The Catholic heritage

Tumultuous times

Shakespeare was born just after the middle of the sixteenth century, a century which, in England, was fraught with extraordinary events. It was marked by discord, violence and change, particularly affecting the monarchy and the practice of the Christian religion in England. Many of these aspects are reflected in Hamlet.

Papal rule

At the start of the century England was a Christian country following the practices of the Roman Catholic church. As today this was governed by the Pope whose headquarters were in Rome.

More on the foundation of the Catholic Church: The Catholic Church saw itself as having been established by Saint Peter, a disciple of Jesus, and all Popes since then have been viewed by Catholics as following in an unbroken line from Peter.

Although the kings of England were supreme rulers within the country in all earthly, or temporal, matters, the Pope had supreme power in England, and in all other Christian states, over matters of the Christian religion.

More on the power of the Church: Because of its link with Rome, services in the Roman Catholic Church world-wide (an area known as Christendom) were always held in Latin, the language of the Romans. A Christian traveller could go anywhere within Christendom and hear the same service. Latin had become the international language:
- The language of religion in Europe, and therefore,
- The language of scholarship.
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