The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1354 Thursday, 31 December 1998.
Date: Thursday, 31 Dec 1998 07:19:12 +0200 (IST)
Pardon the delay in posting this. A good deal of internal wrestling
went on before I decided submit it.
Friday 13 November Karen E Peterson-Kranz commented:
"As far as Shakespeare working on the King James translation...Hmm.
People have speculated on this, but I am unaware of any recent
scholarship which seriously propounds this idea. Just from style,
syntax, and vocabulary (especially the latter), it seems farfetched.
The King James version uses a relatively small vocabulary; style and
syntax are much simpler, too. Shakespeare's Latinate vocabulary and
frequent inverted sentence structures, figures and puns are not
characteristic of the King James version."
The following probably doesn't qualify as scholarship, but I am offering
it in all seriousness.
Style, Syntax and vocabulary: If I were a scholar I would have to offer
sources and examples to substantiate my impression that one of
Shakespeare's charms was to use simple vocabulary to carry complex ideas
(no verbal sawing of the air). In any case the translators of the Bible
worked under certain constraints. An honest translation couldn't insert
a figure or a pun or figure that wasn't in the text. Moreover, I
suspect that the adherence to the original extended to an economy of
words. Occasionally the translation follows the word count at the
expense of the meaning, an example being "Thou shalt not kill" rather
than the true meaning, "Thou shalt not commit murder". To this day the
standard books of the Pentateuch used in orthodox Jewish schools
includes the number of words and the number of verses in each section.
If there were such constraints on the translators, it would take a
skilled word smith to come up with something readable, let alone
Shakespeare was indeed a skilled and subtle punster. I recall the
opening lines of Gloucester in the recent movie, Richard III:
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York."
The camera carries our gaze along with Richard's to his enthroned older
brother, melding the idea of the zodiacal mover of seasons with that of
It isn't true, though, that the Bible is free of puns. It's just that
they resist translation. An example that comes to mind are the first
lines of the eighth chapter of Amos.
1: Thus the Lord God showed me a basket of *summer* fruit.
2: And He said, 'Amos, what seest thou?' ........Then said the Lord unto
'The *end* is come upon My people Israel; I will not again pardon
them any more'. The italics are mine.
The Hebrew for *summer* is *kayitz*; *ketz* means the *end*. The best
of punsters wouldn't find a way of translating this figure to
Hold on! "Made glorious *summer*"!? Could Shakespeare have injected a
bit of irony here, for the benefit of those Englishmen who knew their
Bible? Think of it - a double spin on one verse.
Get a grip on yourself, Syd!
But it gets worse: My compulsiveness got me to count the number of the
plays in the Wars of the Roses cycle. It turns out that the first line
of the eighth play has intimations of the first verse of the eighth
chapter of Amos. Talk about coincidence!! Or did Shakespeare leave his
signature in Psalm 46, and a footprint in Richard III??
Has anyone researched the provenance of the Psalm 46 thing? Were I a
scholar I would make it my business to look for the earliest mention, or
for who claimed to be the originator, but I'm not, so I take the liberty
of asking the question rather than bringing the answer.
Best wishes and Season's Greetings from Jerusalem.