Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Shakespeare and the Parables (part 5)

Shakespeare Apocrypha: The London Prodigall,
which was also incorrectly added to Shakespeare's Third Folio

There are numerous other allusions to parables in Shakespeare’s works that are also exceedingly evident. The Merchant of Venice, for example, clearly refers to the prodigal son’s leaving home and returning bedraggled after his dissolute living (2.6.14-19; cf. the use of “younker” by Falstaff in 1 Henry IV 3.3.79-80):

How like a younger [“younker”] or a prodigal
The scarfed bark puts from her native bay—
Hugg’d and embraced by the strumpet wind!
How like the prodigal doth she return
With over-weather’d ribs, and ragged sails—
Lean, rent, and beggar’d by the strumpet wind!

Gratiano, who utters this speech, himself echoes aspects of the prodigal’s story (e.g., his drinking and desire for “mirth and laughter,” 1.1.80-1; he also is “too wild, too rude, and bold of voice,” 2.2.172). This speech not only uses the word “prodigal” and the analogous bedraggled state of return that echoes the parable; it also, by twice using the term “strumpet” may subtly bring to mind the “strumpets” (i.e., prostitutes) with whom the prodigal (allegedly) consorted (Luke 15:30). This prodigal, like the one in Luke 15, departs to be “Hugg’d and embraced” by a strumpet and returns “Lean, rent, and beggar’d.” In addition, Shylock in this play may serve as one illustration of an elder son, one who, in this interpretation, refuses the invitation to join in the celebration of forgiveness (see Tippens 1988: 61-4, 72).

Shylock in this play may interestingly serve as one interpretation of the elder son in the parable, who serves in Luke to characterize the “Pharisees and their scribes” (Luke 15:2). In this interpretation, Shylock refuses to join the celebration of forgiveness (cf. the stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral, the prodigal son play by Antonia Pulci, and the blues song, The Prodigal Son, by Robert Wilkins, in which the elder brother joins the celebration), and he therefore is cut off from community/family. Jessica, his daughter, could also be seen as echoing aspects of the prodigal in that she defies her father, steals some of his wealth (“two sealed bags of ducats” and jewels, 2.8.12-22), and leaves home to marry Lorenzo, who is a Christian (see Tippens 1998: 61-64, 72; Parsons 1996: 156-8). Gratiano’s “prodigal” speech, in fact, takes place in the context of Jessica’s acts of defiance against Shylock (2.5-2.8).

In fact, the Prodigal Son story, more than any other parable of Jesus, significantly influences a number of Shakespeare’s plays. The prodigal son narrative was almost omnipresent in Shakespeare’s world, especially in Protestant areas, where it was often used to portray the primacy of faith (the younger son) over works (the elder son). Prodigal Son plays became exceedingly common in England, becoming “the oldest, most prevalent, and most important species of English Renaissance drama” (see Young 1979 ix, 318-20, who lists thirty-five Prodigal Son plays extant in England before 1642; Tippens 1988: 59-60), an emphasis that continued through the Elizabethan era (see Helgerson 1976). A play directly based on the Prodigal Son, The London Prodigal, was even incorrectly attributed to Shakespeare in the first edition of the Third Folio of Shakespeare’s works.

The Third Folio

Friday, April 15, 2016

Update on the book

Van Gogh, The Sower

Good news this week: I received the first copy-edited version of the book manuscript. 

Bad news this week: I cannot work on it yet. I have end-of-the-semester papers, tests, and finals through the end of the month and then our son's graduation from Emory University to celebrate. But I hope to get to work through the copy-edits as soon as possible. 

There is also still work to do on the copyright permissions and some of the images, but we have made good progress. 

I am extremely pleased with how smooth the entire process is with Baker Academic.

More on Shakespeare and the parables soon in the next post.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Reception History?--Part 2 and a review of my James Through the Centuries book

Why Reception History?

Most of my academic career has been spent in scholarly investigations--literary, historical, cultural, social, etc.--of the Synoptic Gospels, especially the Gospel of Luke, the parables, and the Historical Jesus. My focus was always on interpreting the texts as best I could in their first-century contexts.

I came to Reception History rather late in my career.

What convinced me to start doing scholarly work in Reception History? A primary impetus was the commentary on Revelation by Chris Rowland and Judith Kovacs in the Blackwell Bible Commentary series. I then realized more fully how much this approach coalesced with my own Bakhtinian perspective on interpreting literary texts.

