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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: October ::
Re: References to the Bible in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1755  Monday, 18 October 1999.

[1]     From:   Hannibal Hamlin <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Oct 1999 11:24:32 EDT
        Subj:   Re: References to the Bible in Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Louis Marder <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Oct 1999 15:28:08 -0500
        Subj:   Shakespeare and the Bible


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Oct 1999 11:24:32 EDT
Subject: 10.1742 Re: References to the Bible in Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1742 Re: References to the Bible in Shakespeare

I can add another instructive/amusing anecdote to those already supplied
re.  the problems of teaching to students who are unfamiliar with the
stories, characters, language, etc. of the Bible.  My wife was teaching
a class of senior high school students some years ago and asked if they
knew the story of Jesus Christ.  One eager student responded, without a
trace of irony, that he even knew his full name "Jesus H. Christ"!

More seriously, I welcome the news of the publication of Marx's
Shakespeare and the Bible and will hunt down Catherine Belsey's book
recommended by John Drakakis.  I wonder, though, if there is more to the
question of "Shakespeare and the Bible" than has so far been discussed.
I suppose what I am getting at is the question of critical methodology.
We agree that Shakespeare knew the Bible, and that a knowledge of it is
useful in approaching many of the plays.  It seems to me, though, that
there has for some time been a considerable anxiety on the part of
critics/teachers to address the relationship between the plays and Bible
because of (a) a nervousness about being pigeonholed as something like a
"Christian critic" (and there is, of course, such a tradition), and (b)
an uncertainty about how to deal with biblical allusion in dramatic
works.  Re. the latter, there have been a number of readings of plays
(Merchant of Venice, for instance, or Measure for Measure), some better
than others, which tend toward allegory.  To me this seems too much, but
it's a tricky business maintaining a middle ground between the skeptical
rejection of all patterns of allusion and the (perhaps) overcredulous
reading which turns plays into Christian allegories.  I have been
puzzling for some years over what seem to me significant patterns of
biblical allusion in Coriolanus, a play generally read in secular,
political terms.  Once one starts tracking down allusions and putting
them together, the desire to find larger structures for them is hard to
resist.  Perhaps it shouldn't be.  And perhaps the problem is that, as
the previous responses to this posting demonstrate, the Bible is a
relatively unfamiliar frame of reference for us.  What seems
overlaboured to us would perhaps have been less to Elizabethans, merely
one possible structure of meaning among others.  I would be interested
in other thoughts on this, if anyone is interested.

Hannibal Hamlin

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Marder <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Oct 1999 15:28:08 -0500
Subject:        Shakespeare and the Bible

Dear David Lindley and all SHAKSPERians and Shakespeareans, October 14,
1999: I have long been interested in Shakespeare, religion, and the
Bible.  I have at least twenty-five titles on the subject, most of which
I have not read.  I finally found a volunteer to the Shakespeare Data
Bank who consented to work on the subject.  What he did was a difficult
task, but not definitive: he compiled it in ms. He finally agreed to
type it out too. He could not do it on a computer, so what he  has done
and is doing has to be scanned for entry into the SDB.  It is not yet
complete. All I have is what he did - a list of Shakespeare quotations
and the Bible references to which they are analogous.   If anyone wants
to use it, expand it, annotate it, or whatever, let me know. Let's see
what we can arrange.  Louis Marder, The Shakespeare Data Bank -

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