[published in Renaisssance Quarterly, Fall 2014]
This book begins with the assertion that “no one has yet published a full-length critical study of Shakespeare’s practice of biblical allusion and the implications of biblical allusion for our understanding of the plays.” Its author is eminently qualified to remedy what he calls this “deficiency,” having published several books on aspects of biblical culture in Early Modern England and co-curated an exhibition celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Impressive in its learning and packed with original discoveries of biblical and extra-biblical Shakespearean references, the book is written in concise, lucid and lively prose. Its “argument” is incontrovertible: the Bible is a pervasive source and object of reference in Shakespeare’s plays. The recognition and contextual reframing of hundreds of biblical allusions was part of the experience of earlier audiences, whose familiarity with the Bible was guaranteed by their cultural environment. The book’s task is to restore such experience to the modern reader lacking this familiarity.
Part I, titled “ Shakespeare’s Allusive Practice and its Cultural and Historical Background” opens with a vast array of evidence for the saturation of Shakespeare’s culture with Biblical narratives, characters and language. Chapter 2 traces discourse about the Bible and Shakespeare from early editorial glosses through 19th century elevation as paired pillars of British Civilization to recent debates about Shakespeare’s religious beliefs. (more…)