Special Issue "Religions in Shakespeare's Writings"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 November 2018)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. David V. Urban

Department of English, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI 49546, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: Renaissance and seventeenth-century British literature (especially Milton and Shakespeare); American literature through the Civil War; Modern Drama; Bible as literature

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Although Shakespeare is not primarily regarded as a religious writer, manifestations of religion abound in his plays, including but not limited to his depictions of Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Islam, Judaism, religion in the Roman Republic, and aspects of ancient pagan religion that are used to articulate Christian themes. Any number of Shakespeare’s sonnets also address theological themes and put forward theological imagery. And Shakespeare’s multifaceted use of the Bible is evident throughout his writings.

In recent decades, increasing attention has been given to various manifestations of religion in Shakespeare’s writings. Book-length studies have investigated Shakespeare’s use of the Bible (e.g., Shaheen 1999, Marx 2000, Hamlin 2013) and the Book of Common Prayer (Swift 2012); Shakespeare’s engagement of Catholic, Anglican, and/or Puritan thought (Hunt 2004; Batson [ed.] 2006, Beauregard 2008); Shakespeare’s political theology (Lupton 2005); the theme of skeptical faith in Shakespeare’s writings (Cox 2007); and the theme of forgiveness in his plays (Beckwith 2011). Although Cox’s aforementioned investigation of skepticism ultimately argues that Christian affirmation undergirds Shakespeare’s canon, certain other recent forays into Shakespeare’s religious skepticism are less inclined to assert Shakespeare’s Christian grounding (Jackson and Marotti [eds.] 2011, Sterrett 2012). Meanwhile, the portrayal of Judaism in The Merchant of Venice—both in Shakespeare’s text and in particular performances of it—continues to generate critical controversy (see, for example, a series of recent articles in Shakespeare Bulletin), while scholarly discussion of Shakespeare and Islam gained momentum after a 2008 Special Issue on “Shakespeare and Islam” in the journal Shakespeare. Recently, a broader investigation of Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion appears in Loewenstein and Wittmore (eds.) 2015. And Kaufman 2013 emphasizes the various religious developments during Shakespeare’s lifetime that in turn manifested themselves in Shakespeare’s writings.

While respecting the assertions of individual contributors, this Special Issue on “Religions in Shakespeare’s Writings” will not attempt to present a Shakespeare whose particular religious beliefs can definitively be known or are displayed in a unified manner throughout his canon. Rather, it seeks to explore the gamut of religious issues and characterizations throughout Shakespeare’s writings, basing its analyses primarily on Shakespeare’s texts themselves even as it welcomes the use of other texts, contemporary to Shakespeare and otherwise, to elucidate such analyses. This Special Issue welcomes a variety of perspectives on and critical approaches to Shakespeare and religions, and it is our hope that by approaching Shakespeare’s works thus, we shall continue to explore this topic’s riches.

References

Beauregard, David N. Catholic Theology in Shakespeare’s Plays. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008.

Beckwith, Sarah. Shakespeare and the Grammar of Forgiveness. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.

Batson, Beatrice, ed. Shakespeare and Christianity: The Protestant and Catholic Poetics of “Julius Caesar,” “Macbeth,” and “Hamlet. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2006.

Cox, John D. Seeming Knowledge: Shakespeare and Skeptical Faith. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007.

Hamlin, Hannibal. The Bible in Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Hunt, Maurice. Shakespeare’s Religious Allusiveness: Its Play and Its Tolerance. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.

Jackson, Ken and Arthur Marotti, eds. Shakespeare and Religion. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011.

Kaufman, Peter Iver. Religion around Shakespeare. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013.

Loewenstein, David and Michael Witmore, eds. Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Lupton, Julia Reinhard. Citizen-Saints: Shakepeare and Political Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Marx, Steven. Shakespeare and the Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Shaheen, Naseeb. Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999.

