chapter  8
“Stick to Shakespeare and the Bible. They’re the roots of civilisation”: Nineteenth-Century Readers in Context: Andrew Murphy
Pages 16

So declared the Daily News on 26 April 1864, three days after the tercentenary anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. What is the book mentioned here that is the only one to rival Shakespeare for circulation? Well, the Bible, of course: it, quite literally, goes without saying. The linking of the two books is naturalized and deep-rooted and, from precisely around the period of the tercentenary, the relationship between the two texts became ever tighter and more complex. Linda Rozmovits has very interestingly speculated as to why this intensifi cation should have happened specifi cally in this period, arguing that developments in theological thinking led to a “secularizing” of the Bible, so that it ceased “to be a record of divine revelation and was becoming, instead, a work of literature.”2 Seeing the Bible as literature facilitated a form of thinking in which literature itself might, in its turn, be conceived of as a kind of sacred cultural text, with the result that, in a parallel movement, Shakespeare was elevated to the status of a kind of “secular scripture.” For Rozmovits, the two books existed in a dynamic balance in the period, such that “the relative position of each derived from the energy of the other,”3 with Shakespeare gaining a decided ascendancy by the beginning of the twentieth century.