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December 12, 2022

My Kingdom for a Bible

Theater-goers cannot avoid the language of the Bible in Shakespeare’s plays. Scattered across his more than thirty plays are over one thousand biblical allusions. In the comedyAs You Like It, the character Orlando asks his brother, “Shall I keep your hogs and eat husks with them?” — a clear reference to the biblical parable of the prodigal son. In Shakespeare’s day, the Bible was everywhere. During the playwright’s lifetime, the most popular version of the Bible was the Geneva Bible. It outsold all others. Shakespeare probably had a copy at home. He alludes to the Geneva Bible more than to any other translation. It is hard for us to imagine just how pervasive biblical language and imagery were in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Shakespeare and his audiences would have heard the Bible in weekly sermons and in everyday conversations. It was a kind of common currency, a shared cultural repertoire that could be readily mined by the master playwright.

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