Elizabeth Truax


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

As a youth man growing up in a provincial town during the reign of the Protestant queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare's personal acquaintance with the visual arts was necessarily more limited than it would have been earlier in the sixteenth century. Until a generation before his birth, the Church had been a patron of the arts and had not only built splendid ecclesiastical structures but also furnished them with images, wall paintings, painted glass windows, and sumptuous reliquaries. Following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530's and the encouragement of Protestantism, especially its imposition under Edward VI, there came a period of mass destruction of medieval religious art, which was designated as idolatrous. Iconoclasm ceased for a time under Mary I but resumed at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I in 1558 in spite of the queen's encouragement of moderation.1 Pictures on religious subjects continued to be regarded with suspicion, and in 1563 the playwright's father, John Shakespeare, acting as Stratford chamberlain, was assigned the job of whitewashing and screening off the wall paintings in the town's Guild Chapel which were deemed too Catholic.2 There was, however, a revival of interest in the visual arts by the 1580's, and a wide variety of pictures portraying secular and sometimes religious subjects, often characterized in the popular tradition established by emblem books, could be seen in public places in towns like Stratford-upon-Avon as well as London.