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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Shakespeare as Bible
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1304  Wednesday, 28 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Ian Munro <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 27 Jun 2000 15:19:05 -0600 (MDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1295 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

[2]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 27 Jun 2000 21:56:23 EDT
        Subj:   Re: Shakespeare as Bible

[3]     From:   Judy Kennedy <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jun 2000 09:53:03 -0300 (ADT)
        Subj:   Shakespeare as Bible


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ian Munro <
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Date:           Tuesday, 27 Jun 2000 15:19:05 -0600 (MDT)
Subject: 11.1295 Re: Shakespeare as Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1295 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

Abigail Quart writes:

>Ian Munro asked: "Why are we wallowing in William's works?"

Actually, I didn't.  I agree about the sound bites, though.

Ian Munro

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Tuesday, 27 Jun 2000 21:56:23 EDT
Subject:        Re: Shakespeare as Bible

Although I suspect we are approaching the subject with very different
outlooks, I find myself agreeing with Sam Small on the deification of
Shakespeare.  It is not difficult to see why this is true.  Shakespeare
is safe to quote because he is free of the 'taint' of religious dogma,
and due to our bardolotry, any argument is given automatic credibility,
and class, if can be supported by a quote from the Scriptures.  (Oops, I
mean canon.)

However Shakespeare, as Sam points out, was very human.  And flawed.  He
was also, although many have trouble accepting this, a man of limited
education and experience, at least by modern standards.  That he should
be granted such lofty moral and intellectual credit is, I think, a
reflection of a fundamental misunderstanding of what made him great.
Shakespeare understood humanity and human motivation on a visceral,
intuitive level, and illuminated the human experience in the most
beautiful and touching language.  He has no real agenda, religious,
social, political or otherwise.  He simply observes and then tells us
what he sees.  Or more precisely, has his characters tell us what they
feel and see.

In this, the transformation of the canon to Scripture is most in error.
Although it is more complex and contradictory than many believer choose
to accept, the Bible's authors did intend to provide a consistent
philosophy of what life meant and how humans should live it.
Shakespeare's intent, on the other hand, is to show how humans actually
behaved, and his words are written to reflect the motives and thinking
of the characters.  The canon, therefore, is even more contradictory
than the Bible, because its characters have different and conflicting
motives.  Considering how adept some 'true believers' have become at
manipulating Scripture to reflect their own beliefs, imagine what
mischief is possible with the canon.  One can, for example, devise two
diametrically opposite concepts of the value of honor by quoting either
Hamlet:

...Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor's at the stake.
(Hamlet, IV, iv)

or Falstaff:

        ...What is honor? A word.  What is that word honor?  Air. A trim
reckoning!  (Henry IV, Part 1, V, i)

I am often amused, and sometimes appalled, when I hear or read
"Shakespeare said..." , since we do not really know if then words
written for a character reflect his own beliefs and sentiments.
Shakespeare as Bible is a dangerous concept.  Shakespeare as literature
is quite sufficient.

Philip Tomposki

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judy Kennedy <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jun 2000 09:53:03 -0300 (ADT)
Subject:        Shakespeare as Bible

The idea of Shakespeare as Bible was neither new nor alien to Gervinus,
who saw him as

a man whose entire merit cannot be measured by his poetic greatness
alone.  His works have often been called a secular Bible; Johnson has
said that from his representations a hermit might learn to estimate the
affairs of the world; how often too has it been repeated, that in his
poems the world and human nature can be seen as in a mirror!  These are
no exaggerated expressions, but reasonable, well-founded opinions.
{_Commentaries_, tr.  Bunnett, 1863, I.2)

I haven't read A. N. Wilson's _God's Funeral_, but from a glance at the
blurb it seems that its argument might parallel and reinforce the
suggestions in this thread that Shakespeare provides a substitute for
faith and liturgy, and that this substitution has been in process for a
couple of centuries or more.

Judy Kennedy

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