On December 19, 1601, John Croke, then Speaker of the House of Commons, addressed his colleagues: "If a question should
be asked, 'What is the first and chief thing in a Commonwealth to be regarded?' I should say, 'Religion.' If, 'What is
the second?' I should say, 'Religion.' If, 'What the third?' I should still say, 'Religion.'" But if religion was
recognized as the "chief thing in a Commonwealth," we have been less certain what it does in Shakespeare's plays.
Written and performed in a culture in which religion was indeed inescapable, the plays have usually been seen either as
evidence of Shakespeare's own disinterested secularism or, more recently, as coded signposts to his own sectarian
Based upon the inaugural series of the Oxford-Wells Shakespeare Lectures in 2008, A Will to Believe offers a thoughtful,
surprising, and often moving consideration of how religion actually functions in his plays: not as keys to Shakespeare's
own faith but as remarkably sensitive registers of the various ways in which religion charged the world in which he
lived. The book shows what we know and can't know about Shakespeare's own beliefs and demonstrates, in a series of
wonderfully alert and agile readings, how the often fraught and vertiginous religious environment of Post-Reformation
England gets refracted by the lens of Shakespeare's imagination.