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Shakespeare's Parodies of Paul

In the 1500s, the first brave soul to plant ingenious parodies of Paul into his writings was no less a name than Shakespeare. At least this is what attentive scholars have deduced.

In Professor Helen Whall's article "Divining Paul in Shakespeare's Comedies," Poetry and Essays (see this link, linked from Holy Cross's Shakespeare page), she details the various themes running through several works of Shakespeare that parodies or jabs at Paul's behavior.

In Comedy of Errors, Whall sees a particular character who represents Paul - it especially has words reiminiscent of Paul which appear in this charachter's mouth in obvious irony:

Dislocated in time, Paul undergoes a rougher metamorphisis. But there he is, inhabiting the body of a man who recently wore a donkey's head.  Bottom's soliloquy on what the ear cannot see, and the eye cannot taste (4.1 0.211 - 14 and 1 Corinthians 2:9) all but blasphemously mocks the anti-sensualistic Apostle who advocates the Corinthians to marry rather than burn....  We must remember the context of this passage ripped from one Corinthians...  Shakespeare uses magic in his comedy to liberate the other Paul, the lyricist who assures us that:

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2 KJV).

How is this a parody of Paul? Whall explains:

Parody in the mature comedies seems to be Shakespeare's way of reminding us -and Paul-of the charity the apostle did not seem inclined to share with either playwrights or magicians, makers of false idols. Id., at page 34.

The scene then shifts to the city of Ephesus. Paul had told the Ephesians that they must renounce "the prince of the power of the air." (Eph. 2:2.) Then Shakespeare unfolds evidence that actually nothing demonic is happening at Ephesus in his play set in that city. It is a lot of hot air. But a figure who is a cypher for Paul -- Antipholus of Syracuse -- finds the land full of sorcerers and witches. Antiopholus falls in love with Luciana. He asks her to initiate him into the mysteries. But then he recants. Shakespeare then uses a parody, as Whall explains:

The Pauline Antipholus is on dangerous ground here...Antiopholus in making a fool of himself, for the facts of the play demonstrate that the people of Ephesus are just superstitious, and not empowered by some dark potentate. No real magic ever occurs in Ephesus. The town's chief conjurer, Dr. Pinch, is the mere butt of jokes and abuse. And thus the witch-fearing Antiopholus flees love. And he is wrong to do so. Id., at 35.

Whall continues, noting Antipholus' rejection of Luciana is ironic because she then "echoe[s] Paul's other advice to Ephesians ('wives, submit yourselves onto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife' -- Ephesians 5:22-23), and lectures her sister" as follows:

The beasts, the fish's, in the winged fowls,
Are their mails subjects and at their controls;
Man, more divine, the master of all these,
lord of the wide world and the wild watery seas,
...
Are masters to their females, and their lords;
Then let your will attend on the accords. (2.1.  16-25)

Whall then recognizes Shakespeare's retort in the mouth of Lucy and sister, Adriana. Whall writes:

Such rigidity does not go unchallenged by Adriana, who warns the inexperienced Lucianne, 'if though leave to see like right bereft, this fool-begg'd patience in thee will be left.' (2.1.40-41).

Whall recognizes how close to a direct criticism Shakespeare has made of Paul. She writes:

But that is as close as the young that Shakespeare comes to challenging Paul's authority. Id., at 36.

Whall explains the likely reason for Shakespeare's slight upon Paul:

Paul's own power over the Elizabethan imagination should not be underestimated. He served as the basis for innumerable English Sermons about both God's charity and the sins of the flesh.… The rising English Puritans who in turn saw the theater as it did take the lead dangerous place of fleshly temptation. Shakespeare's rising ambivalence towards Paul is thus understandableId., at 36.

The interpretation that Shakespeare was using Ephesus, and clearly Pauline verbiage, as a reference to Paul himself is a common one. See, for example, Donna B. Hamilton, Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England (U. of Ky. Press, 1992) at 66. Hamilton explains Comedy of Errors is a "Pauline plot" that is "coded" with a "specific issue of church polity" current in Shakespeare's day -- namely whether retaining any church hierarchy based upon Paul's words to Timothy (rather than Jesus' anti-hierarchy rule) would apply. 

Thus, Hamilton concludes the play is properly "decod[ed] as a parody" of Paul. Id., at 67.


The Comedy of Errors: More Information That It Is A Parody of Paul

John Klause agrees that The Comedy of Errors is "conspicuously" a parody of Paul. See John Klause, Shakespeare, the Earl & The Jesuit (Associated University Press, 2008) at 112.

Klause mentions more details than either Whall or Hamilton to support this conclusion. Antiopholos of Syracuse identifies himself as a "Christian." (1.2.77,  4.1.1.) 

Klause then details the "general tide of allusion to the history of Paul, and writing of St. Paul." Id., at 112-13. Numerous other details are listed on page 113. 

While Pauline interpretations tried to say Shakespeare was on the side of the church to enforce hierarchy, Klause shows their proof backfires. The ecclesiastical advocates cite that Shakespeare had godparents stand for his children, but it turns out they were recusants -- people who dissented from the principle of church hierarchy. Id., at 115.