King Lear Contents
- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Social / political background
- Religious / philosophical background
- The Theatre
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
- Act IV
- Act V
Radical changes in the Christian church
For some centuries there had been criticism of the way in which some churchmen behaved.
More on religious criticism in literature: Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was written towards the end of the fourteenth century. As Chaucer introduces each new character, he makes increasingly scathing attacks on corruption within the Church, contrasting the greed, pride, deceit and sexual immorality of some churchmen with the Christian ideals and practices of the Poor Parson.
Perhaps the most famous reformer of the Church was Martin Luther (1483-1546). He was a German friar, who, on a visit to Rome, was appalled at the luxurious way of life and sexual immorality of the Pope and cardinals.
Luther returned to Germany, where he lectured at the University of Wittenberg. He was then even more appalled by the arrival in Germany of the Pope’s representative Tetzel, who had come to sell indulgences.
More on Indulgences: Indulgences were documents issued by the Pope and on sale to the public. They were a way of raising money. Pope Leo X (who had become Pope in 1513) hoped to rebuild the Church of Saint Peter in Rome.
Instead of stressing the need for penitence, the Pope was suggesting that, if people paid for Indulgences, he could lessen the time sinners – or even their dead relatives – needed to spend in purgatory.
The sale of such documents had been condemned as corrupt for many years – Chaucer’s Pardoner (i.e. a man who sells Pardons or Indulgences) is the vilest character in The Canterbury Tales.
The Wittenberg Theses
Luther was outraged at the idea that the effects of sin could be removed by paying money. He wrote out ninety-five theses, or reasons why the sale of Indulgences should be stopped, and nailed them to the door of the main church in Wittenberg.
As a result, in 1520 Luther was excommunicated by the Pope. This placed his life in danger, but he was protected by one of the most powerful Princes of Germany.
Those who accepted the ideas of Luther and other reformers of the Church, and protested against its current state and practices, were known as Protestants.
The Bible in English
Reproduction of the Bible
- As part of the growing movement against the Roman Catholic church and the power of the Pope, reformers had begun translating the Bible into their own languages
- However, the translation of the Bible into English by John Wycliffe (1330-84) for example, was seen as an attack upon the authority of the Roman Catholic church, whose copies of the Bible, prayer books and services were all in Latin. This gave the priests considerable control over the beliefs of the uneducated people who could not read them.
More on Bible translation: In 1516 the famous scholar Erasmus, who had already published an attack on church corruption in his book In Praise of Folly (1511), also published a fresh translation of the New Testament. Significantly, he drew on original Greek manuscripts, challenging the authority of the Vulgate Latin version which had been the ‘Bible’ for western Christendom for a millennium. Ideas inherent in his version challenged some of the key doctrines of Roman Catholicism and printing enabled his work to be much more widely read.
During the sixteenth century, as England under Henry VIII, Edward VI and then Elizabeth I became a Protestant country, various translations of the Bible into English (from its original Hebrew and Greek) had been produced. One of the most significant was by William Tyndale, a Protestant scholar, which was published in 1526.
The King James Bible
James I of England (who was also James VI of Scotland) had been brought up as a Protestant even though his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was a Catholic. (See also Social / political background > The Stuart monarchy)
- At the Hampton Court Conference on religious matters held in 1604, it was suggested to James I that a new translation of the Bible should be made
- James was very keen on the idea, and commissioned various committees to undertake the work, and to look at existing translations. A large proportion of their final material was based on Tyndale’s work
- The result of their collaborations, published in 1611, was the version now known (since it had been authorised by King James) as the Authorised Version – or sometimes the King James Version of the Bible. It is still used in many English churches today, though there have been many more recent translations.
1. Term for a worshipping community of Christians. 2. The building in which Christians traditionally meet for worship. 3. The worldwide community of Christian believers.
Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
Name given to priest, usually those in charge of a parish.
A man belonging to a Christian religious group who, instead of living within an enclosed religious house, travelled round teaching the Christian faith, and sustaining himself by begging for charity.
The supreme governor of the Roman Catholic Church who has his headquarters in Rome, in Vatican City. In certain circumstances, his doctrinal utterances are deemed infallible.
In the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic church, Cardinals represent the layer between Archbishops and the Pope. They are responsible for electing a new Pope, and they meet regularly with him in council.
The practice in the medieval Christian Church of issuing pardons, in return for acts of giving or pilgrimage to holy places, which were believed to reduce part of the punishment which individuals would have been due to suffer in Purgatory.
An individual's sincere acknowledgement of their guilt, sinfulness and desire to seek forgiveness, especially the forgiveness of God.
Someone who disobeys God's will by their actions or failure to act. The Bible regards all human beings as predisposed to sin.
In traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, an 'antechamber' to heaven, a place between Heaven and Hell, where the souls of those dead who are not damned, but not yet fit for heaven, go to be purged (purified) of their sins.
To be excluded from participation in the life, sacraments and ministry of the Church.
Christians whose faith and practice stems from the Reformation movement in the sixteenth century which resulted in new churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
A worldwide Christian church which traces its origins from Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus. It has a continuous history from earliest Christianity. Its centre is the Vatican Palace, Rome, where the Pope resides.
Someone who tries to improve laws or institutions by instigating changes.
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.
A book containing written prayers to assist worshippers. 'The Prayer Book' is also a term used to denote the 'Book of Common Prayer' ('BCP').
1. An act of duty and devotion. 2. By extension, a religious ceremony offering obedience and worship to God.
A person whose role is to carry out religious functions.
A 'testament' is a covenant (binding agreement), a term used in the Bible of God's relationship with his people. The New Testament is the second part of the Christian Bible. Its name comes from the new covenant or relationship with God.
Latin version of the Bible most widely used in the West.
A collective name for countries primarily inhabited by those who accept the Christian faith; it is a term which, in medieval and early modern times, was applied largely to Europe.
Used as a general term, describes Christian groups which accept the ancient creeds such as the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
The translation of the Bible in English which was produced in 1611 by a group of scholars appointed by King James I. It is the origin of many common phrases and sayings in the English language.
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