The Bible in Literature

David Jasper

in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible

Published in print July 2001 | ISBN: 9780198601180
Published online April 2009 |
 The Bible in Literature

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This chapter discusses the influence of the Bible on the development of English literature. For instance, the earliest great ‘Christian’ poem in English, the 8th-century Dream of the Rood, is deeply rooted in the liturgical rehearsals of the Passion narratives. Medieval English literature is saturated with biblical allusions, from extended meditations such as Patience (c.1360), which draws particularly on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-11 ) and the story of Jonah, to religious lyrics and ‘macaronic’ verse (poems in two or more languages, usually Latin and English, as in the great ‘In the vale of restless mind’, with its Latin refrain from the Song of Songs), and William Langland's dream poem Piers Plowman (c.1380). Shakespeare also echoes the phrases and rhythms of the English Bible throughout his work, often in counterpoint, particularly in the tragedies. For example, in Antony and Cleopatra the Revelation is repeatedly used, from the description of Cleopatra as the great harlot of Revelation 17, to Antony as a ‘fallen star’, after the star named Wormwood in Revelation 8: 10-11.

Keywords: English literature; Dream of the Rood; Medieval literature; Shakespeare; Antony and Cleopatra

Chapter.  4770 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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