Friday, March 18, 2016

Shakespeare and the Parables (part 2)

William Shakespeare


Some parts cut from the final version of the book:

“All Shakespeare’s Plays might be summed up in the three maxims—love God, love your neighbor, and do your work. Professor Morley, Times October 19, 1881 (Wordsworth 1892: 49).

“Thou shalt never get such a secret from me but by a parable” (Two Gentlemen of Verona 2.5.34-35).


“Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing” (Matt 13:34; cf. Mark 4:33-34).

Shakespeare usually creates his plays based on other sources. Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, for example, were both based on the writings of Plutarch (ca. 46-120 CE). None of his plays, however, are explicitly based on biblical stories. For the play, Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s primary source was George Whetstone’s two-part play Promos and Cassandra, which was first published in 1578 but apparently never performed, perhaps because it simply was not very good. A prose version of the play was published in 1582, which Shakespeare also used as a source, as well as other sources (e.g., Cinthio’s “Story of Epitia,” the “Disguised Ruler” stories in folklore, and so forth; Shaheen 1999: 245). The title of the play comes from Matthew 7:2: After Jesus commands his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount not to judge lest they be judged, he adds: “For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” There are a fair number of biblical allusions in this play—but no more than normal for Shakespeare—but Richmond Noble suggested that the plot of the play may itself parallel the parable of the Talents: a ruler leaves on a journey of unspecified length, and he leaves his servants with a varying number of “talents.” At the end of the story, the ruler returns to render judgment upon how well his servants have done (1935: 221; other scholars argue that the play also follows the plot of the Workers in the Vineyard parable, e.g., Marx: 2000: 79).  

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