Sterrett, Joseph. The Unheard Prayer: Religious Toleration in Shakespeare’s Drama. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

Swift, Daniel. Shakespeare’s Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Prof. Dr. David V. Urban
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • Shakesepare
  • Religion
  • Religions
  • Christianity
  • Judaism
  • Islam
  • Bible
  • Theology
  • church

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle The Undiscovered Countries: Shakespeare and the Afterlife
Religions 2019, 10(3), 174; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030174
Received: 19 November 2018 / Revised: 14 February 2019 / Accepted: 6 March 2019 / Published: 10 March 2019
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Abstract
The multiple uses of religion in Shakespeare’s plays seem to counter each other at every turn. In one respect, though, I have found a surprising consistency. Moments when Shakespeare’s drama imagines the afterlife are moments that lend significant insights into the play’s action [...] Read more.
The multiple uses of religion in Shakespeare’s plays seem to counter each other at every turn. In one respect, though, I have found a surprising consistency. Moments when Shakespeare’s drama imagines the afterlife are moments that lend significant insights into the play’s action or characterization, even though the image of one undiscovered country may differ drastically from another. Across the canon, the afterlife may appear as a place of religious judgment, as in Othello, Hamlet, Merchant of Venice; as a classical Elysium or Hades where the spirit or shadow removes elsewhere (Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus); as Abraham’s Bosom—a place of rest between death and the Last Judgment (Henry V, Richard III, Hamlet); or an unidentifiable life to come (Measure for Measure, Macbeth, King Lear). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
Open AccessArticle The Tempest and Black Natural Law
Religions 2019, 10(2), 91; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020091
Received: 8 December 2018 / Revised: 21 January 2019 / Accepted: 28 January 2019 / Published: 1 February 2019
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Abstract
Vincent Lloyd’s 2016 book Black Natural Law presents four case histories in which African American intellectuals used the natural law tradition to mount defenses of the rights, capacities, and dignity of members of their communities. This essay uses the discourse of black natural [...] Read more.
Vincent Lloyd’s 2016 book Black Natural Law presents four case histories in which African American intellectuals used the natural law tradition to mount defenses of the rights, capacities, and dignity of members of their communities. This essay uses the discourse of black natural law as reconstructed by Lloyd to reread Caliban’s political arguments and social and aesthetic project in The Tempest. Although the natural law tradition became increasingly secularized during the century of revolution, black thinkers such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr. drew on the religious renditions of natural law that were alive in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Reading Shakespeare with black natural law is not simply an audacious leap into our troubled present, but also brings new focus on the forms of scripturally-inspired pluralism that natural law theory supported in Shakespeare’s age. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
Open AccessArticle “For One’s Offence Why Should so Many Fall”?: Hecuba and the Problems of Conscience in The Rape of Lucrece and Hamlet
Religions 2019, 10(1), 38; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010038
Received: 20 November 2018 / Revised: 3 January 2019 / Accepted: 6 January 2019 / Published: 9 January 2019
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Abstract
In The Rape of Lucrece and Hamlet, Shakespeare focuses upon the effects of sin and the problems of conscience that it causes. However, he does so by shifting focus from the sinner to the one harmed by the sin. Through this shift [...] Read more.
In The Rape of Lucrece and Hamlet, Shakespeare focuses upon the effects of sin and the problems of conscience that it causes. However, he does so by shifting focus from the sinner to the one harmed by the sin. Through this shift in focus, Shakespeare explores sin as something that does not only harm the sinner and his immediate victim, but as something that strikes against the common good. Sin harms humanity in its corporate nature, and the consequences of sin—sorrows, guilt, conflicted conscience, and the desire for absolution—spread from the sinner to his victims and the larger community. At pivotal moments in both works, Shakespeare turns to artistic representations of the figure of Hecuba, sorrowing in the midst of the destruction of Troy, as a means for navigating the strained point of intersection between private conscience and the common good. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
Open AccessArticle Bondage of the Will: The Limitations of Political Theology in Measure for Measure
