Biblical References in Shakespeare's Plays

Biblical References in Shakespeare's Plays

Biblical References in Shakespeare's Plays

Biblical References in Shakespeare's Plays

Synopsis

Now in one convenient volume, this important reference work analyzes the biblical references that Shakespeare makes in his plays, surveying the different English Bibles available to Shakespeare, and pointing out which of these he referred to most often. The author's three previous books on biblical references to Shakespeare's histories, comedies, and tragedies have been thoroughly revised and integrated, with the new addition of Shakespeare's final plays, including The Two Noble Kinsmen and the Sir Thomas More fragment.

Excerpt

This study of Shakespeare's biblical references differs from previous ones in that it considers Shakespeare's references in light of his literary sources. In preparing this volume, I have undertaken to read every source that Shakespeare is known to have read or consulted prior to writing each play, as well as those works that give evidence of having come to his mind as he wrote the play.

My original plan was simply to list the biblical references that are to be found in each play, since many valid references have been overlooked by previous scholars, and to annotate these references more fully than has been done. But as the work progressed, it soon became apparent that such a plan would be inadequate. For a study of Shakespeare's biblical references to be of real value, it would have to ascertain the origin of his references. My study should enable the reader to determine which references Shakespeare borrowed from his plot sources and which biblical references were added by Shakespeare himself as part of his own design for the play. Shakespeare's handling of his subject is often best understood when compared with his sources, and that is also true of his biblical references. Thus, I have made every effort to discover which biblical references in his literary sources he accepted, which he rejected, and how he adapted the ones he did borrow. This information is especially valuable when one considers the theological interpretations that are sometimes imposed on his plays.

A second factor that made a thorough check of Shakespeare's sources necessary was the need to determine if the many passages in Shakespeare that resemble Scripture but are not clear biblical references were actually taken from Scripture. Some critics consider any passage in Shakespeare that resembles Scripture to be a biblical reference. Others are more cautious and find far fewer biblical references in Shakespeare's plays. The best way to resolve the problem would be to check Shakespeare's sources. If the passage in Shakespeare over which there is uncertainty also occurs in one of Shakespeare's sources as, for example, in Plutarch, Holinshed, Cinthio, or Boccaccio, then we can reasonably conclude that Shakespeare was not making a biblical reference. Instead, he probably borrowed that passage from his sources and the similarity to Scripture is accidental. If no parallel passage occurs in any of Shakespeare's sources, then the likelihood is increased that Shakespeare borrowed that idea or passage from Scripture.

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