Catholicism, Classical Imitation, and St. Ignatian Meditation in the Sonnets of William Shakespeare

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Summer 2015


This study approached the problem of obscurity in the Sonnets using historical analysis considering the sonnets??? placement within the religious persecution, torture, and martyrdom of significant persons known to Shakespeare. The plausibility of Shakespeare???s recusancy as a Catholic or Catholic sympathizer is examined with historical as well as current and ongoing scholarship including that of Peter Milward, Joseph Pearce and Claire Asquith who are writing from a studied assumption of Shakespeare as a Catholic. These scholars have filtered Shakespeare???s dramatic works for associations with Elizabethan politics and my work extends their moderate inquiry into the Sonnets with further analysis. From an historical look at familial relationships and associations, my study considers Shakespeare???s proximity to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Spiritual Exercises were promulgated by Jesuit missionaries who confessed under torture to being houseguests of Shakespeare???s relatives only ten miles north of Stratford in 1580 when Shakespeare was sixteen years old, and could easily have traveled with his father, John Shakespeare to meet the distinguished priests. For in the Sonnets, my study reveals some evidence of poems written to the specific meditations called for in the Spiritual Exercises. My study also considers Ovidian influences in Shakespeare???s Sonnets taken from Book X of Ovid???s Metamorphosis. This historical study sustains the possibility of a secondary spiritual cast to the Sonnets that can unwind problem obscurities in some of the poems with a latent spirituality which responds to specific moments in Elizabethan society, such as the destruction of sacred objects and defacing of medieval church art, sacraments and symbols, even artifacts made criminal by law.


Kathryn Jacobs

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | European Languages and Societies