Shakespeare and Religious War

An online exhibition in conjunction with

Shakespeare Connected
(a Shakespeare Birthplace Trust project)

This page gives additional information linked to the Shakespeare and Religious War online exhibition - each note should be read after viewing the relevant page of the exhibition. This information is correct to the best of our knowledge. We would, however, welcome any corrections or additions: please email

Introduction § Slide 1 § Slide 2 § Slide 3 § Slide 4 § Slide 5 § 

Slide 6 § Slide 7 § Slide 8 § Slide 9 § Slide 10 § Slide 11


A. The new work on the Italian sources of Twelfth Night [c. 1600-1602] so far consists of one essay by Hilary Gatti and four by Elisabetta Tarantino (one already published and three forthcoming). This is still very much work in progress, but it focuses both on the source for Shakespeare's main plot, which, as we have known for a long time, is a 'franchise' of works connected to the comedy Gli Ingannati (Accademia degli Intronati, 1532), and on at least two other plays that have been recently adduced as providing a source for the subplot: Giordano Bruno's Candelaio and Antonfrancesco Grazzini's La Strega, both published in 1582 (but La Strega must have been written several years earlier). Characters' names function as an important link throughout this cluster and with Twelfth Night. But there is also an important thematic link: Candelaio refers to the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre and, indeed, was published in Paris on its 10th anniversary. La Strega picks up those elements from Gli Ingannati that refer to the 1527 Sack of Rome. Thus, from what we can tell so far, the Italian sources of Twelfth Night are linked by their references to the two most iconic instances of religious and political violence of the sixteenth century: two events that are mirror-like opposites - starting from their dates. An important part of this project will be to follow up this theme of the confluence of opposites in religious war, and link it with the treatment of Malvolio. A particularly interesting point is that this theme is addressed by Shakespeare in his comedies as well as in his tragedies. And for this his Italian sources would have provided him with a clear antecedent.

For further reading:
Hilary Gatti, ‘Giordano Bruno’s Candelaio and Possible Echoes in Shakespeare and Ben Jonson’, Viator 43, no. 2 (2012), pp. 357-375.
The four essays by Elisabetta Tarantino are: ‘Bruno’s Candelaio, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson: Building on Hilary Gatti’s Work’, in Authority, Innovation and Early Modern Epistemology: Essays in Honour of Hilary Gatti, edited by Martin McLaughlin, Ingrid D. Rowland, and Elisabetta Tarantino (London: Legenda, 2015), pp. 118-136; ‘Shakespeare and Religious War: New Developments on the Italian Sources of Twelfth Night’, Shakespeare Survey 72 (forthcoming in 2019); ‘Mountainish Inhumanity in Illyria’, in Compassion in Early Modern Literature and Culture: Feeling and Practice, edited by Katherine Ibbett and Kristine Steenbergh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming); ‘History and Religion in Giordano Bruno’s Candelaio’, in Giordano Bruno: Will, Power and Being. Law, Philosophy, and Theology in the Early Modern Era, edited by Massimiliano Traversino Di Cristo (Paris: Garnier, forthcoming).
Richard Wilson gives a sense of the widespread presence of this political and religious theme in Shakespeare's plays in chapter 2, ‘Too Long for a Play: Shakespeare and the Wars of Religion’, in his Worldly Shakespeare. The Theatre of Our Good Will (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 53-72.
(The dating of Shakespeare’s plays is normally rather tentative. I have used Martin Wiggins’s multi-volume British Drama 1533-1642: A Catalogue, in association with Catherine Richardson, published by Oxford University Press.)

