Stars Uncounted: How Shakespeare’s Work Is Enriched by the Bible

A great post from Kevin Belmonte at Breakpoint:

The poet George Herbert once described the Bible as a “book of stars” that “lights to eternal bliss.” It was a beautiful metaphor, one that grew richer and deeper when Herbert spoke of what it was to look on “all the constellations of the story.”

Herbert’s contemporary William Shakespeare had gazed upon those constellations too. They were never far from his mind. Indeed, according to Naseeb Shaheen in “Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays,” there are over 1,000 biblical allusions and references in his plays.

We think about so many things when it comes to Shakespeare’s plays, but this striking fact is probably far from the top of the list. It shouldn’t be. A reading of passages where Shakespeare drew upon Scripture reveals the great debt his plays owed to Holy Writ. Virtually all 38 of his surviving plays would have been diminished had he not drawn upon the Bible.

Biographer Peter Ackroyd tells us that Shakespeare “knew the popular Geneva Bible” and had “a marked preference for [its] vigorous expressions.” The Geneva Bible was “the household Bible, familiar to the folk of Stratford.” That Shakespeare knew it well is beyond dispute. Ackroyd tells us that the Bard “refers to forty-two of its books.”

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