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Bible and its influence

The Bible was a source of inspiration for many great writers, most notably William Shakespeare (1564-1616). He used over 1,300 documented biblical references in his plays written from 1589-1613. Studies on the biblical references of Shakespearean plays began as early as 1794.

Views are diverging regarding Shakespeare’s personal faith and theological viewpoints. Some tend to “theologize” Shakespearean plays, hence restricting his plays to a narrow Christian dimension, there are others scholars who treated his plays as mostly secular, and the biblical references merely reflect the discourse at the time.

There is no proof as to Shakespeare’s religious orientation. All that we know is that he was baptized and a conforming member of Church of England. He drew inspiration from Geneva Bible. As Geneva Bible was not read in church, his biblical knowledge was assumed to have come from private reading.

Despite the divergent views on his faith, one thing is indisputable – the knowledge of the Bible can help us understand Shakespeare better.

Roland M. Frye, trained in theology and literature and having graduated from Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, admitted in his book Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine (1963) that “a familiar understanding of Christian doctrine in historical perspective thus contributes to a fuller appreciation of Shakespeare’s art, but Shakespeare’s art is not devoted to theologizing the theatre.”

Christian elements are richly embedded in certain Shakespearean works, including Hamlet, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Merchant of Venice, among others. An understanding of the Bible will help you appreciate the underlying meanings in Shakespearean plays better. (The following needs not to be translated)

Let’s take a look at some biblical references in Shakespearean plays:

On Creation

On Abel and Cain

On Job

In the New Testament

Some verses in Shakespeare are directly taken from the Bible. Let’s look at these parallels:

Search idiom or name

A lot of phrases, such as "two-edged sword" and " an eye for an eye", are taken from the English Bible. Learning the stories behind these idioms is fun, and can help boost your vocabulary. Click here to find out now!

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What's in a name?

Common names such as Joseph and Rachel have their origins in the Bible. Want to know their stories before picking the right name for yourself? Click here to find out.