B. The pamphlet by John Stubbs (or Stubbes) is listed in Early English Books Online as The discouerie of a gaping gulf vvhereinto England is like to be swallovved by another French mariage, if the Lord forbid not the banes, by letting her Maiestie see the sin and punishment thereof. [London : Printed by H. Singleton for W. Page.] Mense Augusti. Anno 1579. STC (2nd ed.) / 23400. The phrase 'mas sacring marriage' is in image 12 (there are no page numbers). Frontispieces do not necessarily mention the month of publication, so this book is attracting attention to the fact that this was the seventh anniversary of the massacre (Saint Bartholomew's day is the 24th of August). The proposed royal marriage was to François (Hercule) de Valois, duc d'Alençon. The execution of the sentence, unusually carried out 'by the blow of a butcher's knife, with a mallet struck through their wrists', is described in William Camden's Annals (1625), p. 16.

For further reading:
John Stubbs, The Gaping Gulf, edited by Lloyd E. Berry (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1968).
Graham Hammill, 'Time for Marlowe', ELH 75 (2008): 291-314.

Slide 1

1A. The book is described by Schoenbaum, who mentions that the inscription is not in Susanna Hall's hand. In fact, it could be by Richard Grace himself. The bottom inscription, 'Gratia Dei sum quod sum' ('by the grace of God I am what I am', 1 Corinthians 15:10), sounds like a motto punning on the family name, as was not unusual in early modern England. A Colonel Richard Grace (c. 1612-1691) was an Irish Royalist soldier, and some have linked the gift of this book to the visit by Queen Henrietta Maria to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1643, though we do not know that the Colonel was in her entourage then. 

The SBT have a seventeenth-century oil painting on paper with Henrietta Maria's arms (STRST: SBT 1994-19/87 - pictured right; CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

While she was not directly descended from Catherine de' Medici, Henrietta Maria has strong links with the French scenario we are describing here, since she was the daughter of Henri of Navarre and his second wife, Maria de' Medici. Maria was married by proxy and was then accompanied to France by her cousin, Virginio Orsini, duke of Bracciano. As a continuation of this journey, Orsini visited England in December 1600, i.e. just over a year before the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night. For various reasons I do not agree with Leslie Hotson's thesis that Twelfth Night was the entertainment performed for the Duke at Elizabeth's court. I do believe however that his visit - and the memory of what had happened the previous time that Henri of Navarre had got married - is relevant to the genesis of Shakespeare's play.

For further reading:
Samuel Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

1B. The French original of this book is entitled Discours merveilleux de la vie, actions & deportemens de Catherine de Medicis Royne mere, auquel sont recitez le moyens qu’elle a tenu pour usurper le gouvernement du Royaume de France, & ruiner l’estat d’iceluy. It was published anonimously and with no indication of place in 1575. Unlike other polemical works in the wake of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre, the author refers to himself as a Catholic.

The British Library copy of the 1575 English translation can be seen on EEBO, and is STC (2nd ed.) / 10550. There are also two different editions of a 1576 Scottish version (Ane meruellous discours ...; 10551 and 10551.5). The copy at the Shakespeare Centre has at least one textual and typographical peculiarity. As part of our project we hope to carry out a thorough study of this copy and examine the implications of this.

For further reading:
Robert M. Kingdon, Myths about the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacres, 1572-1576 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), especially pp. 200-213.
Discours merveilleux ..., edited by Nicole Cazauran (Geneva: Droz, 1995).

Slide 2

2A. Love's Labour's Lost is generally dated around 1595 (a quarto edition and a mention in Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia set 1598 as the latest possible date). This means that while its King of Navarre is called Ferdinand (in some stage directions and speech prefixes, i.e. for readers only), the play’s audience would have had quite fresh in mind ‘our’ King of Navarre, who was crowned King Henri IV of France in 1594, after expediently converting to Catholicism (he is the ‘Paris is well worth a mass’ guy). As most editions of the play point out, the attendant lords' names – Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine – echo those of two supporters (the dukes of Biron and Longueville) and one antagonist of Navarre. The antagonist is Charles de Lorraine, Duc de Mayenne, and one of the things we should investigate is whether in fact a closer match for Dumaine too might not be found among Navarre’s allies. 

