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Was William Shakespeare a humanist?

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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William Shakespeare can be considered a humanist in terms of the content of his work, although his lack of a humanistic education might have distanced him from application of the term as understood in his own day.

In the late 14th–16th centuries, humanism was associated with the change to a modern understanding of the human position in the universe, as distinguished from a medieval worldview that emphasized the importance of religion—especially Catholicism. Many critics have noted that, despite having moral qualms, many of Shakespeare’s characters do not show strong traditional religious motivations. Humanism was also closely associated with the arts, history, and philosophy, and it was distanced from strictly professional education. Shakespeare draws on a wealth of materials from these and related disciplines.

The centrality of the human being within their own moral and intellectual universe is a defining characteristic in all of Shakespeare’s works. His deep concern for the...

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