illustrated portrait of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

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Did the Elizabethan era believe in Greek mythology? What I noticed is that he referred to the Greek mythology a lot in his plays, so was it part of his beliefs or not? Because I'm writing an essay about how his beliefs are reflected in his plays.

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I do not think that the Elizabethans actually believed in Greek mythology. Most were practicing Christians and it would have been heresy to follow the Olympian gods. However, there was a real fascination in the Classics during Shakespeare's times and that is what you have keenly noticed while reading Shakespeare.

Remember that William Shakespeare lived during a time known as the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a time of renewed interest in the world and accomplishments of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Many classical texts had been preserved in monasteries throughout the middle ages or rediscovered during the Crusades. Many Europeans were turning to these works as inspiration that would bring Europe out of the dark ages. Classically inspired art and philosophy were appearing all around Europe. You can see it in the sculptures of Michaelangelo and the paintings of Botticelli. It also cropped up in literature.

Shakespeare would have been familiar with many of the Greek myths. He also knew that his audience would also be familiar and interested in them. That is why, like many other artists of his time, he included classical elements such as Greek mythology in his works.

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To the best of my knowledge most people in the Elizabethan era (the late 1500's) did not actually believe in Greek mythology. 

The vast majority of English people in the Elizabethan era were either Protestant Christians (like the Queen) or Roman Catholics (whom the Queen allowed to worship as they pleased).  Neither Protestant nor Catholic theology ascribes to the belief in multiple, human-like gods such as those found in Greek mythology. 

Nonetheless, the stories of Greek mythology were well known to most Elizabethans, particularly those who were well-educated.  To be considered well-educated, one needed to have a thorough knowledge of the major characters in Greek mythology.  People looked to these stories as important creations that contain great truths about human nature.   That is why authors like Shakespeare make so many references to stories from Greek mythology. 

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