Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 October 2020
Chapter One, “Shakespearean Sermons and other Pious Texts,” examines Shakespeare’s treatment in the Victorian pulpit, especially his place in what were then called “Shakespearean sermons.” This subgenre effectively begins at the celebratory religious services for Shakespeare’s tercentenary in 1864 and continues into the first decades of the twentieth century. Initially, Shakespearean sermons sought chiefly to evidence Shakespeare’s familiarity with scriptures. But progressively the genre developed strong claims that Shakespeare’s texts served as a “Lay Bible” that served better for sermons – and perhaps for souls – than the original Bible. By the fin de siècle, some preachers could prophetically boast that believers would soon celebrate Shakespeare’s inspiration across the Christian churches. Claims like this one derive from a well-developed Victorian hermeneutics that sees Shakespeare’s wisdom as both universal and given to sacred exegesis.