Monday, April 25, 2016
The Prince and The Bard
This past week, the world lost two truly great artists. On Thursday of last week (April 21), the world lost a musician named "Prince", who died at the age of 57. And on Saturday of last week (April 23) the world lost the a great playwright, who died at the age of 52 - 400 years before (1564-1616) - named - William Shakespeare. Is it just me, or do both Prince and Shakespeare have the same facial hair (I digress...)? This blogpost will be about the latter artist's death, and more specifically, Shakespeare's connections to Christianity. Perhaps 400 years from now, another blog-writer will want to reflect on the life of "Prince".
I can still remember my high school AP English class. It was a Friday afternoon and because the AP exam was just around the corner, our teacher, named D.L. Smith, was trying to drum into our heads that William Shakespeare was not a Christian but a Humanist. "Shakespeare did not believe in God - Shakespeare was totally secular - Shakespeare hated the church - Shakespeare's content was non-Christian to the hilt," I can still hear my English teacher say, as he pounded his podium, right before the lunch bell rang out. However, these twenty-five years of experience and living and education later, have shown me that nothing could be further from the case. As a more notable English professor, Leland Ryken of Wheaton University, has recently written - the idea that Shakespeare was not a Christian is; "a great lie".
William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Later, as a playwright and actor in London, he attended church regularly. While living in London, he rented a home on Silver Street which was owned by a devout Huguenot (French Protestant) family. Huguenots back in the day were like Southern Baptists today - they did not hide their religion from the public. Throughout "The Bard's" life (by the way, he never went by the "artist formerly known as 'The Bard'"), he regularly participated in church services as both a lay rector and a lay reader. Because Shakespeare loved the church so much (and also probably because he could afford it) he chose to be buried right next to the altar in the church in Stratford, rather than being buried in the cemetery outside the church. Here are the words of Shakespeare's will that he drew up himself right before he died;
I commend my soul into the hands of God my creator, hoping and assuredly believing these the only merits of Jesus Christ my Savior to be made partaker of life everlasting.
Shakespeare's plays and sonnets have hundreds of Biblical allusions in them, and draw from around 42 different books in the Bible. Here is one of my favorites; "Shall I keep your hogs and eat husks with them? What prodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury" (As You Like It). This is, of course, a reference to the story of the Prodigal Son. And later in that same play, "Here we feel not the penalty of Adam" (As You Like It).
My favorite example of how Shakespeare was Christian and how he influenced the course of Christianity in profound ways, is how he actually most likely wrote himself into the King James translation of the Bible. Most scholars believe that there may be a secret genogram-code in the King James Bible which, it is widely thought, Shakespeare helped to translate. Bear with me as I describe this. The King James Bible was translated between 1604 and 1611. In the year 1610, Shakespeare was 46 years old. Many people think Shakespeare, given his poetic sensibility, helped to translate the book of Psalms. In Psalm 46 of the King James Bible, at the beginning of the chapter, can be found the word "shake" ("Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake..."). And at the end of the chapter can be found the word "spear" ("He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear..."). Shake-Spear. No one knows for sure if this is true or not, but it is beyond probability and coincidence that this would have occurred naturally. It also points to the sometimes questionable translation points, though always extremely poetic, qualities of the King James Bible.
Why does it matter whether Shakespeare was a Christian or not? It matters because Shakespeare is, hands down, one of the most influential writers in the history of the English language. I matters because the compendious amounts of work that Shakespeare was able to compose had to have influences beyond this world and life. It matters because great ideas don't just come out of the stratosphere, they come from God. Or as Shakespeare himself said, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Hamlet)".
All For Now,
Or Should I say...."All's Well That Ends Well"