Wednesday, 5 January 2011
Shakespeare and the King James Bible
The story of how the King James Version came about is fascinating in itself but far to long and complex for a single post. However, listening to the discussions over the last few days I've been reminded of a lecture we had last term from a scholar who has been working on the text in preparation for this year's celebrations. He came to speak to us on the subject Did Shakespeare Have a Hand in the King James Bible.
Of course, there has always been speculation. When you look at the published works of the people who were responsible for the translation it is hard to understand how the beautiful language which is the hallmark of the text ever came about. Indeed, it is all the more remarkable when you remember that the work was given over to a committee. This group gets to work on these books, that group on those! When I think of some of the committees on which I've served the wonder is that they ever came up with a text at all, let alone one that has inspired artists, composers and writers ever since. And, let us not forget that Shakespeare was King James own personal playwright. He was the company writer for the King's Men and while James didn't exactly pay his wages pleasing the monarch was definitely the way to go.
But, speculation is not evidence and much as it would make a wonderful story to be able to say that the bard was involved the general thought is that it would be just that, a wonderful story. However, our speaker did say that he had got a little excited, enough to wonder perhaps if one of the translators wasn't an ardent playgoer paying tribute to his hero, when he discovered that the forty-sixth word from the beginning of Psalm 46 was shake and the forty-sixth word from the end was spear. Shakespeare, of course, was himself forty-six when the King James Bible was published.
Alas, even that much of a link was denied him when he went back to earlier translations and discovered that the words shake and spear have always been rattling around somewhere near the beginning and the end of that particular psalm. And we all know what would happen if we were to leave a monkey alone with a typewriter for long enough, don't we?
Nevertheless, the mystery of the magnificent language contained in the 1611 Bible remains and it would be nice to think that all the scholarly attention that is bound to be given to the text over the course of the year might come some way towards explaining it.