Travis DeCook and Alan Galey (editors). Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014, 207 pp., $54.95(paperback).
*I would like to express my gratitude to Routledge for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.
How were the multiple forms and contested status of the Bible as the word of God taken up by Shakespeare? Politically and religiously, what elements of Shakespeare and the Bible are overlooked by modern, pre-modern, and enlightenment era readers? These are the sort of questions that this volume seek to answer in this work.
Covering an historical span from Shakespeare’s post-Reformation era to present-day Northern Ireland, the volume uncovers how Shakespeare and the Bible’s intertwined histories illuminate the enduring tensions between the materiality and transcendence in the history of the book (7).
In essence, rather than focusing on the Bible’s influence upon Shakespeare, this volume explores the complex relationship between the two through a multiple time periods. While this volume is surely pertinent to scholars of Shakespeare, I intend to focus on its value for Biblical Studies.
First of all, Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book offers invaluable analysis of the reception of the Bible and its intertwinement with Shakespeare. For example, Andrew Murphy, in his article on Shakespeare and the Bible as the “roots of civilsation”, concludes that as Biblical literacy from early modern English translations faded, Shakespeare paradoxically became the secular divine text and “little more than a monotonous educational labor” (138). This paradoxical development offers fantastic analysis and a great starting point for projects on biblical reception. The majority of the articles within this volume contain valuable information on biblical reception, especially Randall Martin’s “Paulina, Corinthian Women, and the Revisioning of Pauline and Early Modern Patriarchal Ideology in The Winter’s Tale” and David Coleman’s “Disintegrating the Rock”.
Another major benefit of this volume are the insightful and perceptive analyses of how Shakespeare’s plays utilized not only the Geneva Bible’s text but also its glosses. In doing so, Barbara Mowat demonstrates the value of reading 17th century biblical commentaries in order elucidate often overlooked elements of Shakespeare. This approach, of course, is promising for biblical scholars. For instance, by approaching Shakespeare with the glosses of the Geneva Bible, biblical scholars can more fully explore the reception traditions behind themes and verses within the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.
Overall, Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book is valuable to scholars of the Bible. More specifically, it provides excellent articles about reception and the Bible and Shakespeare’s intertwined roles ranging from the 16th to 21st centuries. It also provides unique insights for people performing Shakespeare. Without a shadow of doubt, this volume, edited by DeCook and Galey, is a necessity to exploring biblical reception that relates to Shakespearean literature or the Victorian era.
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