chapter  9
The Devotional Texts of Victorian Bardolatry: Charles Laporte
ByCHARLES LAPORTE
Pages 17

To make a comparison between a Victorian and a twenty-fi rst-century study of Shakespeare and the Bible, then, is to hold in a nutshell the ways in which the establishment of English as an academic discipline has tended to steer literary studies away from questions of “Divine will,” per se. To be sure, most of Eaton’s conclusions will lend themselves to secular literary scholarship. The 165 pages between his introductory essay and brief conclusion serve to enumerate and to contextualize Shakespeare’s Scriptural allusions with minimal interpolations or commentary. Here in the nineteenth century, we see a dramatic augmenting and professionalizing

of the great scholarly tradition of “reference hunting and enumeration” mentioned by DeCook and Galey in their introduction to this collection.4 The Oxford journal Notes & Queries, for instance, was founded in 1849 to facilitate just this kind of scholarly practice; it still mostly consists of demonstrating overlooked links between independent literary works. And Eaton shows himself to be a careful literary scholar of the Notes & Queries variety: he cites the Geneva version as that most frequently used by Shakespeare and he remains cautious about extrapolating too much from his parallels. These, indeed, he often lists without comment. At Bolingbroke’s claim in Richard II that Gloucester’s blood, “like sacrifi cing Abel’s, cries / Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth” (1.1), Eaton points us to the Lord’s rebuke of Cain in Genesis 4. At Celia’s exclamation in As You Like It that Orlando’s “kisses are Judas’ own children” (3.4), he points us to Judas’s kiss from the passion of St. Matthew (26.49). His unobjectionable and highly practical model of Shakespeare scholarship will culminate 140 years later in Naseeb Shaheen’s comprehensive Biblical Reference in Shakespeare’s Plays (1999), which does much the same thing. Only rarely does Eaton rise to a more developed reading of Shakespeare’s plots and structures, such as when he depicts the character of Macbeth as a sort of latter-day King Ahab from the fi rst Book of Kings (though the Macbeth/Ahab analysis, it is worth noting, anticipates by 142 years Marx’s quite similar proposal that we view The Tempest’s Prospero as a latter-day Joseph.)

Signifi cantly, however, the very organizational structures that attest to the kinship between Eaton’s work and today’s scholarship also bespeak a different genealogy and sensibility. The central feature of the 1858 Shakespeare and the Bible, its long list of “parallel” passages, actually serves to position the book within two somewhat antithetical mid-Victorian genres. On the one hand, Eaton signals the emergence of professional literary scholarship on English poetry, yet, on the other hand, his organization derives from a popular tradition of quotation books. More specifi cally, it belongs to a tradition of Shakespearean quotation books inaugurated by William Dodd’s wonderfully successful The beauties of Shakespear, regularly selected from each play: with a general index, digesting them under proper heads: illustrated with explanatory notes, and similar passages from ancient and modern authors (1752). The popularity of such works exploded in the Romantic and Victorian eras, producing numbers of popular titles like The Morality of Shakespeare’s Drama Illustrated (1775), Shakespeare’s Genius (1821), The Mind of Shakespeare As Exhibited in his Works (1876), and The Wisdom of Shakespeare (1909). Seen from this newer (or, rather, older) vantage, Eaton’s goal seems more religious than scholarly in our literary-critical sense: his work seems designed to establish and to disseminate Shakespeare’s theological “beauties” with a religious nineteenth-century readership. And this alternative genealogy marks a key difference because the function of the quotation book is not to contexualize its sententiae and collected bits of wisdom, but simply to propagate them.