Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Note: The Bible in Shakespeare

Hamlin, Hannibal. The Bible in Shakespeare. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2013.

This book fell into my path last summer, and I read it on and off that summer and into the fall semester. It's enthralling.

Hannibal Hamlin’s book is the most current available on the topic of the Bible in Shakespeare.  Filled with incredible, well-researched information, the book doesn't attempt to catalogue every quotation or biblical allusion in Shakespeare, but it does offer intriguing scholarly commentary on a wide range of different uses Shakespeare makes of the Bible.

Hamlin's introduction presents a good apology for the study:
This book is about allusions to the Bible in Shakespeare's plays. It argues that such allusions are frequent, deliberate, and significant, and that the study of these allusions is repaid by a deeper understanding of the plays. A supplementary argument, or perhaps a presupposition, is that Shakespeare's culture as a whole was profoundly and thoroughly biblical, a culture in which one could assume a degree of biblical knowledge that is difficult to imagine in today's mass-media global culture. One grips for a modern analogy, but there is none. Imagine a television program that everyone in the country has been watching every week, sometimes more than once, for their entire lives, having seen some episodes dozens of times. Suppose your parents and grandparents had watched all the same episodes, and suppose further that millions of people in other neighboring countries had watched these episodes too, dubbed into their own languages. Suppose that it was illegal not to watch this show and, moreover, that your eternal salvation was understand to depend on it. Suppose that this TV show was the basis for your country's literature and art, its political theory, its history, its philosophy, its understudying of the natural word as well as human nature, and essential to most other fields of knowledge as well.  In sixteenth- and seventeenth--century England, the Bible was that show; it was always in reruns, and it never went off the air. (1)

That's a good argument, in fact, for reading this book as well as for developing much greater familiarity with the Bible.

Hamlin stages his examination of Shakespeare's plays well with three sections on the culture of Shakespeare's day as it relates to the Bible, the way interest in Shakespeare's use of the Bible has waxed and waned (and its reasons for doing so), and Shakespeare's general practice of allusion.  He then provides five well-reasoned sections dealing with the specifics of Shakespeare's use of the Bible. A section on Shakespeare's use of Genesis 1-3 is followed by one on allusions in the Roman plays. Sections on Falstaff, Macbeth, and King Lear follow.

I don't agree with everything Hamlin has to say, but his book is a phenomenal study of the significance of biblical allusion in the works of Shakespeare.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

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