TO BE CATHOLIC OR NOT TO BE, THAT WAS SHAKESPEARE; Famous playwright was secret worshipper.
THE WORLD'S most famous playwright was a secret Catholic, it has been claimed. William Shakespeare is believed to have defied Royal orders of the 16th century that BANNED Catholicism in Britain.
Catholic churches and abbeys were demolished, priests hunted down and worshippers faced death if caught in the act.
The pogrom happened when Henry VIII was ex-communicated after the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Henry went on to marry Anne Boleyn anyway.
But now religious leaders and academics such as Professor Paul Voss believe Shakespeare lived a religious lie and secretly followed the faith of his Catholic parents, John and Mary.
Some even believe his plays have subversive religious messages attacking the Protestant religion Odds bodkins...
set up by Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. Shakespeare, who was born in Stratford in 1564 - a stronghold of Catholics at the time - faced jail, torture or even execution if he admitted he was Catholic.
Under Queen Elizabeth I the Government of the day even sent spies from door to door to look through people's windows and in their sheds to see if they were secretly celebrating Mass.
Professor Voss says various reasons explain why Shakespeare was more than likely a Catholic - but none sit comfortably with the literary world He said: "The recent attention given to Shakespeare's possible Catholicism is not a welcome development for many in the academic community.
"The dominant voices in the community, the avatars of postmodernism, generally ignore the religious dimension of art while concentrating on the holy trinity of race, class and gender."
However, the many clues to Shakespeare's secret religion or at least his secret affection for the religion simply cannot be ignored.
His parentage and many of his friends were Catholic which alone would have put his life in danger, and when he died in 1616 he left much of his estate to Catholic friends outside of his family.
Many of his early teachers were Catholic and in his plays priests are always referred to as "Holy men" and never in a negative light.
Shakespeare also refused to marry his wife Anne Hathaway in a Protestant church in 1582 but chose the Catholic Temple Grafton instead, and it is claimed he secretly used the name William Shakeshafte to practise the Catholic religion as a teenager.