Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Gregory Peck Moby Dick Released Today – 1956

On June 27, 1956, the film of Moby Dick was released. Directed by John Huston and starring Gregory Peck and Richard Basehart as Ahab and Ishmael, the film was released by Warner Brothers Studios. The screenplay, more faithful to Melville’s novel than other early film versions, was co-written by Huston and sci-fi author Ray Bradbury. At around the same time, Orson Welles had been thinking of making his own film of Moby Dick, but he gave up the plan on hearing about his friend John Huston’s project. In recompense, Huston gave Welles the memorable part of Father Mapple. From his ship-shaped Nantuckett pulpit, Mapple gives a powerful sermon on Jonah, the biblical book so important to the story of Moby Dick.

“Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters–four yarns–is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a poignant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish’s belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us; we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-handed lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God.”

For more on the influence of the King James Bible on Moby Dick, see “Literary Influences” on the Manifold Greatness website.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

One response

  1. Nina Schneider

    I remember back in 2007 when Richard Kirkwood recited Father Mapple’s sermon in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. It was a performance sponsored by the Brooklyn Lyceum, complete with period costumes, organ music, a thunderstorm, and spooky graveyards.

    June 29, 2011 at 10:59 pm

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