For further reading:
A recent essay on this subject is Gillian Woods, 'Converting Names in Love's Labour's Lost', in her Shakespeare's Unreformed Fictions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 58-89.

2B. The earliest occurrence in EEBO resulting from a Nathana/iel AND Bartholomew search is by Edward Sparke, who in 1652 writes, concerning the apostle Bartholomew:

'Much difference there is, among Writers, about his person, about his profession, about his name. One who hath writ a Tract concerning the Apostles [Nikolaus Serarius, 1555-1609], takes him for Nathaniel, and that Bartholomeus was but his sirname, as many other of the Apostles had [...] And this he is induced to believe, not onely from several Authors that he mentioneth, but mainly for that Bartholomew, is ever mentioned with St. Philip, who was the first bringer of Nathaniel unto Christ, and as he thinks still called by that sirname Bartholomew, and not Nathaniel; and again, because Saint John, who onely mentioneth the story of Nathaniel, doth at several places, mention all the Apostles saving Saint Bartholomew, while all the rest mention not at all Nathaniel. But this Baronius [Cesare Baronio, 1538-1607] dislikes and disproves, saying, Some have thought Nathaniel to be Bartholomew, Levibus conjecturis permoti; moved thereunto by light conjectures. For Saint Augustine, whose authority is beyond all of them, affirmeth peremptorily, that Nathaniel was none of the Twelve [...]'

According to the second edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, '[t]raditions from the ninth century A.D. onward identify [Bartholomew] with the Nathanael mentioned in John 1:43-46; 21:2, which, however, has no basis in the text.' But the identification of the two is referred to, for instance, in a 1698 abridgement of Eusebius of Caesarea, c. 260-c. 340. There's a bit more detective work to be done here, then.

Whether or not the apostle Bartholomew and the Nathanael mentioned in John were indeed the same person, the important thing of course is that the name Nathaniel should call Saint Bartholomew to mind in Shakespeare's time. In 2010 the Catholic mass on Saint Bartholomew's day included a reading of the story of the conversion of Nathanael. If this was also the case in early sixteenth-century England, the identification would have been established very clearly indeed at a popular level as well as in the exegesis of ecclesiastical texts (you can see another trail that needs following up here).

As for Shakespeare's willingness to use these devices to allude to the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre, it would seem that this is a two-part word game: here we have the allusion to 'Saint Bartholomew', while in my notes on Slide 3 I argue for an allusion to the word 'massacre'. Also, as Slide 10 shows, in Twelfth Night too he uses a 'Sir Priest' (TN 3.4) to covertly allude to 'Saint Bartholomew' (and in this case the analogy with Bruno's Candelaio completes the reference to the Paris massacre - see the bibliography given for Introduction A).

For further reading:
Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, second edition, edited by Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown & Nicholas Perrin (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic; Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press), p. 41.
The abridgment of Eusebius Pamphilius's ecclesiastical history, by William Caton (London, 1698), Wing / E3420, p. 206.
Edward Sparke, B.D., Scintillula altaris. Or, A pious reflection on primitive devotion: as to the feasts and fasts of the Christian Church, orthodoxally revived (London, 1652), Wing (2nd ed.) / S4807, pp. 338-339.

2C. Armado's letter is read out in act 4 scene 1 of Love's Labour's Lost. The entries for 'catastrophe' listed under 2a in the OED seem poised between the word's technical, theatrical meaning and the more modern metaphorical meaning, which is n. 4 (earliest recorded 1748). The earliest of these is from Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well: 'i. ii. 57   On the Catastrophe and heele of pastime When it was out.' (This connection is made also in Richard Wilson's chapter mentioned under 'Introduction' above.)

