A major new work of literary criticism by Professor Emeritus of English Dennis Taylor is drawing accolades from prominent Shakespearean scholars.

Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Reformation: Literary Negotiation of Religious Difference argues, via the work of English playwright William Shakespeare, the importance of Catholicism as a necessary dialogue partner, with Protestantism and secularism, in Western culture.

Dennis Taylor

Dennis Taylor (Caitlin Cunningham)

Taylor’s book examines Shakespeare’s dramatization of key issues of the Elizabethan Reformation, including the conflict between the sacred, the critical, and the disenchanted, as well as the Catholic, the Protestant, and the secular.

This detailed work of scholarship shows how Shakespeare was negotiating the key religious differences of his time, according to Taylor. Born and raised a Catholic, as most scholars now agree, Shakespeare coped with what he and others experienced as the trauma of the Protestant Reformation. Attending Mass and observing other Catholic rituals were proscribed under severe penalties.

“While many applauded the new Protestantism, many resisted,” Taylor explained. “This fierce cultural war, the source of many cultural wars to come, characterized Shakespeare’s formative years. In response, he sought to imagine possibilities of reconciliation between the Catholic, Protestant, and secular currents of his time.”

Shakespeare’s plays show how all three perspectives are needed if society is to face its intractable problems, providing a powerful model for our own ecumenical dialogues, according to the book’s description.

“Each play creates a fictional form which dramatizes a distinctive form of reconciliation,” Taylor said. “Shakespeare thus provides an important model for modern dialogue which negotiates religious differences without denying them.”

Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Reformation has been hailed as “a magisterial study [and a] rich and indispensable landmark,” by Rev. David Beauregard, emeritus professor of church history at St John’s Seminary. Hofstra University professor Emeritus of English John Klause described the book as “essential reading for anyone interested in Shakespeare’s relation to the religious, a-religious, and irreligious currents of his time—and beyond his time.” College of the Holy Cross English Professor Lee Oser praised Taylor as “that rare gem among scholars, a first-rate historicist whose work illuminates Shakespeare’s greatness as a literary artist.”

Taylor joined the English Department faculty in 1971, served as chair from 1982-1987, and retired in 2008. He spent his early years studying Victorian realist Thomas Hardy and authored several books on his poetry and language.

He changed his scholarly focus in 1996 after seeing the movie “Hamlet”—adapted and directed by British actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh—with its vivid portrayal of King Hamlet’s ghost. Taylor asked himself: “Why is Shakespeare presenting a ghost who mourns being assassinated without benefit of the Catholic sacraments? Did Shakespeare have some interest in Catholicism and the Reformation?”

This led him to co-edit and write the introduction to Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England, a collection of essays in which scholars address the question. Taylor then spent the next few decades writing on Shakespeare and religious issues.

Of his new work, Taylor—who inaugurated and served as the first editor of the journal Religion and the Arts—noted that he is “one of a number of scholars at BC who are developing the nature of interreligious dialogue, so important now for our divided time.”

For more information about the book, visit the publisher's website.

Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications | February 2023





Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications | February 2023