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SHAKESPEARE AND THE GENEVAN BIBLE.
In order to deal with the question of the Version of the Bible used by Shakespeare a short summary of the Versions is desirable.
Our earliest complete English Bible is Coverdale's, licensed in 1537. In the same year a black-letter Folio Bible by John Rogers was licensed. It is known as “Matthew's Bible". In 1539 Coverdale and Grafton issued the large black-letter Folio known as “The Great Bible". Thomas Cromwell sent down an injunction to the clergy “to provide one boke of the whole Bible, in the largest volume in Englysche, sett up in summe convenyent place within the Churche that ye have cure of, whereat your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and rede yt”. Eleven thousand Bibles were required for the parishes, and in this way seven editions of the Great Bible were called for in the space of two years. After 1546 the free reading of the Scriptures was confined exclusively to the upper classes, and it was not until after the death of Henry VIII. that liberty was accorded to the common people. Under Edward VI. there was a great revival of Bible study, but once again, in the reign of Mary, prohibition was issued against the Word. In 1557, however, despite the vigilance of the authorities, the Genevan New Testament, translated by the Reformers who had found refuge in Geneva, was smuggled into England. In November, 1558, Elizabeth ascended the throne, and two years later the most interesting of all the Versions was completed and sold in England. The chief scholars employed in the production of the Genevan Version were Coverdale, Whittingham, Gilby, Goodman, Sampson, Cole, and probably the Scottish Reformer, John Knox.
This Bible has greater claims to originality than any Version
since Tyndale's, although Cranmer's or Coverdale's Version is frequently followed. It was issued as a Quarto, printed in Roman type, and was the first Version divided into chapter and
Italics were used to denote words not represented in the original Hebrew and Greek. It had copious notes, a Commentary, Concordance, and tables of Scripture names, and in addition Sternhold and Hopkins' Metrical Psalms with music. After 1579 a Calvinistic Catechism was also bound up with it, as well as the Church Service and Psalter. The price was a low one, and as a consequence there was a very great sale. Despite certain prohibitions, the Genevan was so popular that between 1560 and the Civil War no fewer than one hundred and sixty editions passed into circulation. It cast the Great Bible completely into the shade, and became the household Bible of the people. In 1568 the Bishops' Bible was issued under the superintendence of Archbishop Parker. It had a life of some forty years, and passed through nineteen editions. It was a large volume and costly. “It did not satisfy scholars, it was ill-suited to the general public.” There is no copy bearing a later date than 1606. In 1582 the Roman Catholic New Testament was printed at Rheims, and the entire Bible known as the “Douai" was published at Douai 1609-10. Finally in 1611 the well-known Authorised Version of King James was published in black-letter.
We are now in a position to deal with the question of the probable Version used by William Shakespeare. The poet was born in 1564, that is, twenty-four years after Cranmer's Great Bible was published, and four years after the Genevan Bible. He was a lad of four when the Bishops' Bible was issued, a young man of eighteen when the Rheims New Testament was brought into England, and a middle-aged man when the Douai Bible was published. His literary work was nearly ended when the Authorised Version was issued in 1611. We may therefore rule the Douai Bible and the Authorised Version out of the discussion, for it is clear that they could not possibly have influenced his literary style or furnished a vocabulary, and, as a matter of fact, Wiclif and the Rheims Version usually differ entirely from Shakespeare's quotation of Biblical words. There remain the Great Bible, the Bishops', and the Genevan. The former were mainly used for the public reading in the churches,