A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and Religion
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Oxford University Press / 2016 / Paperback
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A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and Religion

Oxford University Press / 2016 / Paperback

In Stock
Stock No: WW744690


Product Description

"Illustrates exactly the qualities it finds in Shakespeare: it is inclusive, open-minded, and sociable. It offers another careful consideration of Shakespeare's relation to Catholicism, a thoughtful meditation on his relation to non-Christian others, and a fresh take on the (in)significance of religion in Hamlet,"---Modern Philology. 176 pages, softcover. Oxford University.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 176
Vendor: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 2016
ISBN: 0198744692
ISBN-13: 9780198744696

Publisher's Description

On December 19, 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 his plays: 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.

Author Bio


David Scott Kastan is the George M. Bodman Professor of English at Yale University. Among his books are Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time (1982), Shakespeare after Theory (1999), and Shakespeare and the Book (2001). He has produced important scholarly editions of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and he edited the five-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature (2006). He currently serves as one of the general editors of the Arden Shakespeare.

Editorial Reviews


"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


"One of the book's achievements is that it shows the reader how to acknowledge the importance of religion in the plays without being ruffled by crosswinds of fashionable doctrine...Kastan's virtue lies in showing us how to recognize "Shakespeare's imaginative engagement" with religion, and its way of "inviting our own."... is a journey of discovery and recollection with a witty and learned companion." --Graeme Hunter, Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity


"A Will to Believe illustrates exactly the qualities it finds in Shakespeare: it is inclusive, open-minded, and sociable it offer[s] another careful consideration of Shakespeare's relation to Catholicism, a thoughtful meditation on his relation to non-Christian others, and a fresh take on the (in)significance of religion in Hamlet." --Kenneth J.E. Graham, University of Waterloo, Modern Philology


"[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


"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


"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, The Church Times


"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


"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


"...I give a hearty salute to 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." --Renaissance Quarterly


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