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Summary

"Shakespeare and the Bible" is a comparative study by the author who has been investigating the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries for many years. This book treats the problem of the Biblical allusions in a new aspect: trying to understand the aims and intentions of Shakespeare in his allusions to Canonical books and apocrypha and sometimes to the marginal notes of the Genevan Bible.

Many allusions are intentional, they are introduced on purpose and are connected with the general conceptions of the plays, but in many cases the lexical coincidences are casual, for the words and phrases have become proverbial, they are part of the language of the time of Shakespeare, and their Biblical origin was not evident.

The structure of this book must reflect the chronology and the genre of the plays, though there are some exceptions. It is well known that the allusions are numerous in the early chronicle plays and are few in his comedies, tragedies and the plays of the last period, the fact is explained as the influence of the antique and Renaissance sources alien to the religious ideology.

The general method of Shakespeare using the Bible is revealed in his early trilogy on Henry VI: the allusions are introduced into the language of those heroes who believe in the religious truths and in the power to influence the course of events with the help of the Bible. But in many cases the personages use the quotations from the Scripture as a kind of weapon in the political struggle. Thus king Henry VI is sincere when he tries to make peace between his subjects by quoting Christ's Sermon on the Mount. But all his precepts from the Gospel are cynically commented and despised not only by his enemies but also by his followers.

The most important peculiarity of the allusions in this trilogy is the capacity of almost all personages to quote the Bible so as to justify their actions, even the most egoistical and cruel. Thus the leaders of both parties Yorks and Lancasters cite the Scripture to prove their right for vengeance. Even the high prelates use the Bible for their own aims. When Henry VI says: "For blessed are the peacemakers on earth", Cardinal retorts: "Let me be blessed for the peace I make / Against this proud protector with my sword".

The general result is important as revealing Shakespeare's hidden aim — to show that religious precepts are fruitless in the cruel struggles for power. The reign of the mild and pious king was the most tragical period in English history: the civil dissension and long bloody war brought the state into ruin.

The similar result of the Biblical allusions is shown in "Richard II" — the weak king cannot rule and is dethroned though he constantly referred to God's help and protection. The irony of Shakespeare is evident: every time when Richard applies to God he receives the news of his rival's victories. By the end of the play Richard, while being a prisoner and waiting for impending murder, doubts the God's Providence and even finds contradictions in divine books.

The more succesful practical use of the Scripture is shown in the speeches of Richard of Gloucester — in future king Richard III. With the help of Biblical allusions he deceives not only his followers but even his enemies. His allusions are not the sign of hypocrisy but the conscious means of political devices: he is an actor acting the part of devout, merciful and modest man unwilling to rule. It is shown that this acting did not deceive the people. Shakespeare's irony is seen in the scenes where the citizens allude to God for protection and are silent while seeing the violation of the law of succession.

The cynical use of the religious allusions is shown in the satirical play "King John", revealing the hidden economical causes of religious arguments — they are the weapons in the political world which is governed by the law of "commodity" — the word is used much in the sense of the comments in Genevan Bible. The satire is addressed against all parties — their religious language is a device to hide their political and economical "commodities".

The chronicle plays "King Henry IV" and "King Henry V" are almost free from Biblical allusions, the political arguments prevail, the leaders allude to "time" as the power that justifies their actions. Even the archbishop in "Henry V" recollects the Book of Numbers with the practical aim: to convince Henry V that he has "rights" on the French crown, while the motive of the prelate is egoistic — the war must help to save the church property from the attacks of the parliament.

The most interesting Biblical allusions occur in the language of sir John Falstaff in both parts of "Henry IV". His allusions are introduced to make a comical effect: the well-known sayings and precepts are paraphrased or changed so as to make the audience laugh or to attract attention to some painful facts of the English life in the time when the plays were staged.

Allusions in the comedies suite to the dramatic genre: they remind the audience of the most famous or fantastical fables in the Old Testament. Thus the name of Jezebel as a term of abuse in the speech of sir Andrew Aguecheek in "Twelfth Night" must remind of the fate of the cruel queen of Israel, the name of Nebuchadnezzar — brings to memory the most improbable fable of his punishment, the name of Goliath in Falstaff's comparison draws attention to the fantastical description of the Giant killed by David.

The heroes of the tragedies are alien to the Biblical ideology: the sources are Renaissance or antique. Even in "Macbeth" the problem of crime and punishment is presented as psychological and philosophical — Macbeth clearly asserts that the fear of punishment after death cannot restrain from crimes. There were attempts to interpret "Hamlet" and "King Lear" as the plays illustrating some truths from the Bible. Yet the comparison with the text of Ecclesiastes and The Book of Job brings to a different conclusion: the outlook of Shakespeare is seriously different. Some coincidences in the text of "King Lear" and The Book of Job prove that Shakespeare was more influenced by Job's critical and sceptical speeches than by the sermons of his adversaries.

The allusions in "The Merchant of Venice" can be classified as two opposite groups. Shylock by telling the story of Jacob's device tries to justify his usury as the lawful way to thrive, and by his allusion to religious oath — to justify his adhering to the right to have his "pound of flesh". His opponent Portia in the role of a judge alludes to the Gospel in the speech on "mercy" — both "truths" are contrasted, but religious arguments cannot help, only her ingenious device with the "bond" saved the victim from death. The outlook of Shylock is shown to be akin to the spirit of the Old Testament.

The title "Measure for Measure" must be explained by allusion to the famous advice of Christ — and the play has many allusions to the Gospel: but there are some difficulties in the interpretation of the final scenes of the play. It is evident that Shakespeare gave two kinds of denouement: one is tragical as in real life when all Christian precepts are violated, and the other — imaginary as in fairy tales when the saying "measure for measure" is illustrated in the spirit of mercy and forgiveness.

The latest plays are near to the genre of fantastic tales and allegories and they are almost entirely free from Biblical allusions, the same character have the sonnets.

Thus we can discern several trends in the method of Shakespeare: the allusions that help to delineate the characters, the political use of the Bible in the struggles in history and the comical allusions to some notable or fantastical events in the Bible. The general trend of Shakespeare's way of thinking is secular and more near to Renaissance ideology than to the Bible.

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