THE MYSTERY OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
By Gideon Sampson Cecil
The incredible bulk of Shakespeare’s plays and poems reveal that the author was a voracious reader citing over two hundred books, some of which were un-translated
works published on the continent of Greek, Latin, French, British, Italian and Spanish.
His incredible canon of knowledge includes: lawyers, politicians,theologians,physicians,astronomers,philosophers,linguists,military tactiticians,sailors,botanists,literary scholars,musicians,classicists.He was a great genius in metaphysics dabbling in the spiritual world, the underworld and the natural world of humans,ghosts,goblins and witches. Shakespeare was one of the most learned and broadly educated authors in history. He was the Homer of the Western world un-equaled until today.
Shakespeare’s works also convey a familiarity with specialized knowledge of places and cultures that could not have been found in books or taught in school. The plays and poems reveal a well-travelled world citizen one who had intimate familiarity with Italian, French, Roman, Greek, Spanish and British cultures.
The profound metaphysical density of his work and lyrical beauty reminds us of the Biblical poetry of King Solomon and the Psalms of King David that has been a source of Shakespeare’s inspiration behind the magnificent images of his immortal poetry and prophetic sayings of his fascinating characters. For example:
‘‘This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!’’
The monumental body of collected plays and poems put together are 37 plays, 154, Sonnets, the longer poems Venus and Adonis, A Lover’s Complaint, The Rape of Lucrece, Funeral Elegy. His complete works are longer than the King James Bible. Table below shows his work in Chronological Order:
Shakespeare and the Geneva Bible
Shakespeare’s indebtedness to the Bible is a subject of neglect among many literary scholars and academics. We can never be able to comprehend the spiritual depths and
philosophy of Shakespeare’s poetry and plays unless we are scholarly educated in the Bible, literary history, Latin, and classical literature. Shakespeare refers to 42 books from
the Bible 18 from the New Testament and 24 books from the Old Testament. His writings
contained more references to the Bible than any other poet including Dante and Milton.
He used the Geneva Bible of 1557 that was re-published in 1599.This Bible was replaced by the King James Bible in 1611.Shakespeare never used the King James Bible he died six years after it was published. His plays and poetry contained over two thousand allusions and prolific references to the Bible.
Shakespeare’s debt to Scripture is profound; biblical imagery is woven into every play. No writer has integrated the expressions and themes found in the Bible into his own work more magnificently than Shakespeare. It would take volumes to examine comprehensively Shakespeare’s use of biblical imagery.
Here’s an example of an allusion in Hamlet to the Gospels—a reference to Judas that is very appropriate given the context:
Macbeth: If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly… (Hamlet, Scene VII)
John 13:27 (Geneva Bible): Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.
Another example is taken from The Merchant of Venice Act 1 Scene 3:
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
His knowledge from scriptures tells him from Luke 4:9-11 and Matthew 4:5-6 the devil
said the following to Jesus:
|9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.||
|10 For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;||
William Shakespeare’s profound knowledge in scripture led his character Antonio from the ‘The Merchant of Venice’ to Say ‘the devil can quote scripture’ he did not penned those words by mere inspiration of the muse but from his encyclopedic knowledge from the Bible.
Was Shakespeare a born again Christian?
When people ask, Was Shakespeare a Christian, they usually have something more specific in mind. Was he a true disciple? Did he actually believe in Jesus? Did his faith, whatever it was, come out in his poetry? Shakespeare left no personal papers, no spiritual diary, no Confessions, no Journal. Many in his time did write spiritual journals. His plays do reveal some things about their author, and from the plays we can infer conclusions about Shakespeare’s knowledge of Christian faith and his commitment to those beliefs. They may be opaque, but we can see through them. When I look at the plays, I see is a playwright with a poetic imagination molded by the Christian Bible.
We have the opening lines from Shakespeare’s Will:
In the name of God Amen I William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon in the countrie of Warr’ gent in perfect health and memory God be praised do make and Ordained this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following that is to say first I Commend my Soul into the hands of God my Creator hoping and assuredly believing through the only merit’s of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting And my body to the Earth where of you made.
His Will in his own hand writing tells us who he was, as a Reverend I can conclude that William Shakespeare was a true believer in Jesus Christ.
By Rev. Gideon Cecil
( Sources of References: Shakespeare by another name published by penguin group USA 2005; William Shakespeare The Complete Works 1951;quoted works in the public domain also from the Bible)
Gideon Sampson Cecil was born on the 9th of May 1968 in Rose Hall Town, CorentyneBerbice, Guyana. He holds a Bachelor and Master of Arts Degree and a degree in journalism. He is a college lecturer and freelance journalist. He has over 300 poems, articles, stories and essays published from 1993 to 2017. He is the author of the romantic collection of poetry, The Revelation of Love. His poetry was published in POUi X by The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados the Muse Literary Journal India, The Harbinger Literary Journal USA, The Chachalaca Review England, Forward Journal London, Thirty West Publishing House, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine, The Commonwealth Foundation and Alien Buddha Press. He continues to write poetry, fiction, literary criticism, and articles for various journals and newspapers at home and abroad. His recent collection of poems: ‘‘Psalms of a Romantic Poet’’ Published by Alien Buddha Press was nominated for the Griffin Poetry Award in Canada. He has so far published seven books of poetry and prose.