Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Update on the book

(a) Hopefully not me as division chair and (b) not on the cover of the book, The Parables after Jesus

The semester is over, so I am back working full-time on my writing projects. I have agreed to become Humanities division chair, so I have had to jettison (or, hopefully, postpone) some of my planned projects. Right now, though, I have finished a book review of The Many Faces of Christ: Portraying the Holy in the East and West, 300 to 1300 by Michele Bacci for the journal, Museum Anthropology. I have another review to write for the Review of Biblical Literature, but right now I am working on an article, "The Parables in the Visual Arts" for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (EBR). I am still waiting to hear back from the publisher about the next book project, but in the meantime I have some editing to do for another volume.

Around the end of May, I will receive the second copy-edited and proofread manuscript for this book, The Parables after Jesus. In the meantime, I am working on obtaining (and getting copyright permissions for) the final three digital images for the book: Two images from the Rossano Gospels and one image from Domenico Fetti (The Parable of the Lost Coin/Drachma).

Even more exciting is that a few weeks ago, Baker Academic sent me a pdf of the book cover: It is stunning. Unfortunately, I cannot share it on this blog until July, so stay tuned. The cover is blue--my third book in a row with a blue cover--and it incorporates a painting of a parable by a major French artist.

As I mentioned earlier, the full title of the book is: The Parables after Jesus: Their Imaginative Receptions across Two Millennia

Oh, and the painting at the top is The Parable of the Blind leading the Blind, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1568). It is found in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Napoli.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Shakespeare and the Parables (part 8)

William Shakespeare's possible birthplace, Stratford


This post includes material that was cut from the book because of space. Keeping such discussions to approximately 2000 words involved a lot of painful decisions, but at least I can share that material and those insights here.       

Shakespeare also makes ample use of other parables that are not quite as pervasive as the parable of the Prodigal Son. Some of these allusions are in passing; others make significant contributions to the plays. In 2 Henry IV, for example, Shakespeare cites both the King going to War (Luke 14:31-33) and Building a Tower (Luke 14:28-30). The play begins with the civil war continuing between King Henry IV and the rebels. 1 Henry IV had ended with the battle of Shrewsbury, where Prince Henry/Hal/Harry had saved his father’s life and the king’s army had won a great victory over some of the rebels. The story begins in 2 Henry IV with the war continuing against the remaining powerful rebels, such as the Archbishop of York (who leads the rebellion), Lord Mowbray, and Lord Hastings. When these and other rebels begin to plan how to advance against King Henry IV, they discuss whether their twenty-five thousand soldiers are enough to defeat the king’s forces without the aid of the powerful Earl of Northumberland. Lord Bardolph notes:

The question, then, Lord Hastings, standeth thus—
Whether our present five and twenty thousand
May hold up head without Northumberland (1.3.15-18). 

Although there is not a direct reference to the King going to War (Luke 14:31-33), it provides a concrete example of how deliberations are made in preparation for possible battles against a king. This rather weak connection is strengthened by other words spoken by Bardolph that soon follow. The rebels decide that their numbers are too few without the Earl’s assistance and not that the battle of Shrewsbury was lost—and the Earl’s son Hotspur killed—because the Earl had refused to send forces for that battle. They hope that the Earl’s desire for revenge for his son’s death might turn the tide in their favor this time (1.3.1-35). Bardolph then states:

When we mean to build
We first survey the plot, then draw the model,
And when we see the figure of the house,
Then we must rate the cost of the erection,
Which if we find outweighs ability,
What do we then but draw anew the model
In fewer offices, or at least desist
To build at all? Much more, in this great work—
Which is almost to pluck a kingdom down
And set another up—should we survey
The plot of situation and the model,
Consent upon a sure foundation,
Question surveyors, know our own estate,
How able such a work to undergo,
To weigh against his opposite; or else
We fortify in paper and figures,
Using the names of men instead of men,
Like one who draws the model of a house
Beyond his power to build it, who, half-through,
Gives o’er, and leaves his part-created cost
A naked subject to the weeping clouds . . .  (1.3.41-61).

This speech clearly seems to build upon the parable Building a Tower, and many scholars also see an allusion to the Wise and Foolish Builders’ parable (Luke 6:47-49) when the Archbishop states that the current commonwealth was a “habitation giddy and unsure” because it was built on a poor foundation: a “vulgar heart” (1.3.87-88; Shaheen 1999: 431-33).

This concludes my series of posts on Shakespeare and the parables, although much more could be written.


One final observation: The importance of the parables in Shakespeare’s plays is not just reflected in the quantity of allusions; the critical nature of those allusions is also seen in the depth of interaction, especially with the parable that Shakespeare evidently found most compelling: the Prodigal Son.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Shakespeare and the Parables (part 7)

William Shakespeare

Most of these posts about Shakespeare and the parables contain additional information that did not make it into the final version of the book. 

I have to admit that rereading and restudying Shakespeare's works for the writing of this book was great fun. I'm looking forward to the celebrations of Shakespeare's life and works that are ingoing at Emory this year (including hosting a First Folio).

Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays are also permeated with allusions to the Prodigal Son parable. Prince Hal is the archetypal prodigal son who “comes to his senses” just in time to help save the day. Both Prince Hal and Falstaff indulge in dissolute living—although we find out later that Prince Hal’s behavior was not as debauched as previously thought. The prince returns to his father, asks his forgiveness, and pledges his determination to live responsibly.  Falstaff, who has a particular propensity to allude to the parable (and the Rich Man and Lazarus), can be seen as an “inverted prodigal” (cf. Lear) who has to repent and beg forgiveness from someone younger than him (Tippens 1988: 64).

