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.

Posts tagged “William Shakespeare

A Grand Tour Draws to a Close

A large crowd gathered to hear four Kennesaw State University faculty disccus the history and language of the King James Bible.

A large crowd gathered to hear four Kennesaw State University faculty discuss the history and language of the King James Bible in Kennesaw, GA.

It feels like yesterday that I was drafting the itinerary for the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition to libraries. Almost two years later, the exhibition has traveled to 40 libraries across the United States, and it wraps up at its final site—Nancy Guinn Memorial Library of the Conyers-Rockdale Library System in Conyers, Georgia—on July 12, 2013. The ALA Public Programs Office has been honored to coordinate the tour to public and academic libraries, who presented a variety of free humanities programs in conjunction with the exhibition.

Host libraries enthusiastically planned for Manifold Greatness. Library patrons were exposed to more than 230 programs related to the King James Bible—and more than 130,000 people visited the exhibition over the course of the project! To illustrate the creative hard work of library hosts, here is a sampling of just a few of the many unique programs presented:

  • The Sacred Praise Chorale chorale performs at Loyola Marymount University. Photo by Jeannine Emmett.

    The Sacred Praise Chorale chorale at Loyola Marymount University in California. Photo by Jeannine Emmett.

    Lecture: “The King’s English in a Tamil Tongue” was presented by Dr. Dyron Daughrity—Pepperdine University Library, Malibu, CA

  • Lecture: “King James Bible and Two of Its Famous Contemporaries: William Shakespeare and John Milton” was presented by Drs. Edward Jones and David Anderson, followed by discussion—Oklahoma State University Library, Stillwater, OK
  • Lecture: “The Role the KJB Played in Mormonism and the Settlement of the West” was presented by Dr. Philip L. Barlow, Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture, Utah State University—University of Wyoming Libraries, Laramie, WY
  • Activity: “Illuminations Family Night,” a family activity in which the Utah Calligraphy Artists taught children about illuminating manuscripts—Provo Library, Provo, UT
  • Musical performance: “Praise Ye The Lord: A Festival of Hymns Inspired by the King James Bible,” music performance, script, and sing-a-long of hymns—Transylvania County Library, Brevard, NC
  • At Rhodes College. L to R: Naomi Tadmor, Vincent Wimbush, Hannibal Hamlin, Ena Heller, Robert Alter

    At Rhodes College in Memphis: Naomi Tadmor, Vincent Wimbush, Hannibal Hamlin, Ena Heller, Robert Alter

    Demonstration: “Teen 19th Century Bloggers”; Tracy Honn of Silver Buckle Press demonstrated the use of a nineteenth century printing press for ages 11 to 18—Verona Public Library, Verona, WI

  • Lecture: “Covering the Feet: Scatological References in the King James Bible” was presented by Dr. Daniel C. Browning, Jr. who discussed the King James Bible from an archaeologist’s point of view—William Carey University, Hattiesburg, MS
  • Presentation: “Impact of Scripture on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” a lecture given by Reverend O’Neil Wiley, was accompanied by dramatic readings from two of Dr. King’s speeches by University of Mobile theater major Broderick S. Ryans—Ben May Main Library of the Mobile Public Library, Mobile, AL
  • Lecture: “The First Editions of the King James Bible: Misprints and Misfortunes” was presented by Dr. Pablo Alvarez, who talked about the printing process that led to errors in the first editions of the King James Bible—Van Wylen Library, Hope College, Holland, MI
  • Presentation: “The Family Bible: A Historical and Genealogical Resource” offered owners of family bibles information on how to use their treasured family heirlooms as a tool when doing genealogical and historical research—Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA
  • Lecture: “Catholics and the King James Bible: Stories from England, Ireland, and America” was presented by Dr. Ellie Bagley from Middlebury College—Rhodes College, Memphis, TN
Manifold Greatness visitors, Kellenberger Library, Northwest Christian University, Eugene, Oregon

Northwest Christian University, Eugene, Oregon

In addition to stellar program line-ups, libraries reported that the exhibit provided them with the opportunity to try new programming formats.

Project Director Katy Kelly at the University of Dayton opened up exhibit-related brown bag lunches—typically limited to faculty and staff—to the public. Kelly said the new lunchtime presentations were very well-attended and “brought greater awareness to the local community of the kinds of scholarship and research our faculty undertake.”

Project director Steve Silver of Northwest Christian University commented on the long-term impact of hosting the exhibit. He said, “Connections made with local groups as a result of Manifold Greatness endure after a year and a half since we hosted the exhibit. Those connections would not have been made without the requirements of the grant.”