Religions 2019, 10(1), 28; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010028
Received: 2 December 2018 / Revised: 28 December 2018 / Accepted: 1 January 2019 / Published: 3 January 2019
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Abstract
Although Peter Lake and Debora Shuger have argued that Measure for Measure is hostile to Calvinist theology, I argue that the play’s world presents a Reformed theo-political sensibility, not in order to criticize Calvinism, but to reveal limitations in dominant political theories. Reformed [...] Read more.
Although Peter Lake and Debora Shuger have argued that Measure for Measure is hostile to Calvinist theology, I argue that the play’s world presents a Reformed theo-political sensibility, not in order to criticize Calvinism, but to reveal limitations in dominant political theories. Reformed theology informs the world of the play, especially with regards to the corruption of the human will through original sin. Politically, the sinfulness of the human will raises concerns about governments—despite Biblical commands to obey leaders, how can they be trusted if subject to the same corruption of will as citizens? Close analysis of key passages reveals that while individual characters in Measure suggest solutions that account in part for the corruption of the will, none of their political theories manage to contain the radical effects of sin in Angelo’s will. Despite this failure, restorative justice occurs in Act 5, indicating forces outside of human authority and will account for the comedic ending. This gestures towards the dependence of governments in a post-Reformation world on providential protection and reveals why the Reformed belief in the limitations of the human will point towards the collapse of the theory of the King’s two bodies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
Open AccessArticle Hamlet the Heretic: The Prince’s Albigensian Rhetoric
Religions 2019, 10(1), 19; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010019
Received: 19 November 2018 / Revised: 26 December 2018 / Accepted: 28 December 2018 / Published: 29 December 2018
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Abstract
Some of Hamlet’s speeches reflect a dualistic view of the world and of humanity, echoing in particular some of the heretical beliefs of the Albigensians in southern France some centuries earlier. The Albigensians thought that the evil deity created the human body as [...] Read more.
Some of Hamlet’s speeches reflect a dualistic view of the world and of humanity, echoing in particular some of the heretical beliefs of the Albigensians in southern France some centuries earlier. The Albigensians thought that the evil deity created the human body as a trap for the souls created by the good god, and Hamlet repeatedly expresses disgust with the body, a “quintessence of dust” (II.ii.304–305). Because they regarded the body as a soul trap, the Albigensians believed that marriage and procreation should be avoided. “Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” Hamlet demands of Ophelia, adding that “it were better my mother had not borne me” (III.i.121–24). He sounds most like a heretic when he goes on to say “we will have no more marriage” (III.i.147). Though Hamlet continues with dualistic talk nearly to the end, there is some turning toward orthodox Christianity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
Open AccessArticle “At War ’Twixt Will and Will Not”: On Shakespeare’s Idea of Religious Experience in Measure for Measure
Religions 2018, 9(12), 419; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120419
Received: 16 November 2018 / Revised: 5 December 2018 / Accepted: 9 December 2018 / Published: 17 December 2018
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (239 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
“Religions in Shakespeare’s Writings,” the title of this special issue, can prompt consideration not only of singular exceptions to the normative religious landscape but also of the ideas that support the banner under which a plurality of examples together may be described as [...] Read more.
“Religions in Shakespeare’s Writings,” the title of this special issue, can prompt consideration not only of singular exceptions to the normative religious landscape but also of the ideas that support the banner under which a plurality of examples together may be described as “religious.” In recent years, readers of Shakespeare have devoted attention to exploring Shakespeare’s engagement with specific theological and sectarian movements in early modern Europe. Such work has changed how we view the relation between theater and its religious landscapes, but it may be that in focusing on the topical we overlook Shakespeare’s place among such sociologists and philosophers of religion as Montaigne, Hobbes, James, Weber, and Berger. To this end, I argue that in Measure for Measure Shakespeare uses law to synthesize certain aspects of religious experience from divergent corners. And drawing on descriptions of religion from anthropology and phenomenology, I suggest that Shakespeare unites his characters through patterns of action within this deadly exigency that demonstrate a shared experience of religion as a desire for salvation beyond the law. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
