When Shakespeare lamented the “bare ruined choirs” of the destroyed monasteries in sonnet 73 he was not necessarily signalling his opposition to Henry VIII’s brutal reforms or secretly recording his sympathy for the Catholic underground. Rather, he was expressing his dismay at the fracturing of late-medieval Christendom, a traumatic division that horrified Catholics and Protestants alike.

What kind of God did Shakespeare believe in? Was he? Or was he simply employing an astonishingly original double metaphor, in which old age (“That time of year thou mayest in me behold”) is figured as a bare tree, which is then itself figured as “bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang”? How in the world could you confidently conclude from this that Shakespeare “was expressing his dismay at the fracturing of late-medieval Christendom”? The poem expresses dismay at old age, of that we can be sure — though not even that Shakespeare was writing about his own old age: the poem’s speaker may be a fiction — but we don’t have any reason to think that Shakespeare even had any opinions about “late-medieval Christendom.” Note that the writer doesn’t even consider the possibility that if the phrase “bare ruined choirs” expresses any feelings of Shakespeare’s own it could refer to the loss of beautiful architecture, not “Christendom.”

My point is just this: how hard it is even for people who are warning against reading too much into Shakespeare not to read too much into Shakespeare.