Even though the exhibition’s grand tour is coming to an end, ALA looks forward to building on the inspiring success of Manifold Greatness in our future work with libraries.

Jennifer Dominiak is a program officer for exhibitions in the Public Programs Office at the American Library Association.


The Bible or Shakespeare?

Portrait of Shakespeare. Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Watercolor, c. 1865. Folger Shakespeare Library.

William Shakespeare and the King James Bible have both contributed many noteworthy expressions to the English language. In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday, traditionally believed to be on April 23, readers are challenged to decide whether the following phrases come from William Shakespeare’s works or the King James Bible. Some people believe that Shakespeare himself had a role in creating the King James Bible translation. Scholar Hannibal Hamlin refutes this rumor with a resounding “No!” in his post, “Shakespeare did not write the King James Bible, no way, no how.”

And now for the challenge, “The Bible or Shakespeare?”  Answers will be posted tomorrow.

 A. salt of the earth
B. in a pickle
C. the blind lead the blind
D. apple of his eye
E. not a mouse stirring
F. at their wit’s end
G. the skin of my teeth
H. budge an inch
I. turn the other cheeck
J. many are called, but few are chosen
K. a tower of strength
L. for goodness’ sake
M. your own flesh and blood
N. one fell swoop.

Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website, particularly the content and activities in the “For Kids” section. She is a communications associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Shakespeare and the King James Bible: Ships Passing in the Night

Shakespeare. Double-sided enamel. 1769. Folger.

Since at least the great Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769, Shakespeare and the King James Bible have been yoked together as the twin pillars of English culture. Dozens of books in the nineteenth century printed extracts from Shakespeare and the KJV, often on facing pages, showing that they were morally and spiritually equivalent on matters such as the Sabbath, the World’s Dissolution, Fears, Adultery, and Wisdom.

The association of these two works (and neither of them really is “a work”—they’re both anthologies) encouraged the idea that there must be a stronger link between them. I’ve written before about the nutty notion that Shakespeare was a KJV translator. But even the idea that Shakespeare read and was influenced by the KJV is mistaken.

Shakespeare did read the Bible, and he heard it in church. We can tell this because of the hundreds of biblical allusions and references in his plays and poems. In fact, there is no work that Shakespeare alludes to more often than the Bible. Bottom garbles Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen…”); Richard II compares his tormentors to Judas and the Pharisees; Shylock cites the story of Jacob and Laban from Genesis; King Lear alludes (unconsciously) to the Book of Job. Shakespeare makes these allusions, counting on his audience to recognize and interpret them, and so add deeper meaning to the play.

King Lear. Unknown artist. 1874. Folger.

The KJV was published only in 1611 (possibly even in early 1612, since England was still on the old calendar with New Year’s in March), and while parishes in London and some other dioceses did acquire copies of the new Bible fairly quickly, it was not immediate. Up until this time, Shakespeare, like everyone else, had known other English Bible translations. The Bishops’ Bible (first published in 1568) was the official translation read in most English churches. The Geneva Bible (1560) was by far the most popular, though, and Shakespeare obviously had a copy that he read from, since most of the biblical allusions in his works that are identifiable with a specific translation are to the Geneva.

The KJV simply arrived too late for Shakespeare to know it. Even if he did see a copy or hear it in church, it didn’t supplant the Geneva from his ear and memory. Moreover, by this time Shakespeare had only a few more plays to write before he died: perhaps only the Fletcher collaborations, Henry VIII, Two Noble Kinsmen, and the lost Cardenio. It’s probably unreasonable to put too much emphasis on one Bible translation or another, however, since most of the translators (KJV companies included) saw themselves as revisers, and the succession of translations from Tyndale and Coverdale on as just stages in the development of the English Bible. Shakespeare knew the English Bible intimately—just not in the revision known as the KJV.

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


The Bible and Othello

Owiso Odera as Othello in Folger Theatre's 2011 production. Photo by James Kegley.

Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello contains many significant allusions to the Bible, the book he could count on most members of his audience knowing best. Shakespeare most often alludes to the Geneva Bible, a copy of which he surely owned, but he also knew the Bishops’ Bible and the Coverdale Psalms from the Book of Common Prayer, since he heard them in church. (As noted in our Manifold Greatness website FAQs, Shakespeare was not influenced by the later King James Bible.)

