Book Proposal Reviewer Questionnaire

This book is still in proposal form “ that is, it has not yet been signed for publication.  Your comments are very important to us in determining whether or not to publish this project, and are very helpful to the author(s) in terms of getting specific recommendations for revision, where necessary.

1.  Overall Reaction: What is your general reaction to this proposal?

a)    Do you find any of the features of the text particularly appealing?  Is the book based on any assumptions with which you agree? Disagree?  Please explain.

I find the idea of a collection of essays on Shakespeare and the Bible most appealing.  The relations between these texts is a topic of interest to a wide audience and carries great potential for scholarly research and interpretation.  A number of excellent essays dealing with aspects of the topic are now available, but puzzlingly few academic books have been devoted to it.  Assembling such a large and illustrious gathering of scholars to converge on this subject is a timely and useful project.

The project’s focus on metacritical themes”ambiguities in definitions of the terms “Shakespeare” and “Bible,” efforts to stabilize those definitions, and the afterlife of the coupling of the two for ideological purposes”is based on an assumption that such inquiries should take priority over direct interpretive approaches.  This assumption may depend on another assumption: that literary scholarship is obliged to unmask “transcendentalizing” and “naturalizing” evaluations of texts by earlier readers and authorities.  Such evaluations are prevalent in the coupling of Shakespeare and the Bible, as is exemplified by the prevalence of titles like Shakespeare and the Bible: showing how much the great dramatist was indebted to Holy Writ for his profound knowledge of human nature in any keyword search.   But I would prefer a collection of essays that presented a range of interpretive approaches to the larger topic rather than one primarily devoted to such critique.

What I found most valuable in the abstracts of essays to be included were the insights into ways that Shakespeare and his contemporaries understood, responded to and used specific Biblical texts”the Geneva Bible’s marginalia, Paul’s insistent argumentation, the relations among Scripture-quoting, character, and Biblical context, and Shakespeare’s adaptations of Biblical women’s voices. To me the theme of “History of the Book” as it appears in the essays in the first half of the collection, referred to as “Scriptural Negotiations,” is of secondary interest.

Chapters 6,7, and 8 move away from any consideration of intertextual relations between Shakespeare and the Bible to the issues of book packaging and canon-formation during the early modern period. They provide a fitting transition to the second half of the collection devoted to the afterlife or reception of the coupling of the two. The discussion of Bardolatry and of Scripture each as support for British Cultural authority is well-trodden ground, but these essays shed fresh light on their mutual reinforcement.

b)    Is there a place for this book in its field of study?

I believe there is a place for this book.  Evidence for that is provided by the number of authors the editors have assembled to write on the topic, along with the range of their backgrounds, the distinction of their accomplishments, and the advanced stage of the work they’ve completed on it, as detailed in the prospectus.

The approach to canonical texts in terms of “History of the Book” and reception has been fashionable for decades, but as the editors emphasize, applying it to the coupling of two works is unique, even though these two have been perennially linked as literary monuments at the center of English literary culture.

The place of the project has been defined by the editors. In the section of their proposal entitled “Competing Titles,” they mention part of a book by Jesse Landers which deals with one instance of their topic. They mention my book, Shakespeare and the Bible, as complementary to their approach here, and again in section 2 of their introductory chapter, where they refer to it as one of the few developed treatments of Shakespeare’s engagement with the Bible, along with Beatrice Groves’ Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare 1592-1604. I believe that there is more of a place for such interpretive studies than for the metacritical approach of the proposed project.

c)    Does it appear to be written from an original perspective?  Is the book on the “leading edge” of its field, or fairly standard in its approach?

See responses to questions 1b and 1c.

d)    Do you think the author is suitably qualified for this project?

Editors and authors are highly qualified junior researchers and widely known senior scholars.

2. Competing Books/Literature in the Field: How does this work relate to literature already published in the field?  With what book(s) does it most closely compete?

See response to question 1b.

3.  Organization/Table of Contents: Have all of the topics you find necessary in this type of book been covered?  Are there any topics you feel that should be relocated, removed, or added?

I’d suggest more development of some literary explorations of the coupling of Shakespeare and the Bible like the one appealingly presented with the Kipling story in the introductory chapter.  Other examples might include Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books and J.L. Borges’ “The Library of Babel.”

I’d also like to see more discussion Shakespeare and the Bible being construed as “Secular Scripture” by important critics like William Blake, Matthew Arnold, Northrop Frye and Harold Bloom.

The proposal’s sequence of chapters provides a coherent chronological narrative and a rich variety of topics that allow for provocative cross-comparison.  Chapters 10 and 11 seem somewhat overlapping.

4.  Coverage:  Based on the table of contents and sample chapter(s), do you believe the author covered each of the topics adequately?  Can you suggest any additions or deletions?  Does the overall length appear to be satisfactory?  Too long?  Too short?

See answer to question 3

5. Writing Style and Level: Is the writing style and the reading level satisfactory and appropriate for the market? (Please note that this proposal/manuscript has not yet been copyedited, so there may still be some typographical or other minor grammatical/stylistic errors.  Some errors are normal at this stage; however, do feel free to comment on the overall quality of the writing, especially if you believe that the number of errors is excessive).

I think the style of the prospectus and the introductory chapter needs general editing.  Jargon that can be annoying to scholars because of its familiarity and opaque to the general public should be avoided.  “Site” is used five times in one chapter; “resist” three times.  “Contestation” and “intervention in our understanding” are unfortunate. Polemical language implying that the literary critic is taking an insurgent stance seems to me to be dated. The opening sentences of both prospectus and sample chapters could be strengthened.

6.  Strengths/Weaknesses: Please comment on any strengths and weaknesses of the proposal that you may not have already mentioned.

The concrete examples throughout, from Geneva Bible glosses to Ulster misquotations are fascinating.

7.  Other:  Please feel free to comment on any other areas not covered above, or to make additional suggestions for features that you find attractive and appropriate.

A suggestion which intends no disrespect but goes counter to the stated intention of the editors is to reconfigure the book to begin with essays that explore some intertextual links between Shakespeare and the Bible that don’t necessarily deal with the “material book” and then move on to the proposal’s other two themes.


8.  Within which subject area(s) do you see this proposal fitting?

Shakespeare, English literature, Bible as literature, History of criticism, History of the Book, cultural studies

9.  Who do you consider to be the primary audience for the book?  The secondary audience?

Scholars, grad students, general audience interested in Shakespeare and the Bible

10. Is the subject area of the proposal widely taught?  If so, at what level (School, Undergraduate, Postgraduate, MBA)?  Would it be an optional or core course?  Can you estimate the size of the market?

All subject areas mentioned above are widely taught.  But this particular convergence is quite specialized and professionalized. I cannot estimate the size of the market.

11. Would this subject have international appeal outside of the author or editor’s home country?  If so, where?

There is a substantial international audience for a book about Shakespeare and the Bible, and it’s possible that the “post-colonial” flavor of some of the essays here might appeal to international scholars and critics.


12. Based on your comments above, please choose one of the following.  For any choice you make, please briefly summarize your overall impressions and the primary recommendations for improving the book (or why you feel it should not be signed).

a)    I recommend this book for publication.

As stated in my reply to question 1b, I believe the topic and the work already completed on this book merit publication.

13.  Marketing:  Are you willing to provide a quote that could be used to publicize the book, should we publish it? If so, please provide the quote below, followed by your preferred tag-line.

I would be willing to provide such a quote, but only after reading the finished manuscript.

Leave a Reply