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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: Psalm 46
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1603  Wednesday, 13 August 2003

[1]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 13:51:11 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

[2]     From:   Hannibal Hamlin <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 09:47:35 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

[3]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 10:44:19 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Intersections of dramatists and church workers

[4]     From:   Bruce Fenton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 12:45:17 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

[5]     From:   Nancy Charlton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 10:34:58 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

[6]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 10:46:36 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

[7]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 15:33:56 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

[8]     From:   Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 13 Aug 2003 00:11:09 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 13:51:11 +0100
Subject: 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

Before any more nonsense is written about Psalm 46, perhaps I should
point out that although the "translators" of the King James Bible were
working from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, they were trying to
retain the "traditional" English phrasing (which largely derived from
Tyndale - or Coverdale where Tyndale hadn't translated it).  The Prayer
Book version of the Psalms (still printed in the Book of Common Prayer)
was by Coverdale, and would be the version they were correcting.  It has
both words: "shake" (46 from the beginning) and "spear" (48 from the
end).

John Briggs

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 09:47:35 -0400
Subject: 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

I agree with William Davis entirely, though I think he may still be
over-kind to what is a very silly idea.  There are a host of books out
right now on the making of the King James Bible (the one to wait for is
David Daniell's, out this fall), an intriguing cultural phenomenon in
itself, and a perusal of any of them will put to rest any notion that
Shakespeare would have been involved in such a project.  Such an idea
depends upon an entirely anachronistic sense of Shakespeare's reputation
as a writer.  In his own day he may have been a celebrated playwright,
but he was hardly a biblical scholar, learned in ancient languages.  The
men who worked on the KJV were.  It is also worth noting that the
translators of the KJV were working to produce an accurate translation,
not necessarily an aesthetically pleasing one, which further discourages
the notion that they would have sought the advice of "creative" writers
to polish their style.  David Norton's history of the English Bible as
Literature is essential reading on this (as for debunking the notion
that the KJV was an instant classic).  Of course, many of the
translators were themselves masters of English prose anyway, as a look
at the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes will show, so they hardly needed to
consult a popular playwright.

It also needs to be said that the words "shake" and "spear" appear in
all the previous sixteenth-century Bible translations.  In the Bishops
Bible (1568) '"shake" is 47 words from the beginning and "spear" 48 from
the end.  In the Geneva (1560), the numbers are 47 and 45.  In
Coverdale's translation of the psalm, which appeared in the Book of
Common Prayer (I checked a 1579 edition) the numbers are 46 and 48.  It
seems hardly an earth-shattering coincidence, then, that these numbers
in the KJV shuffled out to 46 and 46.  I might also note that the 46/46
count requires the omission of the final word "selah" from the count.
This is a mysterious term in the Hebrew, its meaning still debated, but
it is clearly there at the end of Psalm 46:11 in the KJV.

Of course, even apart from the bean counting, and even if the numbers
were 46 and 46, this would be a ludicrous way for Shakespeare to leave
his mark on the KJV, as William Davis points out.  The only aspect of
this business I actually find interesting is the question of how anyone
came up with this idea, though this has little to do with Shakespeare
and more to do with the peculiarities of human psychology (especially
the passion for codes and conspiracies).

Hannibal Hamlin

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 10:44:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Intersections of dramatists and church workers

I appreciate William Davis's comments on Adam Nicholson's book God's
Secretaries, a book I've been meaning to purchase. I think nothing more
needs to be said about Psalm 46, but I would like to note that some
theater people were never far removed from ecclesiastical activity of
some sort. A few examples:

* John Careless, an actor who may have influenced the turn towards
Reformist theology in the York mysteries.
* John Foxe, the martyrologist, who provides details about Careless, who
argued that theater was a bulwark against the papacy, and who wrote two
poor efforts of Latin New Comedy
* Thomas Norton, the co-writer with Thomas Sackville of Gorboduc
(perhaps the first English tragedy), was the translator into English of
John Calvin's Institutes.
* Thomas Middleton, whose wife's family included a hymn writer and the
creator of the first English Bible concordance. He produced a still
little-known pamphlet--perhaps using that concordance--attempting to
reconcile the Old and New Testaments (Two Gates of Salvation).
* John Marston, who became a clergyman after his work with London
theaters.

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Fenton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 12:45:17 EDT
Subject: 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

I agree with Wm Davis - the counting of 46 backward and forward seems
pretty pedestrian for our friend Shakespeare.

Here's the fun part though.....

Shakespeare was born in 1564, the King James Bible was published in 1611
- so we can reasonably assume that the translating was going on the year
before, when Shakespeare was, of course, 46 years old.  If he happened
to be helping out in some way and it happened to be around April 23 then
it seems a lot more believable that he, or someone who liked/ knew/
respected him would have slipped the 46th line in the 46th Psalm as a
tribute to his 46th birthday.

Also, the reasons (religious, political etc.) that he was not billed as
a translator, might be exactly the reasons that someone asked him for
help etc in a more covert way.  Surely the authors of the day knew each
other, associated with each other etc and surely Shakespeare would have
known or perhaps had a chat with one or more of the translators or
helped with a particular passage they had difficulty with etc.