In some senses, Falstaff’s life is a parody of the parable (see Hamlin 2013: 244). The Merry Wives of Windsor (4.5.8) says that Falstaff’s room in the inn is decorated with an image of the Prodigal Son parable, which is one of three allusions to the parable in reference to Falstaff in other plays. When Hostess Quickly complains in 2 Henry 4 that she will have “to pawn both my plate and the tapestry of my dining-chambers,” Falstaff refers to images of the parable on “bed-hangers” and fly-bitten tapestries (2.1.140-7).

Falstaff also refers to the Prodigal Son parable in 1 Henry IV (4.2.33-35). In his lengthy description of the miserable state of his conscripted soldiers, he first alludes to the Rich Man and Lazarus (“slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the painted cloth, where the glutton’s dogs licked his sores”; 4.2.24-26; cf. 3.31-33) and then combines it with an allusion to the Prodigal Son parable (“You would think that I had a hundred and fifty tattered prodigals lately come from swine-keeping, from eating draff and husks”; cf. 3.3.79-80; cf. Tippens 1988: 68). Some other (possible) examples of references to the Prodigal Son parable may be found in Comedy of Errors 4.3.17-21; Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.2.64; King Lear 4.7.36-40; Timon of Athens 3.4.12, 4.3.278-81; Twelfth Night 1.3.23-24, Winter’s Tale 4.3.92-98, and others. A brief reference in Two Gentlemen of Verona 2.3.3-4 (“I have received my proportion, like the prodigious son . . .”) is notable for three reasons. First, Launce humorously confuses “portion” (Luke 15:12) with “proportion” and “prodigious” with “prodigal.” Second, this form of pun is also used by later authors, such as Charles Dickens (Pickwick Papers chapter 43; Jeffrey 1992: 641; cf. the humorous parody of the Lost Sheep in the opening scene of Two Gentlemen of Verona; 1.1.69-110.). Third, Launce leaves with his money amidst the lamentation of his family: “my mother weeping; my father wailing; my sister crying; our maid howling; our cat wringing her hands, and all our house in a great perplexity . . .” (2.2.6-9).

Tippen rightly notes how important the “prodigal plot” is to Shakespeare’s works:

It embraces several distinctive “Shakespearean” motifs: the conflict of generations (yoth and age), sibling rivalry (old and younger brothers), ungrateful children, the conflict of justice and mercy, love, and law, the loss and restoration of community, and the archetype of death and rebirth . . . .

The parable in fact comprehends the dramatist’s most universal interest: what David Bevington describes as the romance pattern of “separation, wandering, and reunion” and the morality pattern of “fall from grace, temporary prosperity of evil, and divine reconciliation” [1962: 190]. In one sense, then, the Prodigal story is the poet’s ur-plot (Tippens 1988: 60).

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Shakespeare and the Parables (part 6)

Shakespeare's First Folio

As noted in the previous post, many interpreters have argued that the Prodigal Son story, which permeated so many aspects of culture during this era, influenced a number of Shakespeare’s plays in significant ways. The first scene of As You Like It, for example, utilizes the Prodigal Son parable in a powerful way in an exchange between two brothers who are at odds with each other over an inheritance: Orlando and his older brother Oliver. Their father had passed away, and the older brother Oliver had received the vast bulk of the inheritance, whereas Orlando received a mere one thousand crowns. Although Oliver was supposed to provide for Oliver’s education, he only does so far their other brother, Jacques, and instead keeps Orlando “rustically at home” (i.e., like a peasant, not like the nobleman he is). Orlando complains that his brother takes better care of his animals than he does his brother, and Orlando “begins to mutiny against this servitude” (1.1.1-24). When Oliver arrives, the bickering starts in earnest. Orlando exclaims to his (1.1.43) brother: “Shall I keep your hogs and eat husks with them? What prodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury?” (1.1.36-38). The use of “husks” suggests that Shakespeare here was dependent on the Geneva Bible (most of the other contemporary translations use “cods” instead of “husks”; Shaheen 1999: 216). The dispute turns violent (1.1.51-54), and Orlando once again alludes to the parable by stating this Oliver must either allow Orlando to “train” to become a gentleman or give him “the poor allottery my father left me by testament; with that I will go buy my fortunes” (1.1.69-72). Oliver retorts that the dispensing of the inheritance would do little good: “And what wilt thou do? Beg when that is spent?” (1.1.73).

As Susan Snyder and others have demonstrated, King Lear is also permeated with echoes of the Prodigal Son parable, both in its primary plot (with Lear and his daughters Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan) and in its subplot (with the Earl of Gloucester and Edgar, his son, and Edmund, his illegitimate son). The story itself is dependent upon earlier works, such as the anonymous play, The True Chronicle History of King Leir (ca. 1605), but Shakespeare incorporated a number of biblical references not found in his sources and, it seems, a story that in many respects parallels that of the Prodigal Son:

The protagonist starts by rejecting the one who loves him most [i.e.,, Lear rejects Cordelia], embarks on a reckless course which brings him eventually to suffering and want—and, paradoxically, to the self-knowledge he lacked before—and finally is received and forgiven by the rejected one (Snyder 1979 362-3).


Although specific allusions in the play to the text of the Prodigal Son parable are sparse (e.g., Lear “hoveling” with swine may not be a specific reference; 4.7.39), many other broad parallels are evident as well, such as the premature granting of an inheritance and the resulting drama of broken family relationships—and the restoration of some (for more details, see Snyder 1979).

Models for Grant Wood's American Gothic

Grant Wood, American Gothic  (Art Institute of Chicago) I just finished my chapter, “The Belated Return of the ‘Son’: Thomas Hart Bento...