Over the last centuries, the Shakespearean text has often been imagined in ways that exhibit parallels with an important construction of the Bible that arose during the Protestant Reformation, a construction that paradoxically exemplifi es a logic which contributes to secular modernity. Secularity is defi ned by belief in a realm or realms fully separable from the divine; it follows that even religious discourse exemplifi es secularity if it concedes a sphere that can be understood independently of God. As we shall see, when the Bible was accorded a newly autonomous status in the Reformation, it coincided with crucial intellectual shifts at the heart of what Charles Taylor calls secularity’s “great disembedding.”1 This new framing of the Bible provides an example of how many aspects of secularity initially emerge from changes within religion itself, thereby undercutting the notion that the secular represents the subtraction of religion from neutral, universal rationality. 2
The refashioning of the Bible has ramifi cations for the reception of the “cultural Shakespeare”—that is, for Shakespeare constructed according to the terms emergent with the modern category of culture, beginning in the eighteenth century. The text of Shakespeare becomes imagined in many ways parallel to the construction of the Bible, with both construed in strikingly similar ways as ideal archives. “Ideal archive” here entails notions of complete preservation, transhistoricity, and a conception of ontological and semantic self-grounding, all of which, as will be discussed, came to underpin the emergence of secularity.