William Shakespeare, the quintessential English writer, was fittingly born and died on Saint George's Day. This Saturday 23rd of April marks the 400th anniversary of his death. England in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I ("Bloody Bess") was a land of contradictions: in some sense a golden age of art and culture with a glittering court life, but under the surface a Protestant police state full of informers, "priest holes" and torture. Evelyn Waugh describes the scene of St. Edmund Campion's martyrdom, with gentlemen at the foot of the scaffold disinterestedly discussing philosophy as the saint was dismembered alive. This uncertain and divided world was the world in which Shakespeare lived. His mother's family, the Ardens, were ardent Catholics; his father seems to have returned to Catholicism after at first adhering to the new religion and one of Campion's tracts was found in his house; and his daughter Susanna was a known "recusant" (from recusare: one who "refused" to attend services in Henry VIII's new church). Ever since an Anglican archdeacon in the 1600s claimed that William himself "died a papist" there has been speculation about whether the Bard was a Catholic. Shakespeare's marriage to his wife, Anne Hathaway, was not held in the Anglican parish church of Stratford; they sought the ministrations of a vicar in another town, who was later denounced as a Catholic priest. Catholic themes in Shakespeare's writings are explored in Shadowplay by Clare Asquith. Hamlet refers disapprovingly to the Lutheran stronghold of Wittenberg, and Twelfth Night contains sympathetic references to the martyr Campion. In any case, please spare a prayer for the Bard on his anniversary, and for all those who died during those troubled and confusing times, often without the comfort of the sacraments.