The reputations Jesuit priests in Protestant England, during the time of Shakespeare, were viewed in a very poor and negative sense. However, today society’s views completely contrast these previously instated statuses. England’s dominant and primarily Protestant religious beliefs overpowered and excluded any other forms of practiced religion during the time. Catholics and many other religious minorities were oppressed and feared executions, and as a result often lied to conceal their religious beliefs as means to save themselves from death. Dr. Robert Miola, Fordham University graduate and Loyola College professor, discussed Shakespeare and the Jesuits in his speech. Dr. Miola focused on two specific Jesuit priests, Henry Garnet and William Westin. Each of these men had negative reputations, and society viewed them as frauds and liars. However, neither Garnet nor Westin chose to conceal their religious beliefs, and bore the consequences in return.
Henry Garnet was acquitted for equivocation, and later was arrested and killed for treason against the queen. Garnet practiced essential traditions of Jesuit lifestyles, such as education and prayer. He conducted daily examens as means of self-reflection, and studied and devoted himself to Saints Augustine and Ignatius. Garnet refused to declare himself guilty of equivocation, and continued to pursue his Jesuit mission and Catholic beliefs. This devotion to religion despite the consequences, should allow Garnet to be viewed as a martyr standing up for his faith, rather than a fraud resisting Protestant beliefs and norms.
Similarly, William Westin was considered a fake, because society did not believe that he was capable of performing the exorcisms that he claimed produce. In example, of Westin read the Ten Commandments out loud to a man who was being possessed by visions of the devil, and cured him as a result. Westin believed that suffering is what brings people closer to God, and so he used his abilities to alleviate suffering as means to aid others.
Dr. Miola brought up a commonly debated question, whether or not Shakespeare was a Catholic himself. Although this question has yet to be definitely answered, it can be inferred that Shakespeare was Catholic because of his references to Jesuit priests and purgatory in two of his plays, Macbeth and Hamlet. Garnet and Westin were condemned for their open beliefs in Catholicism, and it is a great possibility that Shakespeare may have chosen to conceal his religious beliefs in order to avoid persecution. However, both Garnet and Westin defended their faith and chose not to give into the pressures to convert to Protestantism, even if they were mistreated and persecuted in return.
Presently, religion is a universally accepted, and as members of society we are encouraged to embrace this diversity. The Jesuits mission is to educate and strive for justice in the world. As students in a Jesuit institution, we are encouraged to become well-rounded individuals. We are called to strive not only to improve ourselves, but also help to improve the lives of others in the process. However, contemporary society holds much more freedom than it did in the period of Protestant England. Garnet and Westin were viewed negatively, and all acts of compassion and piety were ignored in return. Despite the discrimination, these men proved to be true Jesuits who chose not to give into society, and rather to continue to live out their mission. Because they chose to give their lives in order to defend their beliefs, these men made it possible for Jesuits to live and practice freely today.