When people see my book, The Bard and the Bible, or learn in some other way of my Shakespeare fanboyism, they often ask a question. Or two. Or more. Like what?
I’m glad you asked. It varies, of course, but here are the most frequent questions, with abbreviated versions of my answers:
1. Do you think Shakespeare was really “Shakespeare?”
In other words, did he write all of the plays and poetry attributed to him? The answer is yes (though he coauthored some plays). In fact, he wrote more than that, as some plays have been lost. The “authorship question” has changed in recent years and is no longer much in question, though there are some that persist in suggesting that a country boy with no college education could never have climbed such heights of erudition and accomplishment, which is like arguing that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the sixteenth president of the U.S.A.
2. What’s your favorite play?
This is an unfair question to ask a Shakespeare geek, like asking a parent which child is the favorite (usually the firstborn).But I digress. On any given day, my favorite might be Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, or Twelfth Night. Or Henry V. Or Richard III. Or…
That is, why do you like Shakespeare so much? First, the language, which is often so beautiful it makes me cry. Second, the drama–his expert storytelling. Third, the characters (I mean, come on, Hamlet? Romeo? Juliet? Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? Benedick and Beatrice? Richard III? Iago? Falstaff, for crying out loud? They’re all so marvelous!). And the history–the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, in which modern theater and the English language itself were evolving and forming, and more, such as the formation of the King James Version of the Bible, fascinates me no end.
4. Don’t you find it hard to understand?
The words do take some work at times, but I was raised on the King James Version of the Bible, so most of it is fairly accessible to me. More importantly, however, I don’t only read Shakespeare; I hear and see his plays, which breaks down so many barriers to understanding. In fact, that leads to the next question.
5. Where should a “newbie” start?
To paraphrase Hamlet, “Get thee to a play.” Whether you see it onscreen or in a theater, watch a Shakespeare play before reading it (though it’s not a bad idea to read a synopsis of the play beforehand). In my opinion, too many people have been turned away from Shakespeare because they had to trudge through Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth in school; but Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed! That is the best introduction, whether you start with Romeo or Dromio.
6. Was Shakespeare a Christian?
Because I compiled a one-year devotional pairing Shakespeare quotes with Bible verses, people often ask if I think the Bard was a “believer.” My answer: yes and no. His worldview was decidedly Christian, and he knew his Bible better than most churchgoers–even pastors–today. But he lived in a place and time when “Catholic” and “Protestant” were the defining terms, not “Christian,” and from all indications he avoided identifying closely with either. In the end (literally), all we can say is that his last will and testament stated, “I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting.” He died just three months after signing his name to those words.