Forty-Six (Shakespearean Sonnet)

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Incendiary darts from clouds so bleak:
Exposed, we now a mighty castle spy
And refuge ‘hind its rocky ramparts seek.
The Warrior there for fear will never fly.

Well-watered are the castle grounds, and fair;
The melody of gladness echoes strong.
The confidence of vict’ry fills the air:
Dawn’s pyrotechnics complement the song.

The Warrior wields His sword to vanquish war,
Especially the strife against Himself.
All weapons dulled, the shafts will fly no more
There will be peace, and all things shall be well.

No iron portcullis bars the entrance there:
The Castle-Warrior’s presence gladly shared.

11-10-2017

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Think You a Little Din Can Daunt Mine Ears?

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Why came I hither but to that intent?
Think you a little din can daunt mine ears?
Have I not in my time heard lions roar?
Have I not heard the sea, puffed up with winds,
Rage like an angry boar chafèd with sweat?
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field
And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies?
Have I not in a pitchèd battle heard
Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets clang?
And do you tell me of a woman’s tongue,
That gives not half so great a blow to hear
As will a chestnut in a farmer’s fire?
Tush, tush, fear boys with bugs!

— Petruchio, The Taming of the Shrew, I.2.201-213

I’m working through six of Shakespeare’s major plays with the help of Peter Leithart (via his excellent Brightest Invention of Heaven: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare Plays). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading through the histories (Henry V and Julius Caesar) and the tragedies (Macbeth and Hamlet), and now I’ve come to the comedies, The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing.

Leithart makes an interesting interpretive point in the introduction to Shrew when he writes,

It does not go too far to suggest that, making allowances for the comic setting, Petruchio’s training of Katherina is similar to Christ’s training and discipline of His unruly Bride, the Church (211).

With that in mind, I read the above passage and was struck anew by the wonder of grace. Petruchio’s fellows are waxing eloquent about how awful Katherine is and how idiotic a man must be to woo and wed her. Petruchio is astounded; should he be afraid of her? Should he cower in fear at her tongue-lashings and tempers? He’s been on the battlefield with artillery barrages exploding everywhere. He’s sailed the seas in the midst of raging storms. He has personally heard the roar of lions. Is she more fearsome than these?

Leithart’s point rings true with the greater Suitor and Beloved. Jesus has spoken the world into existence. He has looked the Devil and Death in the eyes and crushed them both. He has defanged the prowling lion and turned his roar into a whimper. He has sailed on stormy seas, too, and they shut up precisely when He told them to. Are the sins of His Bride more fearsome than these? Can the little din of her blemishes daunt His ears?

Jesus is not frightened by the spots and warts of His Beloved. He has overcome the world, and now He washes her clean with the water of the Word. We the Bride are the Beloved, whom He woos with kindness and forgiveness. We need not flee from Him in fear of His disappointment or disapproval or disavowal; we should run to Him who is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

When we are tempted by the Liar’s whisper that Jesus can’t or won’t forgive us this time, think of our Lover saying:

Why came I hither but to that intent?

As Were A War in Expectation

For peace itself should not so dull a kingdom
Though war nor no known quarrel were in question,
But that defenses, musters, preparations
Should be maintained, assembled, and collected
As were a war in expectation.

— Henry V, 2.4.17-20

Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall (1 Corinthians 10:11-12 HCSB).

The Dauphin’s counsel to the King of France is obvious wisdom: be ready to defend armour-1306294-640x960yourself, whether the Huns (or the English) are at the gates or not. But it’s also spiritual wisdom.

The plagues and punishments inflicted upon the wilderness generation of the Exodus were not isolated historical happenings. They were teachers. The water from the rock, the quail out their noses, the bronze serpents, the closed door to Canaan—these were all professors in the school of faith.

Think about how many times the command “be alert” or “watch out” or “be ready” is found in the New Testament. The thief doesn’t announce his arrival ahead of time, so the homeowner has to be ready. Peace in previous nights “should not so dull” his house that he fails to keep watch tonight. In the same way, Jesus says, I will return suddenly. Be alert.

This readiness for Jesus’ return is also battle-readiness for every day until then. The same commands come from Peter:

Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith, knowing that hte same sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world (1 Peter 5:8-9 HCSB).

If things are going well for you, then rejoice and thank God. But be alert. A fiercer foe than the forces facing France fights to destroy you. Resist him, firm in the faith. What faith? The one that holds to this promise:

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world (John 16:33 HCSB).

Shaky Shakespeare

manuscript-3-1418231-639x960.jpgShakespeare’s play The Life of Henry V was published in 1600. According to Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, this edition was a quarto, a “pocket-sized” book that was rife with errors. So error-laden, in fact, it was believed to be the product of actors recording their lines and stage directions from memory of recent performances.

Two more quarto editions were printed in 1602 and 1619. Q2, as it’s called, was essentially the same as Q1. Q3, however, introduced significant changes that couldn’t be attributed to misprints or typos.

Then the larger Folio edition was printed in 1623. This seems to be a more reliable (but not entirely) version of the play, as you like it.

All this seems like much ado about nothing, but I believe it illustrates something vitally important, particularly this sentence from the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Henry V edited by the aforementioned Mowat and Werstine:

Nevertheless, as today’s scholars reexamine the narratives about the origins of the printed texts, we discover that these narratives [e.g., that Q1 came from actors’ recollections] are based on either questionable evidence or sometimes on none at all, and we become more skeptical about ever identifying how the play assumed the forms in which it came to be printed (Henry V (Folger Shakespeare Library), KL 672, emphasis added).

A play written just over four hundred years ago has a rather shaky provenance. What’s the big deal, you ask? All’s well that ends well, right?

When we hold the Scriptures in our hands, we hold documents that are at least five times older than Henry V. Revelation was likely written sometime around AD 95; Galatians and James were written sometime in the AD 50s (ish). Zechariah 1:7-6:8 is based on a vision given on February 15, 519 BC. Jeremiah and Daniel lived during the Babylonian exile around 586 BC. Isaiah prophesied in the early 700s BC. David and Solomon reigned around 1000-900 BC, and we have their Psalms, Proverbs, and writings. Moses wrote sometime in the mid-1400s BC.

We have more confidence in the accuracy of the Old and New Testaments, which go back nearly 3500 years, than we do a four-hundred-year old play. As well-known and admired and loved as Shakespeare was and is, the provenance of the text we have today is in the hands of editors and scholars making informed decisions.

But when it comes to the Scriptures, there is such a wealth of manuscript evidence (Greek copies, translations of the Greek copies into other languages, quotations in lectionaries and letters and books, etc.) spanning so many centuries that there’s no doubt whatsoever that the text we hold today is an accurate, faithful translation into English of what Moses wrote 3,400 years ago. Of what David wrote 3,000 years ago. Or Jeremiah 2,600 years ago. Or John, 1900 years ago.

What could possibly account for such an ancient text being so well-preserved? Other writings were just as popular. Other plays were written and performed before the time of Christ. In fact, Paul quotes from a few in his epistles. Why aren’t we as rich in them as we are in biblical manuscripts?

Aye, there’s the rub. There has to be something, Someone, protecting and preserving the Old and New Testaments from the tempest of time, unlike Homer or Aeschylus or Aratus.

The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever (Isaiah 40:8).