Slide 3

3A. The origin and implications of the word ‘massacre’ in this context require further study, as do the earliest instances retrieved by a search in EEBO. The very earliest is an isolated occurrence dating from a 1510 translation of a French religious work, La fleur des commandements de Dieu, printed by Wynkyn de Worde: ‘after that the cursed massacre herodes had slayne the innocentes [...]’ (STC (2nd ed.) / 23876, image 80, fol. lvii r) – is ‘massacre’ here an attribute of Herod? Does anyone have the French original to hand?. Then we move on to 1567 with another French translation (of a work included in our ‘Ingannati franchise’) and then 1572 and the rest of the 1570s, with the next eleven books being texts directly related to the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the wars on the continent. The first occurrence not in this group dates from 1577.

For further reading:
The Littré dictionary (which includes the Rouen reference).
Cornel Zwierlein, ‘Die Genese eines europäischen Erinnerungsortes: die Bartholomäusnacht im Geschichtsgebrauch des konfessionellen Zeitalters und der Aufklärung’, in Zwischen Wissen und Politik: Archäologie und Genealogie frühneuzeitlicher Vergangenheitskonstruktionen, edited by Frank Bezner and Kirsten Mahlke (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2011), pp. 91-129 (p. 91).

3B. Randle Cotgrave's 1611 French-English dictionary (STC (2nd ed.) / 5830, image 306) brings up something particularly interesting. (Incidentally, there is no entry for 'massacro' in either the 1598 or the 1611 version of John Florio's Italian-English dictionary.) Under massacre we read: 'A massacre, a generall slaughter, or murther.' (No reference to butchery apart from what is implied in the mention of 'slaughter'.) However, we also find a sub-entry on 'Massacre d'un cerf: The fall, death, or dismembring of a Stag; also, his head, or hornes violently pulled off when he is dead.' As we read in the 1694 Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, this word was used of the severed head of the deer that was placed on a blanket on the ground as the hounds' share or reward (pour faire curée aux chiens). This must be the origin of the heraldic use of the term 'massacre', which technically refers to just the top of the head and horns of the deer (or head and ears of other animals), but could also be used of any animal's head on its own (as in the Stratford-upon-Avon coat of arms, which features three leopards' heads). Check out the image of the heraldic 'Rabbit's massacre' at

In Love's Labour's Lost 4.1 the French Princess goes deer-hunting, an activity that she describes as 'play(ing) the murderer' (just before the reference to 'the catastrophe' being 'a nuptial'). There are also references to 'heresy' and justification through sola fide. In the next scene the French pedant Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel the 'curate' extravagantly praise her enterprise. Gilberto Sacerdoti has highlighted the strange mixture of 'butchery' and 'sacrality' in this scene, linking it to Giordano Bruno's anti-Calvinist work The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, Henri of Navarre and the mass he had famously attended in order to win Paris, and the English Reformation. But we could also see this more simply as a way of referring to the Saint Bartholomew's day massacre, through the deer killing (massacre) and Nathaniel (= Bartholomew) the curé.

At this point, one begins to wonder also about Bottom's donkey head and above all Falstaff's crown of horns as Herne the Hunter in The Merry Wives of Windsor (a play whose connection with the French wars of religion is convincingly outlined by Richard Wilson in his chapter mentioned above).

For further reading:
Gilberto Sacerdoti, Sacrificio e sovranità. Teologia e politica nell'Europa di Shakespeare e Bruno (Turin: Einaudi, 2002); '"Self-sovereignty'" and Religion in Love's Labour's Lost: From London to Venice via Navarre', in Visions of Venice in Shakespeare, edited by Shaul Bassi and Laura Tosi (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011 - now reprinted by Routledge), pp. 83-104.

3C. For the use of 'murder' for 'massacre' in the Marvellous Discourse see, for instance, p. 113, 'the murder of Paris' ('le massacre de Paris', p. 212 in the Cazauran edition). See also pp. 99, 102 and 103 in the English version, and corresponding occurrences of 'massacre', 'massacrent' in French. As you can see in the image here (painting by Bartolomeo Bulgarini, photographed by Richard Stracke at the Musei Capitolini, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license), the attributes of Saint Bartholomew are the flaying knife and the book (since books were bound in leather). According to some sources - can anyone point to a medieval or early modern source on this? - he was the patron saint of butchers as well as leather workers, which would link up with the etymology of 'massacre'.

