Literature Week 11 Shakespeare vs the King James Bible

Prompt: “Is it easier to read Shakespeare or the King James Bible?”


The King James Bible vs Shakespeare. Faith vs theater. Church vs the art of play making . I found it surprising that almost every peer essay I reviewed chose the KJB over Shakespeare. This could be because I live in a rather conservative country where most children are forced into attending church once a week, or it could be because we’ve only read two out of Shakespeare’s many plays. Well, though I did experience church several times in my childhood, I was always a theater nerd when it came to my intellectual interests. I’ve read (and acted out) most of Shakespeare’s writing, and in my opinion it’s much more interesting and easy to digest than something like the Bible.

Usually when people think of Shakespeare the first thing that comes to mind is something like Romeo and Juliette. People think of romance, bloodshed, and dramaticized versions of normal life. And although William’s plays did often contain these elements, in many of his works these themes were only appetizers. My personal favorite Shakespeare play is the heavily underrated Twelfth Night. This contains advanced love triangles (more of a love diamond), a main character cross dressing for much of the play, and a marvelously witty fool.

I’ll start at the beginning. Two twins, Sebastian and Viola, are shipwrecked and separated. Duke Orsino is in love with a woman named Olivia, but his advances are rejected. Viola, deciding she wants to enlist in Orsino’s services, disguises herself as a man and takes the name Cesario. Orsino takes immediate liking to Cesario, and sends him to woo Olivia for him. In a twist of events Cesario falls in love with Orsino, and Olivia falls in love the with the disguised Cesario. High jinks ensue, especially when the best character in Shakespearean writing is introduced: Feste the fool.

Feste is what makes this play a masterpiece, and in my mind cements it as a much more interesting read than the King James Bible. Feste is Olivia’s licensed fool, which means he has a licence to say whatever he wants. His job is to sing songs, entertain his boss and the audience, and wittily taunt anyone he sees fit. Feste is the pinnacle of good character writing. He advances the plays story through humor, mockery, and good old fashion jabs towards the other characters. He brings a likability, relatability, and personality into the play that the King James bible is completely lacking.

When Olivia is mourning her brothers death Feste askes “Good madonna, why mournest thou?” Olivia replies “Good fool, for my brother’s death.” Feste then says “I think his soul is in hell, madonna.” And Olivia retorts “I know his soul is in heaven, Fool.” To which Feste replies “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul, being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.” Feste proves again and again that he is by far the wisest character in the play, as well as the funniest. He shows that wisdom and foolishness are two sides of the same coin, a ying yang situation if you will. “Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.”

I think this is a good quote to form a conclusion around. Foolery does exist in everything, and the wisest of us embrace it. Shakespeare embraced foolishness, worked with it, evolved his art with it. He took natural human stupidity, and instead of antagonizing it he found humor in it. The Bible in contrast does the opposite. It spouts out just as much foolishness as it does wisdom, but it takes itself so seriously that instead of making light of such stupidity it scolds the audience for just having this human characteristic. I’ll use Leviticus as an example. Leviticus says things that are not only pointless, such as “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” But also things that are extremely offensive, hurtful and degrading such as: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Being part of the LGBT community myself it hurts my heart to think of all the innocents who have been murdered simply for being themselves. “Detestable” is a good way to describe this horrendous discrimination.

The difference between Shakespeare and the Bible is Shakespeare works with and understands human foolishness. The Bible punishes foolishness, while simultaneously spewing out more of it. People of faith may be able to take it seriously, but for the neutral of us it offers nothing charming to draw us in. It only offers self righteous old men punishing exploration, self discovery, and any type of growth that doesn’t confine to the churches strict limitations. So to draw a conclusion, i’ll offer a quote from our old friend Feste that’s on the money for this comparison: “Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.”


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