Shakespeare's Common Prayers

Shakespeare's Common Prayers : The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age

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Shakespeare's Common Prayers revolves around Shakespeare's great overlooked source: the Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1549, whose appearance established Protestantism as the compulsory belief of the day. Written in a simple vernacular and incorporating familiar Catholic rituals, the book laid out the proper performance of church rites and services. And yet it was also highly disputed and constantly in flux; as Daniel Swift shows, the prayer book's history is one of passionately contested revision and of manic sensitivity to a verb or a turn of phrase. In the book's ambiguities and fierce contestations, Swift argues, William Shakespeare found the ready elements of drama: dispute over words and their practical consequences, hope for sanctification tempered by fear of simple meaninglessness, and the demand for improvised performance as a compensation for the failure of language to do what it appears to promise. Swift offers a study of Shakespeare at work: of his imagination at play upon a set of literary materials from which he both borrowed and learned, of his manipulation of the explosive chemistry of word and action that comprised early modern liturgy. Swift argues that the Book of Common Prayer mediates between the secular and the devotional, producing a tension that helps make Shakespeare's plays so powerful and exceptional. Tracing the prayer book's lines and motions through As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Othello, and particularly Macbeth, Swift redirects scholarly attention to the religious heart of Shakespeare's work and time.

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  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 150 x 216 x 25mm | 439.98g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New YorkUnited States
  • English
  • 1 map, facsim.
  • 0199838569
  • 9780199838561
  • 190,728

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In Shakespeare's Common Prayers, Daniel Swift demonstrates the influence of the Book of Common Prayer on the Elizabethan stage, and renders a potentially arcane subject unexpectedly compelling. Wynn Wheldon, The Spectator Swift proves himself a perceptive, lyrical and engaging reader. Alison Shell, Times Literary Supplement Compellingly original, beautifully written, judiciously argued, completely in command of both literary and historical sources, this is one of the best books on Shakespeare in recent years. Jonathan Bate, The Spectator [A] lively book... The seriousness with which Swift explores the significance of the debates surrounding the rites of birth, marriage and death in Elizabethan England is a welcome corrective to the work of so many modern scholars who find it difficult to inhabit the God-fearers mind. Rt Revd Richard Chartres, The Church Times Groundbreaking, historically informed, elegantly written, and invaluable for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Shakespeare and religion in Elizabethan England. James Shapiro, author of 1599 and Contested Will This is an engaging and accessible book which studies the importance of the Book of Common Prayer as a source for Shakespeare. ... Swift's prose is deft, poised and disarmingly ready to question its own methodology. ... does an excellent service in reinvigorating the Prayer Book as a critical subject for Shakespeare studies. Beatrice Groves, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

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About Daniel Swift

Daniel Swift is Senior Lecturer for English at the New College of the Humanities. His first book, Bomber County: The Poetry of a Lost Pilot's War was long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize.

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