(More on the properties of Saint Bartholomew in Slide 10.)

For further reading:
Slide 4

4A. The main difference is that Tamora passionately cares about her children, and it is the unwarranted sacrifice of her eldest son that sparks off her desire for revenge. She is at bottom a human being, while both Catherine and Brunehault as portrayed in the Marvellous Discourse are entirely monstrous.

4B. The Goths, to which people Tamora belongs, conquered and looted Rome in 410 A.D. - an event that shocked the Christian world so much that it prompted Augustine of Hippo to write his City of God. This earlier Sack of Rome happened on 24th August, i.e. Saint Bartholomew, the day of the 1572 Paris massacre. Thus, as we saw in the introduction in relation to the 1527 Sack of Rome, time seems to be mocking us with mirror images of ostensibly opposite things. Would Shakespeare have known of this coincidence in dates? What would be the most likely source through which this information might have reached him? The Paris massacre was compared to the 1282 Sicilian vespers. Does anyone know of any author commenting on the coincidence in date between it and the 410 Sack of Rome?

For further reading:
Jo Eldridge Carney, '"I'll Find a Day to Massacre Them All": Tamora in Titus Andronicus and Catherine de Médicis', Comparative Drama 48.4 (Winter 2014): 415-435.
Slide 5

5A. Pie crust was referred to as a ‘coffin’, and this meaning co-existed with the modern one, though a coffin could also be any kind of box. At the start of Titus Andronicus it is Titus’ own sons, killed in battle by Tamora’s people, whom he bears ‘In Coffins from the field’ (1.1.35). (I will not address issues of authorship in these notes – I will simply point out relevant elements of the text considered as a unit.)

For further reading:
Joan Fitzpatrick, Food in Shakespeare: early modern dietaries and the plays (Farnham: Ashgate, 2007; reissued by Routledge in 2016), especially pp. 121-122; Shakespeare and the Language of Food: A Dictionary (London and New York: Continuum, 2011), especially pp. 97-98.

5B. Ovid’s Metamorphoses physically appear as a book in Titus Andronicus 4.1: Lavinia sees her young nephew reading it and starts chasing him around. By L’ACADEMIE FRANÇOISE ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsEventually, she points to the place where Philomela is raped and mutilated by her brother-in-law Tereus and weaves her story into a web. When her sister Procne sees this, in revenge she kills and cooks her own and Tereus’ son Itys and serves him to her husband as a meal (see Book VI of the Metamorphoses, ll. 438-674). Editions of Titus Andronicus generally discuss the relationship between Shakespeare’s play and the story of Philomela and Tereus, and also mention the relevance of Seneca’s Thyestes, another famous instance of familial cannibalism. [Image credits: By L’ACADEMIE FRANÇOISE ( Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

For further reading:
Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993).
Colin Burrow, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 105-118 and 165.
Stuart Gillespie, Shakespeare’s Books (London: Athlone, 2001), pp. 396-397 and 454 (now also available in the Arden Shakespeare Dictionaries series).
Michael Pincombe, ‘Classical and Contemporary Sources of the “Gloomy Woods” of Titus Andronicus: Ovid, Seneca, Spenser’, in Shakespearean Continuities: Essays in Honour of E. A. J. Honigmann, edited by John Batchelor, Tom Cain and Claire Lamont (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 40-55.

Slide 6

6. More on Richard Hyckes can be found at For an update on the 'Sheldon' tapestry business, see Hilary L. Turner, 'Finding the Sheldon Weavers'. In 1959 Frances A. Yates wrote an intriguing book on The Valois Tapestries - an elaborate set of Flemish tapestries depicting famous festivals held at the French court in the second half of the sixteenth century, with members of the royal family in the foreground. Her reading of the tapestries in terms of the politics of the time is no longer widely accepted, but her book provides a wealth of information on the political and diplomatic climate as Flanders sought help from the French against Spain's claims on its territory.

