Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

9/1/2007 - 8/31/2008

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

Faith in Shakespeare: Theater and Theology

FAIN: FA-53242-07

Richard Charles McCoy
CUNY Research Foundation, Queens College (Flushing, NY 11367-1575)

Religion has returned, after a long hiatus, as a major concern in Shakespeare studies, but a dark and disenchanted view of theology and theater still dominates current scholarship. I will challenge this view on both historical and performative grounds. Eamon Duffy contends that Protestants made iconoclasm “the central sacrament of . . . reform,” but most reformers were not iconoclasts, and they retained their faith in ritual and sacramental efficacy. Communion was grounded in what one called “a confederation of our affections” rather than a metaphysical real presence. Faith, in Shakespeare’s theater, demands a comparable sense of emotional “confederation,” and I propose to explore the sources of that faith.

Media Coverage

Author(s): David Bevington
Publication: Renaissance Quarterly
Date: 12/1/2013

Author(s): J. C. Vaught, David Bevington
Publication: Comparative Drama
Date: 9/1/2013
Abstract: Review

Author(s): Peter Berek, J. C. Vaught, David Bevington
Publication: Shakespeare Quarterly
Date: 12/1/2015

Author(s): Peter Berek, J. C. Vaught, David Bevington
Publication: Modern Philology
Date: 11/1/2014

Associated Products

Faith in Shakespeare (Book)
Title: Faith in Shakespeare
Author: Richard C. McCoy
Abstract: Faith in Shakespeare aims to explain what it means to believe in Shakespeare’s plays. Why do we believe in the truth of his improbable stories and plot twists – fairies in Midsummer Night’s Dream, ghosts in Hamlet, magic in The Tempest, descents of the gods in As You Like It and Cymbeline, and an apparent resurrection in The Winter’s Tale – and how do his imaginary characters come to seem more real than the people sitting beside us in the theater? For more than a decade, scholarship has sidestepped this question by speculating about Shakespeare’s own confessional allegiances and by focusing on the plays’ religious context, even assigning them a sacramental purpose. My own approach incorporates a thorough knowledge of Reformation thought, but I show how faith in Shakespeare is more poetic and theatrical than theological, drawing on the willing suspension of disbelief and the power of performance and speech. Belief is sustained by dramatic illusions that engage us even as we see through them, and these illusions allow us, in the words of the Chorus of Henry V, to mind “true things by what their mockeries be.”
Year: 2013
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: world
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780199945771
Copy sent to NEH?: No