“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”
— Jacque’s quote from Act II, Scene VII from As You Like It.
Never would I claim to be an expert in Shakespeare’s works. NEVER!
Frankly, I avoided Shakespeare since high school after being required to read the part of Romeo in front of the class. As I recently asked myself, why did I seek to escape Shakespeare, I arrived at this conclusion: I embraced certain preconceptions and presuppositions related to Shakespeare’s works. (For more information related to presuppositions and preunderstandings, refer to my previous blog, Can Goldfish Help us Interpret the Bible?)
I found his works were hard to understand. They were often verbose. He employed names with which I was not familiar. He referred to historical events that I had no previous knowledge nor desired to research. The bottom line: I did not want to read Shakespeare! Nor did I think he had anything to add to my life. My list could go on without end.
However, a few days ago I was treated to a live presentation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It by my colleagues from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky. My visit was hosted by our School’s registrar, Mr. Jacob Yates, our English Professor, Mrs. Kim Yates, my former Academic Dean, Dr. Malcolm Hester and his wife, Brenda, our former registrar. My wife, Mrs. Veda Lucas, sat by my right side as we sat spell-bound by the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriar’s Playhouse’s presentation of As You Like It in Lexington, Virginia.
What does Shakespeare have to do with Bible interpretation one may ask? Just as my presuppositions prevented me from enjoying Shakespeare through the years, so wrong presuppositions can skew the proper application of God’s Word to our daily lives. Let me offer a few safety measures to help the interpreter overcome presuppositions.
ONE: BE AWARE THAT YOU HAVE PRESUPPOSITIONS
I confessed above that I had presuppositions towards Shakespeare. I attempted to set these aside as I approached the day of the production. I think this allowed me to enjoy Shakespeare’s As You Like It far more than had I not.
It seems we see what we want to see in life and in literature. In a Charlie Brown comic strip, Charlie watched clouds with Lucy and Linus. When Charlie Brown asked Linus what he saw in the cloud formations, Linus spotted a map of Honduras in the Caribbean, a profile of the artist, Thomas Eakins. Linus adds that he pictured the stoning of Stephen with the Apostle Paul standing to one side. Lucy affirms Linus and then asks Charlie what formations he sees in the clouds? Charlie replies with a rather defeated tone, “I was going to say I saw a ducky and horsey, but I changed my mind.”
The interpreter must guard his approach to a specific passage carefully. Like Charlie Brown the interpreter can usually find what he wants to find in a text. To remedy this, the interpreter might write out his presuppositions concerning the Bible: inspiration, authority, truthfulness, its capacity to alter lives, and that God intends for it to be understood and obeyed. Other presuppositions to evaluate include one’s understanding of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and salvation. You might suggest more if you desire.
TWO: USE PROPER INTERPRETATION METHODS
If I ever hope to master any knowledge about Shakespeare and his works, I must use proper research and study methods. Reflections on his culture, his language and how he used it demand focus. Exploration of the time in which he lived, that is, the political situation, economic issues, and other areas, like the government’s influence or lack of it, on life clamors for attention. Shakespeare’s use of language and vocabulary cannot escape notice. Geographical references shout for attention. The place of religion in his time and life should create interesting research. Shakespeare’s audience(s) requires focus. The historical relationships and representations of his characters offer keen insight to his work as well.
In researching material for this blog, I discovered that some believe Shakespeare actually borrowed his line, “all the world is a stage,” from Ovid’s (43 B.C. to A.D 14) Metamorphsis. Ovid wrote about the changes in the lives of gods, people, and heroes. Ovid appears to be in the background of some of Shakespeare’s other writings: Titus Andronicus and Midsummer Night’s Dream. This information helped me put aside a few of my presuppositions.
THREE: ALLOW YOUR PRESUPPOSITIONS TO BE CORRECTED BY THE BIBLE
While I still do not know much about Shakespeare or his works, I know that much research is available. My study of him requires reading his original works. It is tempting to read only what others say about Shakespeare and his works. Yet, to do so is to rob myself of the riches of his words and work. Since beginning to write this blog, I stand more aware of how others use words. I caught myself admiring Shakespeare’s turning of a phrase. The more I learn to appreciate this man and his works, the more I will grasp his purpose in writing. The more I grasp his purpose in writing, the more I will change my presuppositions towards his work.
So it is with the Bible. Read the Bible personally.
Engage God’s Word intentionally letting it speak to your heart and mind. Dare to read from a different translation than the one you normally read. Explore other translations on the internet. Seek to know why one translation offered this word(s) as compared to other translations.
Determined that when God’s Word enlightens an issue of failure in your life, you will submit to its surgery. As you engage the text and search out the historical-cultural contexts behind the text, you might find that it corrects your faulty presuppositions. Identifying faulty presuppositions may launch you into new areas of behavior, thought or actions never conceived of before. New insights may burst into your heart and mind which had been stifled under your old presuppositions.
Would you be bold enough to write and list your presuppositions? Give it a try! Email them to me as an .docx attachment at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like.