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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: October 2020

Chapter 4 - The Authority of the (Missing) Author


Chapter Four, “The Elusiveness of the Divine William” traces how nineteenth-century Biblical criticism and theological controversy brought about the so-called “authorship controversy” by bringing to light the uncertainty of Shakespeare’s personal history. In it, I demonstrate how Shakespeare’s person becomes a great mystery in the aftermath of D. F. Strauss’s Das Leben Jesu, translated by George Eliot in 1846 as The Life of Jesus. Nineteenth-century Biblical studies had by this point progressed to the point that their philological and textual tools were widely applied to other distant figures, from Homer to Sappho, and – more importantly – Biblical scholars’ conclusions had also become publicized enough that they were irresistible for Shakespeare scholars. Strauss’s epoch-marking work, for instance, carefully unfolds just how little reliable evidence we have for saying anything historical about Jesus. At just this moment in the history of Biblical criticism, suddenly Shakespeare, too, loomed as an exalted figure about whom real questions lingered.

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