Department of English
Master of Arts in English Literature
This thesis examines structure in Shakespeare to show how his plays Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It intertextually relate to the Bible in such a way that allows them to elicit order. Shakespeare's plays contain dramatic structure, imagery, themes, and character relationships influenced by the New Testament. In order to understand how Christian elements find their way into texts, the first chapter demonstrates the function of intertextuality, how plots and words evoke others, and how Shakespeare frequently borrows from many sources. Biblical sources, as well as many others, are ubiquitous in Shakespeare. The first chapter then examines Northrop Frye's and Tzvetan Todorov's Structuralist models to show continuities between plot structures. This allows for an examination of the relationship between similarly constructed texts. One of the similarities is how the dramatic structure of Shakespeare's plays resembles the structure of Jesus' teaching in the gospels, moving from traditional ideas of righteousness to righteousness achievable only through faith. The second chapter examines similar themes and images prevalent within the two plays and the gospels. For instance, love, and specifically the bond of love in marriage, is a central theme in both Shakespeare and the New Testament. While human love is often imperfect and based heavily on eros, it points to the perfect agape love around which the kingdom Jesus spoke is organized. Among the most important of the images found in both the studied texts and the Bible are light (with all its uses) and the destruction of the beautiful. Through use of oppositional images and ideas such as fate and free will, order in reality is seen as interplay between positive and negative forces. This is not to say that yin-yang is the modicum for making sense out of existence, for the opposition does not have to balance perfectly between the two sides, nor do the disparate elements have to contain traces of the other; rather, sense of self or plot is created by the presence of opposing forces. The third chapter analyzes the similarity between character relationships in the plays and the gospels. In both are found sets of oppositional characters. The presentation of characters with negative traits more clearly underscores the good traits within other characters. In As You Like It, relationships are allegorical for the love between God and man. Rosalind and Celia address each other as intimates when they are close friends in the court, but in the forest, as Rosalind's love for Orlando develops, she directs her intimate language away from Celia. In Romeo and Juliet the lovers' relationship represents Christ and the Church. The characters function to further themes and images as they are often emblematic, or representative of, particular emotions or ideas. Shakespeare developed his plays using many Christian elements, many of which are so integral to the plot and movement of the play that they are rarely left out of a critical analysis. However, other subtle Christian elements included in the plays are easy to overlook, as they necessitate a working knowledge of scripture and theology. This thesis delves into many such elements within As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet.
English Language and Literature
Hurtgen, Joseph, "Shakespeare's Use of the New Testament: Biblical Intertexuality in As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet" (2006). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 281.