William Shakespeare

(Lived: 1564-1616)

William Shakespeare is widely regarded to be the greatest writer in the history of the English language.  His prolific output of plays and poetry is read and performed all over the world and along with the King James Bible helped shaped the version of English we speak today. 

Shakespeare was clearly well versed in biblical literature, regularly making reference to it in his work.  Shakespeare's work helps to weave the Bible in to our language, society and culture. 

Important verses

Scholars have long noted that Shakespeare often quotes or refers to the Bible in his plays. In fact, he does so over 1,000 times. The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.11-32) is the biblical story that the bard refers to most often.

This is perhaps unsurprising, since that rags-to-riches story is full of dramatic potential. Starring a lovable rogue, it features loose living, family squabbles and a tearful reunion scene. The story underpins many of Shakespeare's plays, including Henry IV, King Lear, As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice.

For example, in Henry IV, the young Prince Hal leaves court to get drunk in taverns and live the high life. He later returns to his father, King Henry, and asks forgiveness for his misspent youth.

In King Lear, on the other hand, the story is told as a role-reversal. King Lear disinherits and banishes one of his daughters, Cordelia. Later in the play, however, he becomes ‘the prodigal father' and is reconciled with her.

Shakespeare turns to Luke again for the title of his play  "Measure for Measure" referring to Chapter 6: 36-38.

The City of London Bush Theatre Historic Royal Palaces Society of Biblical Literature Westminster Abbey