For further reading:
Flemish Tapestry Weavers Abroad: Emigration and the Founding of Manufactories in Europe, edited by Guy Delmarcel (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2002).
Slide 7

7A. The so-called ‘Dutch Church Libel’ (a passage from which is quoted in Slide 9) was a document that threatened violence against the French and Dutch immigrants, who were accused of stealing work and living space from the native population. It was affixed to the wall of the Dutch Churchyard in London’s Broad Street Ward in early May 1593.

Probably because of its repeated allusions to Christopher Marlowe’s plays, both Marlowe and another dramatist, Thomas Kyd, were arrested, interrogated and, in Kyd’s case, tortured by the authorities. (By the end of the month, Marlowe had died in a ‘tavern brawl’ – a fact to which Shakespeare repeatedly alludes in As You Like It [c. 1598-1600].)

The allusions to Marlowe in the document consist not only in the signature ‘Tamburlaine’ and the threat of another ‘paris massacre’, as noted by Arthur Freeman, but also in the description of the refugees as ‘Machiavellian Marchant(s)’ who behave ‘like the Jewes’: Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta is introduced by the figure of ‘Machevill’. This is another instance of the confusion of opposites in these episodes of political and religious violence: in Machevill’s speech in the Prologue to that play it is the Duke of Guise, chief author of the Paris massacre, who is explicitly associated with Machiavelli, and so was Catherine de’ Medici, because of the fact that Machiavelli’s Prince was dedicated to her father. Thus the Huguenot refugees are being assigned the very same negative connotations that had previously characterised their erstwhile assailants.

For further reading:
Arthur Freeman, ‘Marlowe, Kyd, and the Dutch Church Libel’, English Literary Renaissance 3.1 (Winter 1973), pp. 44-52, includes a transcript of this document.

7B. As far as we know, Sir Thomas More was not printed in Shakespeare's time, and was probably never performed either. We have it in a contemporary manuscript (British Library, Harley MS 7368) with fairly threatening comments by the censor, Sir Edmund Tilney, who acted as Master of the Revels from 1578 until his death in 1610 (though he started to relinquish his duties from the turn of the century). The play appears to be a collaborative effort, and has a complicated history: it seems to have been written in the 1590s, mostly by Anthony Munday, and then revised by several authors around 1600. Scene 6 is believed to be Shakespeare's contribution to the revision of the play, and to be in his own hand. (It is the only extended piece of text in Shakespeare's handwriting.) This scene shows how Thomas More calmed down a riot by the London populace, who were incensed at what they saw as the impunity and privileges of well-to-do foreign merchants in London (who were, at the time, mostly French and Italian, or 'Lombards'). This riot, in which several hundred apprentices took part, historically happened in May 1517, and came to be known as the 'Ill May Day', or 'Evil May Day'.

For further reading:
Sir Thomas More, edited by John Jowett (London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2011), especially 'Insurrection and xenophobia', pp. 41-47, and scene 6, pp. 179-204.
Slide 9

9A. The demonym 'Dutch' is used here for brevity’s sake: some of the regions that these immigrants came from do not correspond to present-day Netherlands. For the purposes of our discussion the French and Dutch immigrants can be considered as a homogenous group, in that the same social and political dynamics applied to both. The French and Dutch churches in London were situated close to each other in Threadneedle Street and Austin Friars respectively. Many of the Dutch immigrants were of French mother tongue and attended the French rather than the Dutch church. It was the Flemish immigrants in particular who were renowned for their artisan skills.

For further reading:
Andrew Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities in Sixteenth-Century London (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986).
On how the same dynamics applied a century later, following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, see:
**More to come. Under construction**