John Sawyer has said and written many times that how people have interpreted and been influenced by sacred texts like the Bible are often as important (historically, culturally, socially, religiously, etc.) as what the sacred texts "originally" meant.

But Reception History is even more important than that. Even if you are seeking to determine the "original" (a problematic term) meaning of a sacred text, you have to realize how your interpretations are influenced by those interpreters who have preceded us. 

To illustrate, let me quote the first paragraph of a wonderful review of my James Through the Centuries (Blackwell Bible Commentary series). The review is from one of the pre-eminent scholars of James, Patrick Hartin, and this is how be begins the review:
David Gowler offers a unique commentary on the letter of James. Simply put, this commentary is not a survey of, but rather a study in, the reception history of James over the centuries. G. explains the philosophical foundation for his approach (p. 3) as originating out of the "Dialogism” of Mikhail Bakhtin: “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction” (Bakhtin, The Problem of Dostoevsky’s Poetics [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984] 110). G. follows this approach by showing that the “meaning” of James is not to be found in the “genius of the author” alone, but in an interchange between “the creator and the contemplators” (p. 4). In a very real sense we, the readers, as interpreters, are always dependent on the way in which this epistle has been interpreted in the course of its reception history.

I am grateful for Dr. Hartin's review of my book, which is found in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78 (2016) 366-367. In fact, let me quote his very kind conclusion:
Seldom has a scholarly work given me so much pleasure and provided me with such a rich source of material to which I can return frequently. It may be expensive, but it is worth every cent!

The price of the volume--and the last one I did with Oxford University Press--bothers me, and I know that this book with Baker Academic will be much more affordable (and the two I did with Paulist Press are downright cheap, which makes me feel good).

In closing, perhaps I should cut and paste the post I wrote on 9/21/14: "Why Reception History?" 

It covers some of the same ground:

- - - - - - - - - 
As a follow-up post to the one I wrote about my honors seminar on the reception history of the parables, I want to include some quotes that I will list at the top of the course's syllabus. These quotes help to illustrate the philosophical foundation of my approach to Reception History (primarily indebted to Mikhail Bakhtin)--and why I do reception history in the first place:

[1] Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.
[2] For what is historical scholarship, if not an ongoing conversation about the past in which no one has the last word.
[3] The question to ask of pictures from the standpoint of poetics is not just what they mean or what they do but what they want—what claim they make upon us, and how we are to respond.
[4] I have to answer with my own life for what I have experienced and understood in art, so that everything I have experienced and understood would not remain ineffectual in my life.
[5] There should be a responsive and responsible ethical moment in the act of reading, including a responsibility that leads to action in social, political, and institutional realms. Interpreters have a responsibility to texts and authors, to students and colleagues, and to society at large.  [Note: this is my paraphrase from an article I wrote; I will look up the exact quote]
[6] . . . parables in their polyvalency, to an extent foresee and anticipate our responses; Jesus created them with one ear already attuned to our answers. Parables, therefore are profoundly dialogic and do not pretend to be the last word, because, in parable, the last word is continually granted to others . . . .

[1] Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 110.

[2] Gerd Theissen, The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1987), 55.

[3] W. J. T. Mitchell, What Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Pictures (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), xv.

[4] Mikhail Bakhtin, Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M. M. Bakhtin (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 1.

[5] See J. Hillis Miller, The Ethics of Reading (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 4–5.

[6] David B. Gowler, What Are They Saying About the Parables? (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000), 103.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Shakespeare and the Parables (part 4)

Coming to Emory's Carlos Museum in November 2016

This series on Shakespeare and the parables comes at an opportune time in relation to the Shakespeare First Folio activities that are beginning at Emory University in general (Dr. Sheila Cavanagh is leading that effort) and Oxford College of Emory University in particular. 

Emory is starting its year-long commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the forthcoming arrival this fall of one of the First Folios (from the Folger Shakespeare Library), which will be on display at the Carlos Museum at Emory.

The inaugural event of this celebration was a public lecture at Oxford College/Emory by Tiffany Stern a pre-eminent Shakespeare scholar at the University of Oxford: “Shakespeare, the Book.” 

Tiffany agreed to speak at “our Oxford” during her time at Emory, because she was the 2009-2010 Pierce Visiting Scholar, a faculty exchange program between the "two Oxfords" that Chris Rowland (at the University of Oxford) and I (at Oxford College/Emory) began over a decade ago.

