Biblical Influences in Shakespeare's Great Tragedies

Biblical Influences in Shakespeare's Great Tragedies

Biblical Influences in Shakespeare's Great Tragedies

Biblical Influences in Shakespeare's Great Tragedies

Excerpt

The "great tragedies" are, of course, the four great tragedies of William Shakespeare, as enumerated by A. C. Bradley in his great book on Shakespearean Tragedy — namely, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear. In them we find Shakespeare's dramatized version of stories which he variously found in Belleforest's Histories Tragiques, Cin thio 's Hecatommithi and Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, besides earlier plays of Hamlet and The True Chronicle History of King Leir. In retelling these stories for his stage, Shakespeare drew freely on various other sources available to him, as laid out for the modern student in G.Bullough's Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, not to mention the innumerable snippets from classical and contemporary literature that turn up in the speeches of different characters. But of all these sources the most fundamental and universal is, it seems to me, the English Bible, as it came into Shakespeare's hands through various versions, the Bishops', the Genevan, even the Rheims, only not the Authorized Version which was published too late for him to use.

In maintaining this thesis on "the Biblical influence" in Shakespeare's great tragedies, I am not presenting a particularly novel or paradoxical idea, though in current Shakespeare scholarship it receives relatively little attention. Rather, it is a subject which has long since been explored by Christopher Wordsworth in his general survey of Shakespeare's Knowledge and Use of the Bible, Thomas Carter in his more detailed comparison of Shakespeare and Holy Scripture and, most recently, Richmond Noble in his more critical examination of Shakespeare's Biblical Knowledge. All these books, however, belong to a more or less distant past; and with the passing of time various defects in them have come to light. Of the three authors, Wordsworth is more concerned with demonstrating the linguistic indebtedness of Shakespeare to the Bible, and his work still remains . . .

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