Open AccessArticle Curse, Interrupted: Richard III, Jacob and Esau, and the Elizabethan Succession Crisis
Religions 2018, 9(11), 331; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110331
Received: 10 October 2018 / Revised: 25 October 2018 / Accepted: 26 October 2018 / Published: 29 October 2018
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Abstract
A previously unexplored reference to the biblical story of Jacob and Esau in Shakespeare’s Richard III underlines connections to the early modern dramatic preoccupation with the question of succession in the late Elizabethan era. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
Open AccessArticle That Suggestion: Catholic Casuistry, Complexity, and Macbeth
Religions 2018, 9(10), 315; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9100315
Received: 11 September 2018 / Revised: 11 October 2018 / Accepted: 12 October 2018 / Published: 16 October 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (235 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In a keeping with the view that Shakespeare harbored a sympathetic attitude to Catholic ways of seeing, this essay argues that Macbeth is a study in the dangers of oversimplification and certainty. In contradistinction to how Spenser’s Redcrosse Knight escapes the Cave of [...] Read more.
In a keeping with the view that Shakespeare harbored a sympathetic attitude to Catholic ways of seeing, this essay argues that Macbeth is a study in the dangers of oversimplification and certainty. In contradistinction to how Spenser’s Redcrosse Knight escapes the Cave of Despaire, Macbeth would benefit greatly from probing, questioning, nuancing, and sifting through ambiguity. He needs to examine the particular attenuation of his own moral thinking, and needs to engage equivocation, in the forms of both amphibology and mental reservation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
Open AccessArticle Paganism and Reform in Shakespeare’s Plays
Religions 2018, 9(7), 214; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9070214
Received: 21 May 2018 / Accepted: 18 June 2018 / Published: 11 July 2018
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (189 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Shakespeare’s plays mix references to pagan and Christian symbols and ideas in ways which are only superficially contradictory. While the sometimes uneasy juxtaposition of classical and Christian religious thought is characteristic of Renaissance literature, there is, in Shakespeare’s use of paganism, a method [...] Read more.
Shakespeare’s plays mix references to pagan and Christian symbols and ideas in ways which are only superficially contradictory. While the sometimes uneasy juxtaposition of classical and Christian religious thought is characteristic of Renaissance literature, there is, in Shakespeare’s use of paganism, a method to the madness. Shakespeare’s comedies and romances associate the worship of Diana with the Catholic ideal of religious celibacy, and ultimately repudiate the Diana figure or transform her into a “Christian” spokeswoman who encourages and facilitates marriage and child-bearing. In a late romance, The Winter’s Tale, the turn from Diana to self-sacrificial marriage is also made symbolic of a key character’s turn from Catholic-like works of ritual penitence to inward transformation by faith. Thus, Shakespeare’s plays represent pagan ritual in a way which supports the Calvinist religious tendencies of early-modern England. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)

Review

Jump to: Research

Open AccessReview Shakespeare and Religion
Religions 2018, 9(11), 343; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110343
Received: 13 September 2018 / Revised: 29 October 2018 / Accepted: 1 November 2018 / Published: 5 November 2018
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (230 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Shakespeare’s personal religious affiliation is impossible to determine. Nearly all the books published about him in the last ten years eschew an earlier attempt to identify him as Catholic and focus, instead, on the plays, not the playwright. Some attention has been paid [...] Read more.
Shakespeare’s personal religious affiliation is impossible to determine. Nearly all the books published about him in the last ten years eschew an earlier attempt to identify him as Catholic and focus, instead, on the plays, not the playwright. Some attention has been paid to Judaism and Islam, but Christianity is the overwhelming favorite. Nearly all of these books include a discussion of Measure for Measure, the only play Shakespeare wrote with a biblical title and a central concern with Christian ethics. Though there is some inevitable overlap, each writer approaches religion in the plays differently. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in Shakespeare's Writings)
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