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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: August ::
Re: Bible
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0730  Wednesday, 5 August 1998.

[1]     From:   Carl Fortunato <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 Aug 1998 10:20:45 EDT
        Subj:   Bible

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 04 Aug 1998 17:16:32 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0727  Re: Bible


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carl Fortunato <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Aug 1998 10:20:45 EDT
Subject:        Bible

> >Is there any evidence that Shakespeare could have been a member of the
> >translating team?
>
> Aside from the laughable Psalm 46, I don't think so.  The names of the
> King James translators are known, and were published at the time.  The
> KJV has a vocabulary of only about 8,000 words, whereas Shakespeare's is
> usually estimated at something like 25,000.  And (most obviously)
> Shakespeare knew neither Greek nor Hebrew.

>Most obviously? Speak for yourself, Carl. His Greek is pretty obvious to
>me, as it has been to others who have studied the matter for themselves.

Not as far as I know.  As far as I know Ben Jonson referred to him as
having "Small Latin and Less Greek,"  and there is no evidence of Greek
expertise in the plays whatsoever.  It is my understanding, for example,
that Troilus & Cressida seems to use Chapman's translation of Homer as a
source, not the original.  And he seems to have known no Hebrew.

> The translators names may have been known to someone, but not all of
> them are known to us. There were six or eight that were never given.

Source for this?

>The
 >forty or so that were given were all upright Anglican clerics, not one
 >of whom, as far as I know (and I may be wrong about this) ever
published
 >another thing of any consequence. Marvelous how Shakespearean their
 >prose! Just another one of those little miracles that causeth one to
 >wonder.

There is a huge difference in the vocabulary of the two.  And "their
prose"?  Do you think Shakespeare translated the entire King James.  To
some people's ears, any good Elizabethan writing sound Shakespearean.
The King James is very well written, but it doesn't sound anything like
Shakespeare's writing to me.  And all the evidence seems to tell against
it.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 04 Aug 1998 17:16:32 -0400
Subject: 9.0727  Re: Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0727  Re: Bible

Stephanie Hughes' is only the most recent of many postings to SHAKSPER
wishing to claim for Shakespeare a hand in the Authorized Version of the
Bible.  The idea is preposterous on several grounds.  The most salient
is that the groups that did the work were composed of learned clergymen,
graduates of the two universities with special scholarly competence in
Hebrew and Greek.  The Church of England in 1604-11 was the Established
Church; the Establishment was embodied in a cadre of professional
churchmen trained at Oxford and Cambridge and certified by the bishops
by placement in ecclesiastical posts.  We know the names of 47 of the 54
scholars who were to have been recruited to do the work; all of those 47
about whom we have any further information (which is to say most of
them-see Gustavus S. Paine, The Learned Men) were either beneficed
clergymen or university dons (or both) with reputations as scholars of
the Oriental languages.  David Daiches in his book on the AV can
document from published or manuscript works the claim of special
linguistic competence (especially in Hebrew) for fewer than half of
them.  But nowhere in the surviving documents can we find any reason to
suppose that alternative skills, such as a demonstrated gift for the
invention of startling metaphor, a great interest in the appropriation
of new words, a knack for exploiting the capabilities of English grammar
in striking and often novel ways, a penchant for swift and frequent
shifts in register-things that seem to me particularly characteristic of
Shakespearean prose-were criteria for appointment.  All the emphasis in
the documents falls on two desiderata: literal accuracy, and doctrinal
purity.  Style was at no point a consideration per se.

Indeed, although Hughes recognizes the ecclesiastical and scholarly
character of all those men whose names we have, she chooses not to
observe the corollary of this-that no laymen appear in the list, however
gifted as writers-not Ben Jonson, not John Donne (not ordained until
1615), not George Chapman or Samuel Daniel or Michael Drayton or Fulke
Greville or Walter Ralegh.  We should not be surprised-in our far more
democratic age we do not find the names of Iris Murdoch or John Updike
or Toni Morrison or David Mamet or Adrienne Rich or Harold Pinter or
Brian Friel or Tony Kushner among the translators of the New Revised
Standard or New English or Anchor Bibles.   Those most significant late
C20 translations, like the AV, were produced  by scholars, not by
novelists or poets or playwrights.

A third obstruction to the hypothesis is that according to all the
contemporary testimony (and, I would guess, according to sophisticated
late C20 linguistic analysis), the translation was a truly corporate
enterprise, in which the concurrence of several voices, not only living
but dead, produced each and every sentence.   Any line by line
comparison among the early modern England translations , from Tyndale to
King James, will indicate the surprising degree to which the latter
involved, not so much work from scratch, the translators going directly
from Hebrew or Greek to English without reference to any other guide
than their own understanding, as choice among earlier versions.  (See
the very informative materials in Charles C. Butterworth, The Literary
Heritage of the King James Bible, esp. pp. 253-353.)  Under such
conditions, any single voice-but particularly one as distinctive as
Hughes seems to think Shakespeare's is  ("Marvelous how Shakespearean
their prose!")  would necessarily have been muffled.

Not that the prose of the AV (different in any case from OT to NT, and
from book to book, as Genesis is different from Psalms and Isaiah from
Romans and Mark from Luke) is very particularly Shakespearean.  I've
tried to touch on that a little above, but this post is already too
long, and I hope has made my point.

Clerically,
Dave Evett
 

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