Spiritual Shakespeare: Religious Subtext in the Plays


Risden, E. L., Professor of English, St. Norbert College


Author of Shakespeare’s Dramatic Maxims: A Politics of Rhetoric and Irony

For an author who tended to avoid explicitly Christian subjects in his plays and poems, Shakespeare showed an abiding interest in the spiritual qualities of his characters. Spiritual Shakespeare, the latest study by noted Shakespeare scholar E. L. Risden, considers the playwright not only as a Christian writer, but also one of considerable spiritual significance: the plays regularly highlight evidence of characters’ struggles with their own spiritual health. They often show the sorrows that result from spiritual blindness or neglect.

With respect to spirituality, Shakespeare’s text has little to say directly, but much to show. Unlike the majority of writers before and during his time, Shakespeare has few explicitly didactic moments; those that do teach wear a subtle cloak of irony. He worked with his own Christian background in a way much different than did Milton or Dante. His comedies seldom point to happiness ahead, and his tragedies show a world suffering from spiritual disease. His characters have free will and bear responsibility for their actions, but most often they either lack or fail to employ spiritual resources that could in some cases have saved them. Shakespeare’s plots do occasionally comment on religion; spirituality folded naturally into his work as part of his experience of living—and dying. Without insisting on a Protestant or Catholic affiliation, this book considers how a number of Shakespeare’s greatest plays address salvation, justice, history, morality, and judgment. Attending to the spiritual element helps complete a more expansive and fulfilling reading of the plays and places Shakespeare more fully and comfortably in his own time.

English Literature, Shakespeare, Drama, World Literature, Religion, Religion in Literature, Elizabethan Drama, Psychology
Release Date: 
July 1, 2019
978-1680531565: Hardcover
Trim Size: 

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