Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA English




Dr. Donovan Sherman

Committee Member

Dr. Angela Weisl


William Shakespeare, Richard II, The Comedy of Errors, Sacrament, Sacramental


Following England’s break from the Catholic Church in 1534, Protestant thought gradually transformed the English Church’s understanding of sacraments. The influence of Reformation thinkers such as Thomas Cranmer, the author of The Book of Common Prayer, propelled the idea that that a ritual is only as good as the worthiness of a recipient. Ritual, the “outer” component of a sacrament, now had the potential to be distant from divine favor, the “inner” component of a sacrament. This potential distance caused anxiety over the authenticity of sacraments, affecting English thought well into Shakespeare’s day. Shakespeare’s plays Richard II and The Comedy of Errors both struggle with sacramental anxiety in ways that challenge the fruitfulness of sacramental rituals: the anointing of a king, marriage, and baptism. Sacramental anxiety plagues not only (un-staged) sacred ceremonies of baptism, marriage, and the anointing of a king in these two plays, but even more so plagues the “ceremonies” of words, “rituals” of behavior, and “forms” of faces: the words, acts, and looks of a person became more greatly suspect, all the more capable of deceiving, of being mismatched to the inner true character.