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Scholars have already demonstrated that Shakespeare ‘s language abounds in Biblical allusions and references, but Mr. Bryant now undertakes to show us how such details may bear on the full meaning of the plays. Seeking to interpret Shakespeare’s plays as Christian poetry, Mr. Bryant has developed in this significant work a new critical approach which may have far-reaching consequences for future Shakespearean scholarship.
In an introductory essay the author shows that the typological view of Scripture was a familiar one to the Christians of Shakespeare ‘s time; he suggests that for Shakespeare, as for many of his contemporaries, the Bible had only one subject—Christ—to which everything in both Testaments in some way referred. This interpretation of Scripture, Mr. Bryant believes, had an appreciable effect on Shakespeare’s handling of many of the traditional stories on which he based his plays.
The author then demonstrates, in twelve essays, how typological patterns may be traced in the plays and how Biblical allusions suggest and strengthen these analogies. In both Richard II and Hamlet, Mr. Bryant finds references to the story of Cain and Abel which give a new focus to his reading of these plays. Passages from the Gospels bear upon his interpretations of Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure, and the epistles of St. Paul upon his readings of The Merchant of Venice and the two parts of Henry IV. Mr. Bryant then attacks the popular idea that tragedy is incompatible with Christian doctrine; his essay defining Christian tragedy is illustrated in chapters on Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and Othello. The concluding essays deal with Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale as tragicomedies given depth by their Christian materials.
Mr. Bryant’s fresh and challenging interpretations of these representative tragedies, histories, and comedies will not meet with universal assent, but they are certain to provoke the interest of both scholarly and lay readers. The increasing number of students who wish to trace the relationships between secular literature and Christian thought will find in this pioneer work a new insight into the nature of Christian poetry.
J. A. Bryant Jr., professor emeritus of English at the University of Kentucky, is the author of Shakespeare and the Uses of Comedy and Twentieth-Century Southern Literature.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Shakespeare, Shakespeare and religion, Shakespeare bibliography
Literature in English, British Isles
Bryant, J. A. Jr., "Hippolyta's View: Some Christian Aspects of Shakespeare's Plays" (1961). Literature in English, British Isles. 29.