So, to continue my posts about Shakespeare and the parables:

It is often difficult to determine whether a play may refer (intentionally) directly or indirectly to a biblical text in general or to a parable in particular. An allusion, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder (cf. Love’s Labour’s Lost (2.1.15). Does, for example, the Duchess of York in King Richard II refer to the Pharisee and Publican parable when she says of Aumerle:

His prayers are full of false hypocrisy,
Ours of true zeal and deep integrity;
Our prayers do outpray his—then let them have
That mercy which true prayer ought to have (5.3.105-108).

The connection to prayer and mercy seem to indicate that Shakespeare is indeed alluding to the parable (Luke 18:13 in particular), but the different context lessens the connections (e.g., : Aumerle, unlike the Publican, “prays but faintly”; 5.3.101; cf. the possible allusion in The Merchant of Venice 1.3.39-40: the “fawning publican”). Likewise, does the Duke in The Merchant of Venice (4.1.88), for example, explicitly allude to the parable of the Unforgiving Slave when he says to Shylock, “How shalt thou hope for mercy rend’ring none?” (Matt 18:23-35; or perhaps Matt 5:7; James 2:13; and so forth)? Similarly, does the same play refer to the Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:15) when Shylock argues that it is his decision what he should do with his possessions?: “And all for use of that which is mine own” (1.3.111)? Another prominent example would be Twelfth Night, which might refer to the parable of the Talents twice in Act 1 The first example is:

Where are these things hid?
. . .
Is it a world to hide virtues in? (1.3.121, 127)

Compare this possible allusion to the example in the opening scene of Measure for Measure where the Duke admonishes Angelo not to hide his virtues but to use them like a torch (1.1.26-34).
            The second possible allusion in Twelfth Night is:

Well, God give them the wisdom that have it; and
those that are fools, let them use their talents (1.5.14-15)

A more likely allusion to this parable is found in Timon of Athens, where Timon, while he is still wealthy, pays the “five talents” of his friend Venditius’s debt so that Venditius would be “redeem’d” from prison:

I am not of that feather to shake off
My friend when he must need me. I do know him
A gentleman that well deserves a help,
Which he shall have: I’ll pay the debt, and free him (1.1.103-106)

The next scene begins with Venditius arriving to thank Timon, who has just received his inheritance from his deceased father and is able to repay the debt. His father:

. . . is gone happy, and has left me rich
Then as in grateful virtue I am bound
To your free heart, I do return those talents
Doubled with thanks and service . . . (1.2.4-7).

The play thus seems to incorporate the “five talents” that were given to the first servant of the parable in Matthew 25:15). The servant in Matthew doubles those five talents (25:16), whereas Venditius repays the five talents and “doubles” his thanks and service. Ironically, Venditius later refuses to give Timon a loan when Timon needs assistance (2.2; 3.3.1-10), which has the same theme (but not the details) as the Unforgiving Servant parable. Other sections of the play echo the parable of the Unjust Steward more directly. When Timon’s many expenses mount up, and he faces bankruptcy, his steward begins to weep as he explains the hopeless situation and how Timon will be abandoned now that he has no wealth. Timon responds:

Why dost thou weep? Canst thou the conscience lack,
To think I shall lack friends? (2.2.179-81; cf. Matt 16:9)

As Shaheen notes, the possibility of this statement alluding to the parable of the unjust steward—in addition to the fact that Timon is talking to his steward—is reinforced by the fact that “overtones” of the parable may also be found in 2.2.155-57 and definitely in 4.3.497-98, 502-6 (1999: 675). Timon is again talking to his (former) steward. At first, Timon does not recognize him, but the steward refreshes his memory by saying that he had been “”an honest poor servant of yours” (4.3.478). Timon denies that he ever had an “honest man about me”; they were all knaves, he says. The steward, as before, weeps in grief at Timon’s misfortune, and the steward asks Timon “to entertain me as your steward still” (4.3.480-492).
Timon then acknowledges the steward, proclaims that his former steward was “One honest man” (4.3.499-500), and declares:

Methinks thou art more honest than wise;
For, by oppressing and betraying me,
Thou mightst have sooner got another service;
For many so arrive at second masters
Upon their first lord’s neck (4.3.505-509).

In other words, if the former steward had been “wise” enough “to make friends” dishonestly (Luke 16:9), he would have already improved his position with a second master. But this steward is more honest than “wise,” whereas the steward in Luke’s parable is more “wise” than honest (cf. Cymbeline 3.4.118; Shaheen 1999: 678).  

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman   Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” is my favorite Christmas poem, and I p...