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BOOK REVIEWS 285 Deep Wisdom from Shakespeare's Dramas: Theological Reflections on Seven Shakespeare Plays. By Arjan Plaisier. Trans. Steve E. Van der Weele. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2012. ISBN: 1620320606.Pp. 157 + xxiii. $17.00. [First published as Is Shakespeare oak onder de Profeten: Iheologische meditaties bij zeven stukken van Shakespeare. By Arjan Plaisier (Zoetermeer, NL: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 2008. ISBN: 9023923308. Pp. 224.€ 19,50.J Arjan Plaisier grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church. He studied theology at the University of Utrecht, did mission work in Indonesia after graduation, and returned to the Netherlands for parish work. In 2008, he was appointed Secretary General of the PKN (Protestant Church of the Netherlands) and serves on the board of the Utrecht Seminars Foundation. His particular agenda involves working more closely with Roman Catholicism than has been the usual ecumenical practice of the PKN. These details have bearing on his book under review in that his approach to Christian theology often works through oblique angles of Protestantism and Catholicism which cross paths with humanistic studies and secular literature. Early on in his intellectual life, he drafted a critical comparison of the human vision of Pascal and Nietzsche; in some ways his Shakespeare book, with its exploration of religious insight along the margins of secular literature, shares similar critical concerns with ethical issues common with writers and theologians: It is ... from a theological point of view of great importance that literature originating from a Christian culture still be taken seriously. To be sure, such products are unique artistic expressions and must in the first place be read and judged as such. They are unique creations, but they live and move in a universe of worth, one that bears the definite stamp of Christianity . [TheologyJ needs the inspiration of literature to fend off superficiality . Literary writers ... have a greater sensitivity and, therefore, have a greater insight into deeper levels of reality than theologians.... In the words of [H. U] Balthasar [Iheodramatic I]: "In the great Catholic literary figures we find more originality and vibrance of thought-an intellectual life thriving superbly in a free and open landscape-than we do in the somewhat panting, long-winded theology of our time, which is satisfied with quite slender fare," (145) In his Introduction, Plaisier emphasizes Shakespeare's unique placement between Protestant England and the remnants of Roman Catholicism out of which his secular drama originates. A setting in Italyor France, ancient England or Denmark, enables Shakespeare to populate his plays with friars and priests, epiphanies and apocalypses, confessions and curses, enriched by biblical allusions and analogues that appealed to Elizabeth and James,the Inns of Court, and a full range of English society.He is careful to avoid direct conflict with ecclesiasticaland political officials, 286 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE though he is a genius at walking the margins of political and religious conflict. The heart of Plaisier's book is its individual chapters on The Merchantof Venice, KingRichardII, Measurefor Measure, Hamlet, Macbeth, KingLear, and TheTempest, plays that explore timely issues of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while displaying a deep religiouswisdom that flowsperpetually through the psychological and social demands of the plays with a timeless relevance. The book is addressed to a general audience, rather than a handful of literary scholars, but it articulates a voice that is especiallymodulated toward pastors, demonstrating how valuable the imaginative works of Shakespeare can be as stimulus to their own imaginations and ingenuity in talking about comparable ethical concerns. It is very much a book about the vernacular translation of complex ideas into everyday language. Plaisier himselfworks from a Dutch translation of Shakespeare, that is, he is not concerned with matters of language and style that often are the focus of critical analytical discourse, though he does frequently explore rhetoric as a mode of discourse. Let me begin with the book's Appendix, "Some Methodological Reflections Concerning the Theme 'Theology and Literature;" which justifies his book's original Dutch title, Is Shakespeare oak onder de Profiten?, a title that echoes Samuel's mockery of Saul (I Sam. 10:11), "Is Shakespeare among the Prophets?", the answer to which is a strong affirmative. Lamenting the scarcity of an "actual...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 285-287
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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