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).  

1 comment:

  1. Very useful analysis. I will be quoting you in a forthcoming paper. Shakespeare's interest in the parable of the talents is consistent with his special interest in New Testament teachings on economics, seen in iterated reference to Matt. 6.19-21, Mark 10.21, Luke 16 (parable of Lazarus and the rich man).


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