Sunday, August 31, 2008

King Lear and Job

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007.

Shakespeare never merely allegorizes biblical figures or passages, but, occasionally, a passage from the Bible and a passage from Shakespeare seem to deeply related. This passage from Job seems to have been transmuted into one of Lear's more famous scenes, if not to any specific speech.

Here's Job 23:5-8:
Behold, like wild donkeys in the desert
the poor go out to their toil, seeking game;
the wasteland yields food for their children.
They gather their fodder in the field,
and they glean the vineyard of the wicked man.
They lie all night naked, without clothing,
and have no covering in the cold.
They are wet with the rain of the mountains
and cling to the rock for lack of shelter.
And here's part of Lear III.iv that seems to point toward that.
Why, thou wert better in thy grave than to answer with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies. Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three on's are sophisticated! Thou art the thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare, forked animal as thou art. Off, off, you lendings! Come, unbutton here.
It's impossible to calculate the exact degree to which Shakespeare was indebted to the Bible (if "indebted" is even the right term), but it's clear that he had imbibed vast portions of the Bible over a vast range of time.  If you read enough of both of them, you start to get a sense of how much reading either gives you more of the other.


Anonymous said...

Methinks sometimes I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has: but I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit.

kj said...

Thanks for clarifying that, William!


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.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest