Monday 22 December 2014

Shakespeare, Milton and the King James Bible?

Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible; and dont sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.

Henry Higgins speaking to Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

Shakespeare: yes, of course, and pretty much maintained in England now.

Milton: no, does not deserve this place. Indeed nobody else is in the class of Shakespeare and the Authorized Version of the Bible.

But if a third name is needed then Johnson is the most deserving - Samuel Johnson - who bestrides English letters as a colossus: author of the first real dictionary, the first real critic, arbiter of good taste and morality; and writer of many first rank personal essays, anthology-quality poems, and a novel of high class. And a permanently-influential prose stylist of magisterial distinction.

But the King James Bible is the only prose (if we include with it that other Anglican classic The Book of Common Prayer) that can stand comparison with Shakespeare; as acknowledged even by GB Shaw (who was a communist, Irish, and an atheist); but the KJB has been rejected and abandoned by all of the larger (so-called) English churches.

I am happy to state that it is indeed possible to be English and a real Christian and yet to reject the Authorized Version of the Bible as the basis of your Christian scriptural life^ - but would add that such a person has something seriously wrong with him.

Either he is ignorant (and in need of education) or else he is making a large error of judgment.

So, for someone who is both a Christian and English: the Triad should be Shakespeare, Johnson and the Bible - but the greatest of these is The Authorized Version.


^Note: The AV should be the basis of an English Christian life - but need not, of course, be the sole translation used. 


Jonathan C said...

Can you say more about whence your judgment that the King James Version is the most literary? I've been trying to follow the bible version debate with much confusion, buying the Douay-Rheims version on the advice of another trusted blogger.

Your post states your opinion colorfully, but doesn't really give me any hints how you came to the conclusion that the KJV is on par with Shakespeare.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jonathan - I have often blogged on this KJB theme in the past - some of these will probably answer your question:

Leo said...

We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
That Shakespeare spoke: the faith and morals hold
Which Milton held.


GaryPelican said...

I would have thought Longfellow is also a literary giant, no? Count me among those who object to the loftiness of Shakespeare's pedestal.

I really like the blog. Some very interesting, even helpful, entries.

Not sure about your decision to lay off a bit on the negativity, however, with Ragnarok nigh and what not.

Keep up the good work, and thanks for sharing some of your thoughts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GP - I very much like Longfellow - but it is Shakespeare's language which sets him above the rest.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Yet another thing to like about the Mormons: they use the King James (and this in spite of the fact that Joseph Smith produced his own "inspired version" of the Bible).

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Yes indeed- and I believe that it is significant that this has continued up to the present.

(This firmness being combined with the doctrine that there are parts of the Bible which are in error or corrupted or incomplete).

Those (English speakers) who have used but then repudiated the KJB have thus much *un-moored* themselves, cast themselves adrift, and rendered themselves vulnerable to being swept away by the tides of secularism.

Happy Christmas!