John Shakespeare’s ‘Spiritual Testament’ is not John Shakespeare’s

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ONE OF THE THORNIEST PROBLEMS IN SHAKESPEARE BIOGRAPHY is the “Spiritual Testament,” the document attributed to John Shakespeare, father of the playwright, in which he appears to declare a radical and personally dangerous devotion to the Catholic religion. Central to all discussions of the religious environment in which Shakespeare grew up, this document’s acceptance or rejection has been something of a shibboleth for Shakespeare biographers. This essay studies a group of hitherto unnoticed early print editions of the text that underlies the “Spiritual Testament.” In it, I advance a double thesis: first, that the “Spiritual Testament” cannot belong to John Shakespeare for reasons of date; and second, that its most likely creator is arguably Joan Shakespeare Hart (1569–1646), Shakespeare’s sister.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-71
JournalShakespeare Quarterly
Issue number2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024


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