Most people today think of Othello as a play about race. This has been a common view for decades. Indeed, U.S. President John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) thought the play a failure because of its representation of a young Venetian girl making “a runaway match with a blackamoor.” The play was a hit in the pre-Civil War South, since it offered, so it was believed, a lesson in the dangers of miscegenation. Audience react to the play differently today, but they still focus on race.

Tragedy of Othello (quarto). 1622. Folger.

In Shakespeare’s day, before the expansion of the transatlantic slave trade, what was most risqué about Othello was not race but religion. Othello is a Christian, it’s true, but he is descended from Muslims. Shakespeare’s subtitle The Moor of Venice would have suggested Islam as well as blackness. And the conflict that threatens Venice in the play is with the Muslim Turks.

One of the most overt biblical allusions in Othello is in Iago’s early speech, when he says to Roderigo, “I am not what I am.” At first hearing, this sounds like Viola’s coy remark in Twelfth Night, “I am not that I play.” But it’s more complex.

Iago’s statement is actually logically impossible. How can anyone not be what they are? The key is that Iago is parodying God’s naming of himself to Moses in Exodus: “I am that I am.” It’s not a name, really, but a statement of God’s eternal sameness and essential being. Iago inverts this, which implies something essential unstable or even empty about him.

Owiso Odera, Ian Merrill Peakes. Othello, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo: James Kegley.

Another important reference to the Bible comes at the end of the play when Othello says that he, “like the base Judean, threw away a pearl richer than all his tribe.” (Though some editors argue for “Indian” rather than “Judean.”) The “Judean” in question is Judas, who, according to the note in the Geneva Bible (with the later “Tomson” New Testament), was of the tribe of Judah. The “pearl” Judas threw away was Jesus, whom he betrayed, and who was also of the tribe of Judah. Because he has betrayed and murdered Desdemona, Othello is thus likening himself to the greatest betrayer in Christian history.

Othello later says to Desdemona’s body, “I kiss’d thee ere I kill’d thee.” A biblical literature audience might hear this as an echo of Judas’s kiss, which identified Jesus to the chief priests and elders.

The Folger Theatre production of Othello opens October 18 and runs through November 27. Othello was performed at James I’s court in 1604, the year that work began on the 1611 King James Bible; scholars believe Shakespeare wrote the play in 1603 or 1604.

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


The Bible and The Tempest

Pamela Coleman Smith. The Tempest. Caliban. ca. 1900. Folger.

The King James Bible was published in the same year that The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last single-authored play was produced: 1611. The KJB translation thus appeared too late to influence Shakespeare’s writing, but he was deeply influenced by its predecessor translations, especially the Geneva Bible and the Bishops’ Bible. The Bishops’ was the one read in English churches from its publication in 1568, but the Geneva (1560) was more popular for the general reader. It was available in cheaper formats, and it had an elaborate set of interpretive aids like introduction, marginal notes, and indexes––it was really the first “Study Bible.”

All of Shakespeare’s plays contain important allusions to the Bible, just as they allude to classical works like Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Virgil’s Aeneid. The Tempest is no exception. The story is the old one of shipwreck on a desert island, like the later Robinson Crusoe or even Gilligan’s Island. Shakespeare’s interest in this plot has to do partly with exploring humanity in isolation from civilization. What happens when people are forced to fend for themselves, without the aid of law or civic institutions? Seventeenth-century explorers to the New World were asking similar questions as they encountered native people living seemingly in a state of nature. Were such people brutal savages, in need of civilizing, or were they noble innocents, free from the corruptions of European society? The Tempest explores such questions, often in biblical terms.

Shakespeare’s island is a kind of Eden, presided over by the God-like figure of Prospero, with Ferdinand and Miranda as a version of Adam and Eve, and Ariel and Caliban and angel and devil. As in the Genesis story, temptation and obedience are crucial: Prospero charges Ferdinand and Miranda not to have sex before they are properly married, anxious about the temptation they offer each other alone on the island. Prospero and his brother Antonio may also have a biblical model in Cain and Abel, the first brothers and the first murderer and death. For Shakespeare and his contemporaries, the Bible was the place to go for puzzling out life’s big questions: can siblings really get along? can anyone? are humans inherently wicked or just corrupted by society? are forgiveness and redemption possible in this world?

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


Shakespeare and the KJB on the American Frontier

American tragedian Edwin Booth as Iago in Othello, 1869 (detail). Folger.

