National Collegiate Honors Council


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UReCA: The NCHC Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity:


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Shakespeare wrote during a time of intense religious controversy, as Protestants, Catholics, and Puritans vied for spiritual authority in England. Although Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in the 1530s, Shakespeare’s work seems to still have been heavily influenced by Roman Catholic traditions. Both Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet are set in Catholic places and Catholic friars manipulate the outcomes in both plays. The portrayal of these characters offers insight into how Shakespeare may have viewed Catholics, as he did not leave behind clear evidence of his own religious convictions. The friars in Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet are well intentioned in their attempts to resolve Claudio’s impending execution in the former play and Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden relationship in the latter, but their meddlesome nature can be seen as problematic. Friar Laurence, in Romeo and Juliet, aids the titular couple in an attempt to end the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, but the secret wedding that he performs results in the deaths of the two young people. In Measure for Measure, the friars help Duke Vincentio to conceal his identity, but in doing so, they allow a man who is not ordained to go into the community and give spiritual counsel without proper qualifications. Through these characters, Shakespeare suggests that Catholic friars can be well intentioned figures, but they are fallible human beings who are prone to meddling in the earthly affairs of the people who seek their guidance.