Thursday, March 10, 2016

Shakespeare and the Parables (part 1)

The First Folio


One of the sections of the book in its earlier drafts that was way too long was the section on William Shakespeare. There was so much material to cover, so much biblical imagery, and so much interaction with the parables of Jesus--especially the parable of the prodigal son.

This blog allows me the freedom to include elements that didn't make it into the book, and over the next few days, I will post a few things about Shakespeare and the parables that I found the most interesting.

But first, for those who don't know, a bit of context about Shakespeare himself:

William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, England, on April 26, 1564. Like many details of his life, the exact date of his birth is unknown, but between his birth and his death on April 23, 1616, Shakespeare composed the greatest dramas ever crafted in the English language. 

The next certain official record of his life  (unless he is the “William Shakeshafte” in Sir Thomas Hesketh’s 1581 will; see Honan 1998: 61-2) is his marriage at the age of eighteen to Anne Hathaway in 1582. Except for the baptism of their children—Susanna, in 1583, and the twins Judith and Hamnet, in 1585—Shakespeare disappears from view for a number of years until he resurfaces in London as an actor and playright. 

By 1594, Shakespeare had established himself as an actor, writer, and partner in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men), a successful acting company in London, a group that built the Globe Theatre (1599) and acquired the Blackfriar’s indoor theater (ca. 1608). Shakespeare published both plays and poetry (the first poem was published in 1593) and became wealthy enough to buy the second largest house in Stratford (the “New Place”) before returning to Stratford between 1611 and 1613. He thereafter spent most of his time in Stratford until his death in 1616.


Shakespeare’s extant literary corpus includes thirty-nine plays—comedies, histories, and tragedies—with Henry VIII being his final play (ca. 1613). In those works Shakespeare refers to the Bible more than any other source. Although the number and types of allusions are vigorously debated (a recent volume cataloguing such allusions consists of 879 pages; Shaheen 1999; cf. Wordsworth 1892 with 420 pages), every single play and many of his sonnets contain significant allusions to the Bible. 

On one hand, the Bible is a rich storehouse of stories of drama, intrigue, and pathos, but it also provides a rich variety of words and themes that would be easily recognizable to Shakespeare’s audiences, since the Bible was the most familiar and important book in Shakespeare’s England. Therefore, knowledge of the Bible is critical for understanding Shakespeare’s plays, especially such plays as The Comedy of Errors, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet (Hamlin 2013: 225; 2013: 3).

1 comment:

  1. This is a great idea! I'm looking forward to reading your material that didn't make the cut for your book.

    ReplyDelete

Answers to some questions from Paul Moldovan about the parables of Jesus

I was delighted to answer a few questions from Paul Moldovan about the parables of Jesus. Paul is an Masters of Divinity student at George F...