Friday, December 28, 2012
For the literati: English scholar Professor Daniel Swift (Skidmore College) has written a new book--“The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age,”-- where he argues that “Shakespeare’s writing shows a deep and unappreciated reliance on The Book of Common Prayer, an immensely popular worship guide that collected prayers, Bible passages, and church rites into a strange and powerful text.”
Here’s an example:
There’s a scene in Macbeth when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are washing blood from their hands, and I would argue that they are citing and parodying The Book of Common Prayer’s baptism rite, which is a rite about washing away guilt. That’s one level of recognition. But as they’re doing this, someone starts knocking on the gate of the castle. Literary scholars have turned themselves inside out trying to figure out what this knocking is doing. But in The Book of Common Prayer the prayer about hand washing is followed by a prayer about knocking, and in that prayer, knocking becomes an emblem of praying to God. Once we see all this stuff, we see something extra in Macbeth—we get to have a slightly anxious laugh as we see how far the characters are from the thing they’re supposed to be doing. It’s not just the matter of a footnote. Shakespeare’s artistry depends on that shock of recognition.