Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shakespeare, Bacon, and Religion - 2

Opinions, attitudes and interests of Shake-Speare and Bacon.

Shake-Speare's love of the Bible and Prayer Book

A.L. Rowse, op.cit, p. 41 (following R. Noble in his Shakespeare's Biblical Knowledge, 1935, p. 20) notes: "Of all Shakespeare's sources the Bible and Prayer Book come first and are the most constant. Altogether there are definite allusions to 42 Books of the Bible, including the Apocrypha...It has been estimated [by Edgar. I. Fripp in his Shakespeare Man and Artist] that his biblical range is five times that of Peele or Marlowe, far greater than that of any contemporary dramatist". There are also numerous allusions to the Prayer Book, especially to the Psalms. R. Noble, op.cit, p. 47, comments: "From first to last there is not a play in the Folio entirely free from a suggestion of a use of the Psalms. In two plays, 2 King Henry VI and King Henry VIII, the allusions to the Psalms run into the double figures. Even the Sonnets are not devoid of quotations from the Psalms". Noble put the total number of Psalms references in Shake-Speare at 150. Fripp, op.cit, Vol. 1, p. 98, writes: "The Poet's obligation to the Bible is deep. It is not upon the surface - a casual reader may easily overlook it - nor is it a mere inheritance from his school days. In youth and manhood he fed on God's word - on its tragic stories, its wealth of incident and experience, its sense of wickedness and intense self-consciousness, its searching, its veracity and its magnificent English".

This interest in the Bible and Prayer Book fits Bacon perfectly. He was brought up in an intensely religious household, his mother being a religious zealot. At Gray's Inn the students had to "keep their chapels" - there was daily chapel, morning and afternoon (see H.E. Duke in his The Story of Gray's Inn (1950), p. 14). Canon Rawley, Bacon's chaplain, wrote of him in his Resuscitatio (1657): "This lord was religious...He repaired frequently (when his health would permit him)  to the services of the Church to hear sermons...and deal in the true faith, established in the Church of England". He also played a leading role in the revision of the Prayer Book. One of his biographers, Spedding, writes: "Since the Hampton Court Conference a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer had been put forth by authority [in 1604], with some alterations and explanations; and a confirmation of it by Act of Parliament was thought expedient...For the Book of Common Prayer a sub-committee (in the list of which Bacon's name stands first) was appointed to 'capitulate the alterations' and lay them before the Committee in writing 'together with their own opinion of the said book". One of Bacon's first works to be published was his Meditationes Sacrae (1597). His other prose works show a fondness for biblical and prayer book analogies. Fripp, op.cit, Vol. 1, p. 424, writes: "Of Elizabethan laymen Shakespeare and Bacon probably quote the Bible most frequently". And again (p. 101), "Only Francis Bacon among contemporary laymen knew the Bible so well [as Shakespeare]. Not the most subtle allusion in Shakespeare to Scripture would be lost on Bacon". At the end of his life Bacon translated 7 of the Psalms into rhyming verse. He had many friends in the Church, from Bishops down.

What of William Shakspere of Stratford? A.L/ Rowse surmises that most of his familiarity with the Bible and the Prayer Book (assuming that he was Shake-Speare the author) must have come from regular attendance at Church from childhood on. But we have seen that when Shakspere was aged about 14, his father ran into financial difficulties. And we know that in 1592 the Stratford authorities included John Shakespeare's name in a list of 9 residents of whom it was said that they "come not to Church for fear of process for debt" (which could be served on them at the Church) - see S. Schoenbaum's William Shakespeare, A Compact Documentary Life (1987), pp. 41-2. This shyness about going to Church had probably started with John's financial problems when William was about 14, so that thereafter there was no encouragement for the rest of the family to attend Church either, at least not more than once a month which was the law's minimum requirement. And after Shakspere joined the Bohemian world of the London Theatre, should one picture him as a regular Church-goer? The Theatre staged plays on Sunday afternoons which clashed with Evensong. Nor can all Shake-Speare's biblical knowledge have come from Church-going. For he was familiar not only with the authorized Bishop's Bible, but also with the Genevan Bible (including the revised 1595 version). There is one piece of evidence that he even knew the de Tournes' Testament printed at Lyons in 1551. In Chapter 7 [of Cockburn's book that this material is coming from], when discussing his knowledge of French, we saw that in Henry V, 3.7.65-6, the Dauphin quotes in French 2 Peter 2.22 as it appears in the de Tournes' testament. Noble, op.cit., p. 43, emphasizes that much of Shake-Speare's biblical knowledge could not have been acquired in Church: "He displays such familiarity with Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastics and in later years with Israel, as can only have been acquired by reading...[at p. 44] It is sufficiently clear that Shake-Speare read the Bible in adult life, and it may be that he did so fairly frequently".  As to the Psalms, (p. 48), "Certainly his knowledge of the Psalms is greater than the ordinary layman might be expected to acquire by attendance at Church".

Noble also drew attention to alleged difference between Bacon and Shake-Speare in their treatment of the Scriptures. At p. 87 he wrote: "Unlike Bacon, who quoted the Vulgate frequently, sometimes inaccurately, Shakespeare did not use the Vulgate". The Vulgate was the Catholic Bible in Latin, and it is hardly surprising that Shake-Speare would be chary of quoting Latin in the public Theatre. More generally, at pp. 97-8, Noble wrote: "Canon Todd, generally admitted to be one of the most learned Biblical scholars in the Irish Church  today, in commenting on an article by Dr. Caroline Spurgeon, wrote to me: 'Bacon often misinterpreted and misapplied Scripture, Shakespeare rarely". Since one does not know the Canon's evidence, it is difficult to comment on it. But it is grossly improbable that Bacon, who had been brought up on the Bible from his cradle, would have misunderstood it more often than Shakspere. Perhaps Bacon's alleged misinterpretations and misapplications were deliberate adaptation of Biblical texts to his own thoughts and needs. He was wont to do this with quotations of all sorts. He would change, invert, curtail or paraphrase at his pleasure. Noble himself recognized that Bacon was fond of paraphrasing. Most of Shake-Speare's biblical references are mere echoes of snatches of phraseology, so as to make it impossible to know whether or not he understood the full text from which they came. In the light of all the evidence it would be absurd to suppose Will Shakspere's knowledge of the Bible and Prayer Book approached that of Bacon and 'Shake-Speare'.

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