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John Shakespeare’s Spiritual Last Will and Testament

This document, in which Will’s father John attests to his Catholic faith, was discovered between the tiles and the rafters of Shakespeare’s Henley Street house in 1757. It was transcribed in Malone’s 1790 edition of Shakespeare's works; the original has been lost.

Without entering a full discussion of the document's history, provenance, and authenticity, I will say that the document as a whole appears to be authentic, but the first two articles are probably fabrications by Jordan, who first reported the will's existence. (The first sheets were originally missing, and later appeared rather mysterioiusly.)

I added some support to this view in a 2009 posting on the Shaksper discussion list, based on close parallels between the language in those first articles and the ghost's language in Hamlet.

In the name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the most holy and blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God, the holy host of archangels, angels, patriarchs, prophets, evangelists, apostles, saints, martyrs, and all the celestial court and company of heaven, I, John Shakspear, an unworthy member of the holy Catholic religion, being at this my present writing in perfect health of body, and sound mind, memory, and understanding, but calling to mind the uncertainty of life and certainty of death, and that I may be possibly cut off in the blossom of my sins, and called to render an account of all my transgressions externally and internally, and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever, do in the holy presence above specified, of my own free and voluntary accord, make and ordain this my last spiritual will, testament, confession, protestation, and confession of faith, hoping hereby to receive pardon for all my sins and offences, and thereby to be made partaker of life everlasting, through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour and Redeemer, who took upon Himself the likeness of man, suffered death, and was crucified upon the cross, for the redemption of sinners.

Item, I, John Shakspear, do by this present protest, acknowledge, and confess, that in my past life I have been a most abominable and grievous sinner, and therefore unworthy to be forgiven without a true and sincere repentance for the same. But trusting in the manifold mercies of my blessed Saviour and Redeemer, I am encouraged by relying on His sacred word, to hope for salvation and be made partaker of His heavenly kingdom, as a member of the celestial company of angels, saints and martyrs, there to reside forever and ever in the court of my God.

Item, I, John Shakspear, do by this present protest and declare, that as I am certain I must pass out of this transitory life into another that will last to eternity, I do hereby most humbly implore and intreat my good and guardian angel to instruct me in this my solemn preparation, protestation, and confession of faith, at least spiritually, in will adoring and most humbly beseeching my Saviour, that He will be pleased to assist me in so dangerous a voyage, to defend me from the snares and deceits of my infernal enemies, and to conduct me to the secure haven of His eternal bliss.

Item, I, John Shakspear, do protest that I will also pass out of this life, armed with the last sacrament of extreme unction: the which if through any let or hindrance I should not then be able to have, I do now also for that time demand and crave the same; beseeching His divine majesty that He will be pleased to anoint my senses both internal and external with the sacred oil of His infinite mercy, and to pardon me all my sins committed by seeing, speaking, feeling, smelling, hearing, touching, or by any other way whatsoever.

Item, I, John Shakspear, do here protest that I do render infinite thanks to His divine majesty for all the benefits that I have received as well secret as manifest, and in particular, for the benefit of my creation, redemption, sanctification, conservation, and vocation to the holy knowledge of Him and His true Catholic faith: but above all, for His so great expectation of me to penance, when He might most justly have taken me out of this life, when I least thought of it, yea even then, when I was plunged in the dirty puddle of my sins. Blessed be therefore and praised, forever and ever, His infinite patience and charity.

Item, I, John Shakspear, do in like manner pray and beseech all my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks, by the bowels of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that since it is uncertain what lot will befall me, for fear notwithstanding lest by reason of my sins I be to pass and stay a long while in Purgatory, they will vouchsafe to assist and succour me with their holy prayers and satisfactory works, especially with the holy sacrifice of the mass, as being the most effectual means to deliver souls from their torments and pains; from the which, If I shall by God's gracious goodness and by their virtuous works be delivered, I do promise that I will not be ungrateful unto them, for so great a benefit.

Item, lastly I, John Shakspear, do protest, that I will willingly accept of death in what manner soever it may befall me, conforming my will unto the will of God; accepting of the same in satisfaction for my sins, and giving thanks unto His divine majesty for the life He hat bestowed upon me. And if it please Him to prolong or shorten the same, blessed be He also a thousand thousand times; into whose most holy hands I commend my soul and body, my life and death: and I beseech Him above all things, that He never permit any change to be made by me, John Shakspear, of this my aforesaid will and testament. Amen.

I, John Shakspear, have made this present writing of protestation, confession, and charter, in presence of the blessed Virgin Mary, my angel guardian, and all the celestial court, as witnesses hereunto: the which my meaning is, that it be of full value now presently and forever, with the force and virtue of testament, codicil, and donation in cause of death; confirming it anew, being in perfect health of soul and body, and signed with mine own hand; carrying also the same about me; and for the better declaration hereof, my will and intention is that ti be finally buried with me after my death.

Pater noster, Ave Maria, credo.

Jesu, son of David, have mercy on me.