The Faith Of Shakespeare -- By: Richard K. Morton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 089:355 (Jul 1932)
Article: The Faith Of Shakespeare
Author: Richard K. Morton

The Faith Of Shakespeare

Richard K. Morton

Few satisfactory volumes on the religious faith of Shakespeare have appeared in any language. Much misunderstanding therefore exists concerning it. After a rather thorough examination of all the volumes in several great libraries bearing on this topic, I am convinced that the whole matter needs the attention of competent and unbiased scholarship. At this time I can touch on only a few important considerations, in a rather rambling way.

Let us first make a few general observations concerning Shakespeare, before turning to the opinions of others more competent to deal with his work. Shakespeare, in the first place, was not religiously or politically biased in any extreme way. He had small interest in any kind of evangelism, missionary work, or moral exhortations. By education, experience, and inclination he was unfitted to form any kind of systematic theology. He is a sympathetic lover of all mankind. His religion is rooted in the nature, the needs, and the hopes of the average man. He never thinks in sheer abstractions divorced from actual human experience. He is a humanist in many respects, a man free from the limitations of belonging to restricting organizations. He is not a militant reformer. He is neither illiterate nor learned. He is not eccentric religiously or socially.

In his time dramatic work had long since been divorced from its original organic connections with the Church. Players were often ostracized from church circles. The Puritan attitude of course much increased the disapproval of play-actors. But Shakespeare was a regular attendant in the Church of England and apparently tacitly accepted its teachings and polity. In his era English editions of the Bible had recently been issued and therefore had been read by the common people. Many phrases soon passed into common speech. The Shifting religious policy of the Crown, too, made it difficult for anyone to deal with religious matters. While I have no time to give all my reasons for these statements, I feel that the following are true

facts. Shakespeare’s works contain many references to Scripture, but I think that these are insufficient to enable us to call him in any sense a Bible student. I think that he rather picked up the phrases and ideas from the people. He refers to relatively few Bible stories, and his references are often inaccurate. I have consulted many books dealing with Shakespeare’s debt to the Bible, and every one has included many passages which show only distant or dubious relations to Bible texts. The tendency toward thoroughness has resulted in overzealousness. The compiler has often read his own ideas back into Shakespeare’s time. This is a serious fault wi...

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