Shakespeare and sexual morality

The notable scholar and Catholic commentator Anthony Esolen–whom I have had the privilege of hanging out with at a classical education conference at Our Savior’s in Houston–has written a fine essay on Shakespeare’s consistent theme of chastity, not just for women, but (rare in his day) for men.

There is an abundance of evidence to show that Shakespeare was a profoundly Christian playwright—and far more thoroughly concerned with the theology of grace, repentance, and redemption than any of his contemporaries. Here I should like to note one characteristic of his view of the world that seems to spring from his Christian faith—for it certainly does not spring from any recrudescence of paganism in the Renaissance, nor from the worldly laxity that sets in with the fading of western man’s assurance of Christian dogma and morals. For Shakespeare, chastity is as near to an absolute value as it is possible for a virtue to be.

via Desires Run Not Before Honor | First Things.

Esolen then makes his case by examining play after play, noble character after noble character.  Shakespeare does not ignore sex.  Far from it.  But his heroes, however ardent in their love, reject having sex before marriage.

HT: David Mills

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • bunnycatch3r

    You can dress Shakespeare up as a fundie all you want but be careful not to look too closely at his word play. “By my count” his notion of sex is as bawdy and jocular as anything found in secular culture today. But, as I understand him, “love” was quite different -always unconsummated, a sublimation of consciousness which is at once madness and a sort of transcendence. And not at all confined to the other gender. Many of his sonnets were written to a “fair-haired” boy whom he was fervently in love with.

  • bunnycatch3r

    You can dress Shakespeare up as a fundie all you want but be careful not to look too closely at his word play. “By my count” his notion of sex is as bawdy and jocular as anything found in secular culture today. But, as I understand him, “love” was quite different -always unconsummated, a sublimation of consciousness which is at once madness and a sort of transcendence. And not at all confined to the other gender. Many of his sonnets were written to a “fair-haired” boy whom he was fervently in love with.

  • Orianna Laun

    But on the other hand, bawdy as the bard was, take for example Romeo and Juliet. They didn’t hop into bed as teen trysts are wont to do these days. They consummated their marriage. I always had to explain this to my students when we read this play. It was part of the marriage act (and made it harder for the parents to annul the marriage).
    One also had to remember that Shakespeare’s day “free love” did not mean “casual sex”. One was free to love any person he/she wanted, not necessarily marry them.

  • Orianna Laun

    But on the other hand, bawdy as the bard was, take for example Romeo and Juliet. They didn’t hop into bed as teen trysts are wont to do these days. They consummated their marriage. I always had to explain this to my students when we read this play. It was part of the marriage act (and made it harder for the parents to annul the marriage).
    One also had to remember that Shakespeare’s day “free love” did not mean “casual sex”. One was free to love any person he/she wanted, not necessarily marry them.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Interesting point by Esolen…..maybe I’ve got to re-read some of the Bard’s work in the light of that hypothesis.

    And great laugh, bunny–I’ve got a good idea that Esolen, a Catholic, is not exactly trying to make the Bard into a fundamentalist. Nor our Lutheran host. Nice misdirected ad hominem, though.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Interesting point by Esolen…..maybe I’ve got to re-read some of the Bard’s work in the light of that hypothesis.

    And great laugh, bunny–I’ve got a good idea that Esolen, a Catholic, is not exactly trying to make the Bard into a fundamentalist. Nor our Lutheran host. Nice misdirected ad hominem, though.

  • bunnycatch3r

    @ Bike Bubba
    “Ad hominem”? Funny, it was meant as a not so cleverly placed Red herring.

  • bunnycatch3r

    @ Bike Bubba
    “Ad hominem”? Funny, it was meant as a not so cleverly placed Red herring.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Get thee to a nunnery…

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Get thee to a nunnery…


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