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The Bible has been the most influential text in all of Western culture. It's difficult to understand medieval or early modern or much of modern literature without knowing it...

Prof. Barbara Newman, Northwestern University
from 2006 Bible Literary project


It's not that it's impossible to read some writers without a Biblical background, but that you would miss a whole dimension to their work.

Prof. Steven Goldsmith, University of California at Berkeley
from 2006 Bible Literary Project


I can only say that if a student doesn't know any Bible literature, he or she will simply not understand whole elements of Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth

Prof. Robert Kiely, Harvard University
from 2006 Bible Literary Project


...there is truth in the remark. "without Tyndale[Bible translator], no Shakespeare"...

Prof. David Daniell, University College London
from The Bible in English


You can't really study Western literature intelligently or coherently without starting with the Bible.

Prof. Gerald L. Bruns, University of Notre Dame
from 2006 Bible Literary Project


...a familiar understanding of Christian doctrine in historical perspective thus contributes to a fuller appreciation of Shakespeare's art, but Shakespeare's art

Prof. Roland M. Frye
from Shakespeare and the Christian Doctrine


In English tradition and also for an American tradition begun by Puritan writers, a knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is even more crucial than classical references.

Prof. Ulrich Knoefplmacher, Princeton University
from 2006 Bible Literary Project


There is no book more important for our culture than the Bible, and it is fundametal to the study of English literature and language.

Prof. David Jasper and Prof. Stephen Prickett
from the Bible and literature

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!

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.