Posted By Roger Stritmatter on January 13, 2010
Don’t look now, but literary scholar and psychoanalyst Richard Waugaman has published an intriguing new chapter in the ongoing study of the de Vere Geneva Bible.
Waugaman’s article, “The Sternhold and Whole Book of the Psalms is a Major Source for the Works of Shakespeare,” appears in the December 2009 issue of Notes and Queries.
Taking his cue from the marked psalms of the de Vere Geneva Bible, Waugaman set out to investigate two related questions.
First, how important were the Sternhold and Hopkins psalms, in a general sense, for shaping Shakespeare’s religious themes and imagery? The received wisdom, as Waugaman explains in his article, was “not very.”
While scholars have recognized the generic importance of the psalms, the standard belief has been that while the Coverdale psalms and those found in the Book of Common Prayer were critical to Shakespeare, he was not that familiar with the Sternhold and Hopkins psalms that are found with the 1570 de Vere Geneva Bible.
Not so, found Waugaman. His Notes and Queries article documents a volley of previously undetected allusions to language that is not found in these alternative sources, but is unique to the Sternhold and Hopkins psalms.
“The Sternhold and Hopkins metrical translation of the Psalms is a crucial but neglected repository of salient source material for the works of Shakespeare….” concludes Waugaman.
“Richmond Noble maintained that Shakespeare quoted the Psalms more often than any other book in the Bible, and that ‘a large proportion of such quotations’ are from the Coverdale translation of the book of Common Prayer. Noble led other scholars to ignore WPB….[but I have found WPB to be a rich source of Shakespeare’s first 126 Sonnets….” (595).
Waugaman’s second, more specific question, was whether the de Vere Bible annotations could provide a heuristic “answer key” that would point him in the direction of passages in the plays that echoed the psalms marked in de Vere’s Sternhold and Hopkins.
As originally reported in the de Vere Bible dissertation, twenty-one psalms are marked in the de Vere Sternhold and Hopkins, mostly with marginal drawings of a small hand with a pointing finger. Sixteen (12, 25, 30, 31, 51, 61, 65, 66, 67, 77, 103, 137, 139, 145, 146 and Lamentations) are marked in the body of the text, and five (8, 11, 15, 23 and 59) in the commentary by Athanasius.
Among Waugaman’s findings, as published in Notes and Queries:
- Sonnet 66 “echoes the sentiments, the imagery, and the language of Psalm 12” (596).
- Sonnet 21 “is structured as a response to psalm 8” (596).
- “…the author of Psalm 8 is the Muse Shakespeare alludes to in Sonnet 21….The psalmist is an implicit prototype for the rival poet or poets of the sonnets” (597).
- “For my sin” is a phrase that occurs only in Sonnet 83. It occurs as well in Psalm 25:10—also its unique occurrence in that translation….It is thus one of the many instances where Shakespeare’s use of the language of the Psalms implicitly compares his words to the Fair Youth with the psalmist’s words to God…Shakespeare has been accused of a sin he does not agree he has committed…this identical phrase, ‘for my sin,’ would recall to an educated contemporary reader (including the Youth himself) the rest of psalm 25, which therefore constitutes a running subtext for Sonnet 83” (597)
- Psalm 103 has several interesting features that may have especially captured Shakespeare’s imagination….Vendler calls the diction of eight lines of Sonnet 124 ‘imitation biblical.’ It contains many allusions to Psalm 103” (598).
- In early modern England, Psalm 51 was regarded as the chief ‘Penitential psalm.’…Lady Macbeth’s words are a transparent confession of her crime, so it is fitting that they should allude to the chief psalm of confession…A close reading of this scene against Psalm 51 shows several contrasts between her actions and words, and the psalm, thus highlighting her shortcomings…(600).
- “Psalm 77 is prominently echoed in lines 897-910 of Rape of Lucrece” (602).
- ‘Psalm 146 is also echoed in four significant words in this same stanza [of Lucrece]” (602).
- Psalm 139 captures much of the theme of Rape of Lucrece, including efforts to conceal sin in the darkness of night, and its eventual revelation and punishment…The allusion to Psalm 139, as well as other allusions to the Psalms throughout the poem, suggest ‘secret thoughts’ that scholars have previously overlooked” (602).