Today we hear all kinds of stories about how William Goldman really
wrote Good Will Hunting (a claim he denounces, but admits helping a
small amount) etc.  Light collaboration is commonplace in films and
plays today - if you listen to director's commentaries on DVDs they
often speak of this joke or that name came from a friend or a tribute to
a teacher etc.

I like to think of it like the world portrayed in "Young Shakespeare in
Love":  Kit Marlowe and Shakespeare having a pint and sharing ideas,
giving each other titles and character names.   We'll never know for
sure but the 46 Psalm makes for a fun thought at least.

Now, who do we get to produce the play?

Bruce Fenton

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nancy Charlton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 10:34:58 -0700
Subject: 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

Thanks to William Davis for his thoughtful argument that it is not
without the realm of possibility that some of the KJV translators just
might have had their works looked at by accomplished poets. Personally,
when I hear of this I think of Thomas Hardy's "The Oxen" in which
rational skepticism dismisses the notion that the beasts would kneel on
Christmas eve but we all went to look anyway, "hoping it might be so."

Mr. Davis continues:

>I'm currently finishing a book entitled "God's Secretaries: the
>making
>of the King James Bible" by Adam Nicolson, which gives as
>detailed
>account of the translation process, along with the people
>involved.  I
>highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the
>events
>surround this massive undertaking.

Mr. Nicolson lectured at the Chicago Library earlier this year, and it
made for a fascinating hour on BookTV. This will be rebroadcast twice on
August 30-31 on TV. However, if you possibly can watch it online I'd
recommend you do so, for the questions went on past the cutoff time for
the broadcast and so the web cast is more complete.

http://booktv.org/history/index.asp?segID=3591&schedID=208 is the direct
link, and from there you click "Watch"

Nancy Charlton

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 10:46:36 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

William Davis, "I believe that once people research the actual
translation process in specific detail, it would seem rather clear that
Shakespeare would never have been allowed to officially participate (his
Catholic family's background, the fact he was not ever mentioned on any
of the lists of participating translators - who were all clergymen at
that, the unacceptable idea of having a theatre man participate in the
translation of holy writ, and numerous other serious obstacles appear to
immediately disqualify him from a place at the scribe's table)."

I have to take issue with this commentary on the possibility that Will S
had anything to do with the translation process of the KJV.

First of all, there was no "scribe's table" and secondly, there were
academics or university scholars involved which is quite outside the
suggestion of a KJV translated by "all clergymen."

I did a thorough job in research of this topic for my 2002 book JESUS:
The Gospel According to Will, and came to a conclusion that we cannot
conclude one way or the other if Will S was in any way involved.

Again: I suggest that anyone interested in this topic, try the search
function at our messageboard, SHAKSPER.  Hardy will be pleased!

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 15:33:56 -0600
Subject: 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

As has been noted, the Psalm 46 question has been discussed pretty
thoroughly before--see especially SHAKSPER discussions dated Nov.  13 &
16, 1998 (SHK 9.1134 & 1144); Dec. 31, 1998 (9.1354); and Jan. 4-28,
1999 (a total of 18 posts).

Nevertheless, I'm grateful for William Davis's insightful and
well-informed comments on the translation of the King James Bible and on
translation of scripture in general.  What he says goes well beyond the
discussion of 4 1/2 years ago.

I have one thing to add: The evidence shows pretty clearly that the
poetic qualities of the King James version are not to be accounted for
primarily by the abilities of the translators of 1611 or of any
"creative writers" they might have consulted.  At most, these
translators and writers might have made minor adjustments to improve the
style.

Most of the credit for the style of the King James version must be given
to William Tyndale, who translated much of the Bible into English some
80 years earlier.  As Jon Nielson and Royal Skousen note (in "How Much
of the King James Bible Is William Tyndale's?: An Estimate Based on
Sampling," Reformation 3 (1998): 49-74), roughly 84% of the KJV New
Testament and 76% of the Old Testament reads as it was translated by
Tyndale.  For the most part, the English Bibles that followed over the
century or so after Tyndale retained much of his wording.  The King
James translators compared the various English translations available to
them and, not surprisingly, usually ended up with something very close
to Tyndale.

As for the supposed cipher in Psalm 46, one of the facts that tells
against Shakespeare's participation is that in the Great Bible (1539),
the words "shake" and "spear" appear in almost exactly the same
positions as in the KJV, one 46th from the beginning, the other 48th
from the end.  Thus, a generation before Shakespeare was born, the words
were already at or very near (within a couple of words of) the positions
required to match the Psalm number (46).  Minimal adjustment would have
been required to put them in the perfect positions.  Not only would such
adjustment not have required, it could not have accommodated, brilliance
or even detailed planning.  Though I concede it's possible someone could
have made that adjustment with the aim of moving "spear" into the 46th
position from the end, I think it much more likely the word fell into
that position accidentally, as it were, as the translators made minor
adjustments for other reasons.

Bruce Young

P.S.: I owe some of the information about the Great Bible to Thomas
Larque (in SHK 10.0121), but I've examined the text myself to check the
details.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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Date:           Wednesday, 13 Aug 2003 00:11:09 -0500
Subject: 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1600 Re: Psalm 46

Tue points out:

> WILL = V V I L L = 5 + 5 + 1 + 50 + 50 = 111

I admit that I'm not an expert on roman numerals, but isn't 111 CXI in
roman numerals?

V V I L L is cute, but a stretch?

Marcia

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