US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Read: The Gospel According to Shakespeare

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By Piero Boitani (University of Notre Dame, 2013)

The theatrical world of William Shakespeare is filled with tales of English kings, Greek romances, and, as Piero Boitani illustrates in The Gospel According to Shakespeare, biblical references. Boitani, a professor of comparative literature at the Sapienza University of Rome, must have studied both Shakespeare’s plays and the Christian texts with great care.

Written originally in Italian, the book guides readers through six of the bard’s late and lesser known plays. Instead of using an in-depth critical analysis to give a theological voice to Shakespeare, Boitani provides a comprehensible synopsis of one play per chapter that those of us who are less familiar with the texts or who find the playwright’s style hard to interpret graciously welcome.

Although the comparisons can at times seem like a stretch, Boitani likens several characters in each play to biblical figures. The beautiful love story of Miranda and Ferdinand, who meet at in the beginning of The Tempest, becomes Shakespeare’s equivalent to Adam and Eve’s tale in Genesis, while Hermione in The Winter’s Tale is Jesus Christ through her death and resurrection on the third day.

Boitani doesn’t hesitate to step away from the concrete examples of characters to include themes and other symbols portrayed in the gospels. He references examples to personify generosity, repentance, patience, love, and fidelity in the actions and words of Shakespeare’s beloved characters. Other biblical symbols such as celestial music, water, and purgatory appear again and again in Shakespeare’s plays.

Boitani engages readers as though they were listening to a professor’s lecture. Always keeping in mind his audience, his style proves that one doesn’t need a master’s degree in theology to appreciate the similarities between Shakespeare and the gospels.

This article appeared in the August 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 8, page 43).