I continue to find it astonishing that the two books often said to be found in American log cabins were the King James Bible and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In so many ways both books—the quintessential literary expression of a small island kingdom at the beginning of the seventeenth century—seem out of place on the American frontier with its rough and tumble values and its hardscrabble life. Yet perhaps it is just in such challenging circumstances that these two books would offer the powerful imaginative stoking that otherwise bleak lives require.

Shakespeare doesn’t offer a direct view of the beginnings and ends of Creation, yet his works are replete with versions of heaven and hell and with characters who imagine themselves under the eye of God. Think of King Lear on the heath, calling on the all-shaking thunder to “strike flat the thick rotundity o’th’world!” or Iago comparing himself to devils who “will the blackest sins put on” or the guilt-ridden Macbeth recognizing that the “taking-off” of the good King Duncan is a “deep damnation.”

The gorgeousness of Shakespeare’s figurative language differs greatly from the magisterial plainness that the King James Bible translators aimed for, yet we often forget that some of the most striking effects in the plays come from the plainest of locutions—Hamlet’s despairing words to Ophelia, “What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven?” or the hunch-backed Richard’s bitter self-description, “I have no brother, I am like no brother” or Prospero’s enigmatic, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”

So, let me take back my astonishment: if I were in a log cabin, I would be happy to have a warm fire, a bubbling pot of stew on the stove, and these two books to keep me company. A person could do much, much worse.

Gail Kern Paster is the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The recently opened Folger summer exhibition, Fame, Fortune, & Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio, continues through September 3; it will be followed by the Folger exhibition of Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, opening September 23. For more about Shakespeare in American culture, see the Folger website Shakespeare in American Life.


Mythbusters 2: May 2 Publication Date of KJV

Queen Elizabeth I (Penelope Rahming) and Sir Derek Jacobi cut Shakespeare’s birthday cake at the Folger Shakespeare Library, April 2008. Claire Duggan.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about the King James Bible. (See my earlier post on Shakespeare as translator.) On both sides of the Atlantic, people are celebrating today as the publication date of the KJV. Even Garrison Keiller has used the date in his Writer’s Almanac. The date even seems to have a certain venerable tradition, since the date is noted as far back as 1866 in A Reference Book for English History by Alexander Charles Ewald. It’s been in lists of famous dates ever since.

The problem is that it’s not true. Never mind that there’s no documentary record of May 2 as a publication date — the more important point is that the whole notion of a “publication date” did not exist in 1611. Even pinning down the year of publication of books can be tricky. Some were given fake imprints with falsified dates (many 17th century Geneva Bibles, for instance). In other cases, especially with a book as huge as the Bible, printing took a rather long time, and it is not at all clear when the finished product was finally made available to the public.

The one record that does help approach the time of publication is the Stationers’ Register, but there’s no record of the KJV, because it was considered a revision, not an original book. David Norton, who knows more than anyone about the text and printing of the KJV, describes it as having appeared sometime between March 1611 and February 1612 (the earlier system of dating, beginning the New Year on March 25, is a further complication). So it’s actually possible the KJV didn’t come out in 1611 at all!

We are uncomfortable with uncertainty, it seems, especially anniversaries. Look at Shakespeare’s birthday (photo above!). No one knows on which day in late April he was born, for the simple reason that all we have is a baptismal record, not a birth certificate (there wasn’t such a thing). We want to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, though, and April 23 appeals for two reasons: he died on April 23, and we like the symmetry of matching birth and death dates; and April is St. George’s Day, patron saint of England.

It doesn’t seem that May 2 has any particular associations, but we do want to a day to celebrate. Never mind if it’s the right one.

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


Easter 2011: KJB at the Globe

The Bible at the Globe. Courtesy Carol Kelly.

“The King James Bible was written to be read aloud. It was a performance text or it was nothing.” This stirring declaration by David Hall, head of classics at Dollar Academy, in his essay in the theater program shown here, suggests one reason behind the plethora of nationwide and worldwide recitals of the KJB in the last few months, including this one at the Globe in London that covered the entire text. The setting provided the perfect link with Shakespeare, whose plays, too, were written to be performed, not read.

I attended the Easter Sunday afternoon recitals of the Gospels according to St. Luke and St. John at the Globe. Four actors, two male, two female, took it in turns to recite the entire texts, in sections of about ten to fifteen minutes each. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of visuals—I was hoping they wouldn’t have someone reciting from a pulpit dressed in Jacobean clothes! In fact, the four young actors were casually dressed, which added not only a comfortable informality to the proceedings but also seemed a good way to reinforce the notion that this Bible still speaks to us today, just as it did four hundred years ago. The text was piped discreetly into their ears with the help of i-players but this did not detract at all from their delivery, which was engaging and fluent. The actors moved around the empty stage, at times addressing the audience, at times delivering their lines to the whole cosmic world with clarity and thought-provoking intensity. They brought out the wonder of the words but also the humor and humanity behind the familiar stories.

