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Home :: Archive :: 2014 :: March ::
Trevor Nunn: 'The Bard is more relevant than the Bible’

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.147  Friday, 21 March 2014

 

[1] From:        Michael Friedman < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 20, 2014 at 12:02:50 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible 

 

[2] From:        Steve Sohmer < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 20, 2014 at 1:06:00 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible 

 

[3] From:        Hannibal Hamlin < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 20, 2014 at 2:07:05 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible 

 

[4] From:        Ira Zinman < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Bible         as neglected source for Shakespeare

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible 

 

[5] From:        David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 21, 2014 at 12:00:38 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Michael Friedman < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 20, 2014 at 12:02:50 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible

 

In response to Tom Reedy, I think a persuasive case can be made that the plot of Henry IV, Part I is based, at least in part, on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

 

Michael D. Friedman

University of Scranton

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Steve Sohmer < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 20, 2014 at 1:06:00 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible

 

In reply to Tom Reedy:

 

One needs to remember that pious Elizabethans read through the OT once a year (Solomon’s racy bits excluded) and the NT twice a year (Revelation excluded) and the Psalms 12 times a year. That is: Shakespeare’s first auditors would have been were far more alert to his use of the Bible than we tend to be. Let me just cite two plays where Shakespeare mined the NT and created an amalgam with a secular source: St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians was a major source for The Comedy of Errors, and 1 Corinthians a major source for Twelfth Night. When I teach these plays I first direct students to read each of these letters so that they can see the onstage action in that context. The depth and richness of the ensuing discussions are quite remarkable. In fact, one can’t explain Malvolio’s suit against Antonio without reference to 1Cor 6.

 

Best wishes,

Steve  

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Hannibal Hamlin < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 20, 2014 at 2:07:05 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible

 

It’s true that no Shakespeare play (or poem) is based on the Bible, in the way that Henry V is based on Holinshed and Famous Victories, or Othello on Cinthio. The distinction between a source and a work alluded to is not always easy to maintain, however. If one looks, for instance, at Bullough’s Narrative and Dramatic Sources, he includes not just the major sources for plot and character (Lodge’s Rosalynde and such) but sources for smaller, more particular elements of a play. If Thyestes can be cited as a source for the bloody banquet in Titus, and Montaigne for aspects of Gonazalo’s utopia in The Tempest (or for Lear’s speech on what man owes the worm, the beast, the sheep, and the cat—though I’ve argued recently that this may come from Parsons rather than Montaigne), then why can’t 1 Corinthians 2 be cited as a “source” for Bottom’s speech in MND 4.1, or the penitential Psalm 51 as a “source” for Claudius’s prayer in Hamlet? One can also call these allusions, of course, in which Shakespeare alludes to the biblical texts. But “source” and “allusion” refer to different intertextual workings: the one in terms of where Shakespeare found certain language or ideas, the other in terms of what other works he wants to suggest to the audience (to make meaning in the play). These can co-exist in the same dramatic text. I think perhaps this is what Rick Waugaman might have had in mind when he named the Bible as a neglected source for Shakespeare. It is true, I agree, that Shakespeare’s biblical, and more broadly religious, sources are underappreciated compared to Hall and Holinshed, Ovid, Plutarch, and the Classics, or various secular literary works. Studies of Shakespeare’s reading almost invariably omit religious works, which made up perhaps the majority of printed books in the period (not to mention that the hundreds of printed sermons were all first performed in church, and that Shakespeare must have heard a fair number). I’ve argued in my recent book that Shakespeare was obviously omnivorous in his reading, picking up not just Virgil and Seneca, Sidney, Spenser, and Montaigne, but Calvin, Parsons, Erasmus, and no doubt much more. I don’t think he had to pick up the Bible, since (a) a good deal of it was in his head, and (b) it was likely open on his desk all the time.

