A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and Religion (Hardback)
  • A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and Religion (Hardback)

A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and Religion (Hardback)

Hardback 176 Pages / Published: 16/01/2014
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On 19 December 1601, John Croke, then Speaker of the House of Commons, addressed his colleagues: "If a question should be asked, What is the first and chief thing in a Commonwealth to be regarded? I should say, religion. If, What is the second? I should say, religion. If, What the third? I should still say, religion." But if religion was recognized as the "chief thing in a Commonwealth," we have been less certain what it does in Shakespeare's plays. Written and performed in a culture in which religion was indeed inescapable, the plays have usually been seen either as evidence of Shakespeare's own disinterested secularism or, more recently, as coded signposts to his own sectarian commitments. Based upon the inaugural series of the Oxford-Wells Shakespeare Lectures in 2008, A Will to Believe offers a thoughtful, surprising, and often moving consideration of how religion actually functions in them: not as keys to Shakespeare's own faith but as remarkably sensitive registers of the various ways in which religion charged the world in which he lived. The book shows what we know and can't know about Shakespeare's own beliefs, and demonstrates, in a series of wonderfully alert and agile readings, how the often fraught and vertiginous religious environment of Post-Reformation England gets refracted by the lens of Shakespeare's imagination.

Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780199572892
Number of pages: 176
Weight: 292 g
Dimensions: 203 x 140 x 20 mm

Aimed especially at an undergraduate audience, Kastan combines deep historical learning, careful close reading, and a fast-paced prose style. The book also contains a steady stream of critical wisdom that I think scholars at any level could benefit from. * Kevin Curran, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 *
A sophisticated and erudite book. * Expository Times, Adam Trettel *
David Scott Kastan's elegant and concise book, A Will to Believe: Shakespear and Religion, is based on a series of four Oxford lectures in honour of Stanley Wells...The elegance of the writing and intelligence of the commentary make these lectures continuously provocative, and a please to read. * Gerard Kilroy, The Times Literary Supplement *
[A] brief, elegant book * David Womersley, Standpoint *
Kastan's thoughtful, learned, and judicious readings leave us with genuinely new evaluations of what Shakespeare does and does not render visible, and make possible, in his extraordinary plays. A Will to Believe leaves us with a will to think, learn, and live more. * Julia Rienhard Lupton, Literature and History *
Kastan writes compellingly of Hamlet, Measure for Measure, King John, Othello and The Merchant of Venice in agnostic terms while insisting on their numinous essence * Tiffany Taylor, The Times Higher Education *
A Will to Believe is a substantial work by one of the major Shakespeareans of our time. It matches deft critical ability with proper scholarship, wide and deep learning with acute judgment. * Andrew Hadfield, Irish Times *
[T]opics ... are handled with an incisive intelligence and adroitly deployed contextual scholarship which stimulate us into seeing these problems afresh. As a result, we finish the book understanding more acutely the complexities of religious life in Shakespeare's England, and appreciating more subtly the richly troubled religious world of his plays. * Paul Hammond, The Seventeenth Century *
a brilliantly graceful book that everyone interested in religion and in Shakespeare (i.e., just about all of us) should read and recommend to students and friends. * David Bevington, Renaissance Quarterly *
Kastan's short, accessible, and brilliantly readable book asks why the question of Shakespeare's belief is so important to us, and surveys the treatment of religion in the plays themselves. Its author successfully avoids both the recent tendency to read religion as merely a metaphor for power, and the equally unhelpful determination to interpret the plays as religious allegories. * Alison Shell, Church Times *
This slim volume based on lectures originally delivered at Oxford in 2008 has an importance out of all proportion to its size. It discusses the way religion functions in the works of William Shakespeare and will appeal to anyone interested in English history as well as those whose main concern is with the playwright himself. * Paul Richardson, The Church of England Newspaper *
This is something that is long overdue in Shakespearian circles ... Kastan succeeds in transforming the debate over religion into something worth reading. * David J. Davis, The New Criterion *
David Kastan's meticulous book treads carefully between the pits already dug in this crowded field, combining sober biographical analysis, based on recent documentary research, with sensitive close readings ... Kastan effectively debunks crude biographical lunges from text to assumed context. * Glyn Parry, English Historical Review *

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