Barbara Marten, Globe Bible recital, 2011. Photo: Fiona Moorhead

The recital was designed so that people could come and go freely, and folks taking the tour of the Globe that day were ushered in and out to sample a short section of the recital. I was apprehensive about being able to sit for four hours on a seat with no back, listening to a recital with minimal visuals, but it was far from being a challenge.

The Gospel according to St. John seemed particularly suited to the young actors’ talents. Although not one word was cut, the recital had been carefully structured so that each section ended on a poignant moment or on a passage that was memorable such as, “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

The experience made me appreciate not only the power of those words, but also the human voice as an instrument of communication. I thought of seventeenth-century churchgoers hearing the King James Bible for the first time. This recital brought the words to life, where they belong.

Carol Kelly is the Festivals Project Coordinator for the Education Department of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. As she notes here, she attended the April 24, 2011, afternoon performance of the Shakespeare’s Globe read-through of the entire King James Bible, which we previewed in this earlier post.


Shakespeare did not write the King James Bible, no way, no how.

In Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Walter “Monk” McGinn (played by Brendan Gleason, here to the right of Liam Neeson) says, “Do you know who Bill Shakespeare was, sonny? He’s the fella that wrote the King James Bible.”

The occasion of Shakespeare’s birthday—traditionally celebrated April 23, though no one knows the precise date—is a good time to offer some reflections about a persistent myth. Since the late nineteenth century, some people have suggested that Shakespeare was involved in the translation of the King James Bible. Just to be clear,

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!!

The reasons this legend developed are complex, and not entirely known, but the idea is preposterous in itself. We know the names and identities of the roughly four dozen King James Bible translators (the number is rough because over time some died or dropped out and had to be replaced). All but one of them were clergymen. The exception, Henry Savile, was included because of his prodigious learning and particularly his exceptional knowledge of Patristic Greek. Indeed, save a few political appointments, all the translators were eminent linguists, the very best scholars of ancient languages—Hebrew and Greek, but also Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic—in England. Some, like Lancelot Andrewes and, judging from the Translators’ Epistle to the Reader, Miles Smith, were also fine writers. But this was not why they were chosen. The translators were not especially interested in what we think of as literary style, and they certainly were not aiming to produce a masterpiece of English prose. Their overwhelming concern was to produce to the most accurate English translation possible of the Bible. The many years of work involved hours and hours of discussions of the most minute details of language: points of grammar, syntax, vocabulary; careful comparison of verses, clauses, and individual words in all the ancient languages, including Latin, as well as contemporary translations in European languages, and all previous English Bible (Tyndale, Coverdale’s Great Bible, Geneva, Bishops’, Rheims); also discussion of theology, ancient history, archaeology. Not very sexy, but that’s what made the KJV!

Literal accuracy was the goal, which is why the English of the KJV sometimes sounds foreign, as in using the word “to know” for having sex (Gen. 4), or Hebrew idioms like “the skin of my teeth” (Job 19) or “the apple of my eye” (Deut. 32), which make little sense in English. Shakespeare, according to Ben Jonson, had “small Latin and less Greek.” This was a little unfair. By our standards, Shakespeare’s Latin was excellent, he just wasn’t as remarkable a scholar as Jonson. There’s no evidence, though, that Shakespeare had more than a little grammar school Greek, and he likely had no Hebrew at all. He lacked the basic skills necessary for Bible translation. He was also not a clergyman; since many clergymen considered players as next-door to brothel-keepers, it’s inconceivable anyone would have considered him as a candidate for the translation team. Finally, although Shakespeare and the King James Bible have been lauded as the twin pillars of English literature since at least the Victorians, they aren’t really much alike. Shakespeare can write fine prose, but he more often writes in verse, and what sets his style apart from other playwrights is the metaphorical density of his language and his invention of words and idioms. The King James Bible is entirely in prose and generally eschews complex metaphor. The vocabulary is also extremely limited. The language of Shakespeare and the language of the KJV aren’t the same.