 

Whether, as Trevor Nunn suggests, Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible is a different question. I’m inclined to put Nunn’s remark in the same category as John Lennon’s that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. I know what they mean, but I’m not sure that they’re right (especially in terms of particular people, places, cultures, sub-cultures), and I’m not sure it’s very interesting anyway. It’s a good way to perk up the press, though.

 

Hannibal 

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Ira Zinman < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Bible         as neglected source for Shakespeare

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible-

 

I must agree that the most neglected source for Shakespeare is the Bible,  We have Noble and Shaheen’s scholarly works as well as others who demonstrate the extent to which source materials, and echoes from the Bible appear in the plays. There are innumerable books and articles related to the topic of Shakespeare’s use of the Bible. Some earlier, 19th Century authors, Dr. Charles Wordsworth, Bishop of St. Andrews, and Rev T.R.Eaton, wrote on the Bible and its influence on Shakespeare.  

 

I think Trevor Nunn’s statements in the Telegraph, ‘Shakespeare has more wisdom and insight about our lives, about how to live and how not to live, how to forgive and how to understand our fellow creatures, than any religious tract. One hundred times more than the Bible.

 

“I’m sorry to say that. But over and over again in the plays there is an understanding of the human condition that doesn’t exist in religious books,” speak to how much the themes in Shakespeare have personally touched him. Martin Lings explores this in his work, the Sacred Art of Shakespeare, Harold Bloom in his work Omens of the MIllenium, states, “Shakespeare, aside from all is other preternatural strengths, gives me the constant impression that he knows more than anyone else ever has known. Knowing myself, knowing Shakespeare and knowing God are three separate but closely related quests.”

  

Ira Zinman 

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 21, 2014 at 12:00:38 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible

 

Tom Reedy may not recall any Shakespearean play as based on a Biblical story, but he should consider King Lear and Hamlet in this vein.

 

I have read commentaries on King Lear alleging that King Lear is Shakespeare's retelling of the Book of Job. What confuses commentators is that Lear is quite detestable when the play opens. However, through his great suffering he is expiated and cleansed and becomes a Job, suffering despite his having attained to the level of the guiltless Job.

 

Note the line in Lear, “Flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.” Those familiar with Job will recognize this pattern in the heavenly council in which God debates Satan as to the worthiness of the rich and life-unchallenged Job, after which the “sport” ensues of the tests of Job. There are a few Jobs in the play, like the servant who seeks to stop his master from committing the dastardly act of blinding the bound Gloucester and whose only reward is being cut down by this master. While in the end some of these Jobs are restored—Edgar—in Lear’s case his goodness is his reward.

 

As to Hamlet, many commentators refuse to see in the events of this play enactments of the wisdom of the Bible’s Ecclesiastes. As an example, Ecclesiastes notes the dismay of the hard working and wise king at the fact that he must leave behind all the hard won attainments of his life and leave them to one who comes after him “and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? This is a harvest reaped by the untested Fortinbras in the play who walks in to inherit the Danish kingdom, after the strivers for the throne end up killing themselves.

 

There are many, many episodes in Hamlet that enact lines of Ecclesiastes, like the one where Hamlet regards of the shapes of the clouds in his jest with Polonius, which alludes to Ecclesiastes words, “he who regards the clouds shall not reap”—a foreshadowing of Hamlet’s failure to reap his throne—and Polonius as an enactment of Ecclesiastes line, “a fool is full of words” and Hamlet’s words when asked what he reads, “words, words, words”—an enactment of Ecclesiastes’ words that “there is no end to the writing of books.” These are samples of many, many others.

 

While I have mentioned two examples of such plays, there are undoubtedly more such Bible enactments, like the career of Richard III, which enacts the words of Psalm 92 that tells of the rise of evil that rapidly sprouts like grass, but which only happens so that in the end it will be cut down. And then, of course, there are the many commentators who note the poet’s many allusions to images in the Bible. All this is proof of how relevant is the influence of the Bible in the poet’s work, notwithstanding the view of Trevor Nunn.

 

David Basch

 
 

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