector of the college and organiser of the exhibition revealed that the names could be deciphered as “[King] Arthur’s [compatriot] from Stratford [in the diocese] of Worcester” and “William the Clerk from Stratford”.

Another entry in 1587, “Shfordus Cestriensis”, may stand for “Shakespeare from Stratford [in the diocese] of Chester”, he added.

It has been discovered that the entries fall within the playwright’s “missing years” between 1585, when he left Stratford abruptly, and 1592, when he began his career as playwright in London.

“There are several years which are unaccounted for in Shakespeare’s life,” The Times quoted Father Headon as saying.

He added that there was a possibility that the playwright had visited Rome and was a covert Catholic.

In her biography, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, from Germany revealed that “Shakespeare was a Catholic and that his religion is the key to understanding his life and work”.

Moreover, Shakespeare’s parents, friends and teachers were Catholics, as were some of his patrons, including the Earl of Southampton, who concealed Catholic priests at his country seat, Titchfield Abbey, and his London residence.

Another proof was his purchase of the eastern gatehouse at Blackfriars — a secret meeting place for fugitive Catholics — in London in 1613, she added.