The one piece of evidence often hauled out in support of the “Shakespeare wrote the Bible” argument is a bit of “code” from Psalm 46. All sorts of people mention this, from Bishops to conspiracy theorists. It goes like this. In the KJV, count 46 words from the beginning of Psalm 46: “shake.” Count 46 words from the end: “spear.” Shakespeare turned 46 in 1610. Thus, so it goes, Shakespeare has encoded his signature in the psalm to mark his secret involvement in the translation. (The more committed cryptographers delve into Kabbala and further supposed number patterns, but I’ll leave this wackier stuff aside.) So many problems with this! First the second 46 count has to leave out the word “selah.” It’s not a word from the actual Psalm but an indicator of performance (no one knows quite what it means), yet it is there on the page, and if you include it “spear” is 47 words from the end, not 46. Furthermore, “shake” and “spear” are in many earlier English Bibles as well, in roughly the same places (45-47 words from beginning and end). Spears are plentiful in the Bible, because they were in ancient Palestine, and people with spears tend to shake them. No great mystery. What’s really in evidence here is an amusing coincidence, discovered by someone with codes on the brain, probably in the 1890s. No one seems to have noticed it before then, which makes it seem rather ineffective as a signature. It’s absurd that Shakespeare would have been involved in translating a Bible, but it’s even more absurd that if he had been involved he would have left his mark in so obscure and meaningless a fashion. Some compare this to medieval stonemasons who inscribed their names on stones in place no one could ever see, presumably as a declaration to God. Shakespeare was not an anonymous craftsman, however, but a popular and successful playwright, whose name appeared prominently on his published work. The more you know about Shakespeare, and the more you know about the King James Bible, the sillier this idea becomes. Imaginative writers like Rudyard Kipling and Anthony Burgess have played around with the myth in their fiction, but that’s where it belongs. In fiction, not in reality.

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


The KJV Trail in London


My trip to London (see earlier posts) wasn’t focused on the Bible but English literature—Dickens, The Beggar’s Opera, Shakespeare, Wordsworth—but we crossed paths with the KJV translators many times. Lancelot Andrewes, the prodigiously learned Dean of Westminster, was director of the first company of translators at Westminster (his ornery brother Roger was on the first Cambridge company). I and my students toured Westminster Abbey, where Andrewes and his team worked, in the “Jerusalem Chamber” where King Henry IV died, as described in Shakespeare’s play. We also went to Southwark Cathedral on the Southbank, which wasn’t a cathedral in the seventeenth century, but rather St. Saviour’s Church. The image above is of Lancelot Andrewes’s fabulous tomb in that church. Wherever you go in London, church and theater overlap. Also buried in Southwark Cathedral are playwrights John Fletcher (who collaborated with Shakespeare) and Philip Massinger, Philip Henslowe (who ran the Admiral’s Men), and Shakespeare’s younger brother Edmund. Many of the players at the Globe, the Rose, and other theaters, were members of St. Saviour’s. As Bishop of Winchester (from 1618), Andrewes’s palace was next door. He was probably often in St. Saviour’s, though after Shakespeare’s death in 1616. Long before then, however, Andrewes also preached regularly at the court of James I. Since the King’s Men often performed there too, he and Shakespeare may often have been under the same roof. James Shapiro writes about one such possible occasion at Richmond Palace during Lent in 1599. Shakespeare may not have worked on the King James Bible (more on this next week), but he certainly lived in the same city with men who did.

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


Off to Literary London!

Claes Jansz. Visscher. London. ca. 1625 (Detail). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Visscher. View of London. ca. 1625. Folger.

Well, I’m off to Londontown, UK, taking a class of undergraduates from Ohio State for a week-long trek through “Literary London.”

We’ll be standing on ground of huge importance to the making of the King James Bible and its subsequent history. We’ll tour Westminster Abbey, for instance, where two of the six teams of translators were ensconced; they worked in the Jerusalem Chamber, a location Shakespeare also mentions in Henry IV, Part 2. We’ll also visit St. Paul’s and Southwark Cathedral, where English Christians have heard the KJB read and sung for 400 years. Some of Shakespeare’s theater colleagues worshipped at Southwark (then St. Saviour), since it was near the Globe; his brother Edmund was buried there. The playwrights John Fletcher and Philip Massinger are also buried at Southwark, as is the great preacher Lancelot Andrewes, one of the KJB translators.

Our last two days are in Stratford, and we’ll visit Holy Trinity Church, where it’s possible Shakespeare himself heard readings from the then-new King James Bible. He retired to Stratford about the time the King James Bible was published, and this was supposed to be the Bible translation used in English Churches from then on. Whether Holy Trinity actually purchased and put to use copies of the KJB before Shakespeare’s death in 1616, I don’t know.

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


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