Grace in the Arts: Shakespeare, The Bible, And Grace -- By: Arthur L. Farstad

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 04:1 (Spring 1991)
Article: Grace in the Arts: Shakespeare, The Bible, And Grace
Author: Arthur L. Farstad

Grace in the Arts:
Shakespeare, The Bible, And Grace

Arthur L. Farstad

Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society Dallas, TX

I. Introduction

In college I had a dear, elderly literature teacher who tried to “save” as many of her favorite writers of English and American literature as she could. Since they had nearly all “gone on before,” it was only a salvation in her own mind (and in as many students’ minds as she convinced).

Since the British authors were generally at least nominal members of the Church of England or the Kirk of Scotland, both establishments having orthodox creeds, she did fairly well there. Of course some great writers truly were believers (e.g., Bunyan, Donne, Milton, Herbert, Cowper, Elizabeth Barrett Browning).

In America she did well with Hawthorne, Whittier, Bryant, and some others, but gave up on Twain and Hemingway (in spite of their conservative Protestant roots).

But what did she do with the greatest writer in the English language, the one who wrote partly at the same time that the Authorized King James Version was a-preparing (1604–1611)? This writer sounds so much like the King James Bible that there used to be a game based on trying to correctly label quotations as either from the Bible or from—you guessed it—William Shakespeare.1

One can only hope that the Bard was a believer; this article makes no final assessments one way or the other on that question.

What I wish to show is the great influence of the Bible on England’s greatest dramatist, and also the amount of biblically gracious lines and attitudes that show up in his work.2 To do this I have divided the subject into the three subdivisions suggested by our title.

II. Shakespeare

In a recent New York Times article, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” Gary Taylor decries the fact that “Shakespeare’s own good words are planted in fewer memories than they once were: he has become, like caviar, familiar to the general but arcane in the ranks.”3

There was a time when our Anglo-American forebears knew their Shakespeare and were better speakers and writers of our mother tongue for it. Taylor reminds us:

In 1752 William Dodd published the first of many anthologies of “The Beauties of Shakespeare”; for the next century and a half the quoting of Shakespeare was pandemic. The great Romantic essayist William Hazlit...

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