Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book Review: The Bard and the Bible

I recently took a walk down memory lane when I set about to purge our basement of some lingering papers from my college days. The papers were primarily notes: both my own written notes in notebooks and the mimeographed notebooks I purchased for particular classes (yes, I know my age is showing). I also tossed old blue book exams. What I couldn't part with were the papers I wrote for those classes (can a writer easily discard a work on which they have invested any amount of time or effort?). Seeing those old notebooks really took me back. I found myself wishing for a chance to study in such a way again without going back to school.

Then that opportunity presented itself in the form of this excellent devotional, The Bard and the Bible, written by Bob Hostetler. When I studied and traveled with the Wheaton-in-England group, I took a comprehensive course on Shakespeare. But those days are like a faint whisper. This book allowed me to soak in more about the famous bard and contemplate similar sentiments from Scripture alongside the lines from Shakespeare's plays and poetry. Because I was offered a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, I tackled the devotional in a few separate doses instead of the daily readings it is set up to provide. I would happily go back and use this as a devotional some year in the future and can easily see myself purchasing this book as a gift for some literary friend.

In The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional, Hostetler provides small snippets of Shakespeare paired with verses from the Bible to create a daily dose of both the best playwright of all time and the most popular book of all time. The quotations are primarily arranged in the order the plays were written and the lines in the order of their appearance within the plays. Although each daily devotional is brief, the words present enough truth and trivia to lead to deeper contemplation.

Moreover, one usually doesn't anticipate humor in a devotional format. Hostetler manages to bring many a smile with his little quips interspersed throughout the text. At one point, I had to chuckle when the trivia blurb (at the bottom of each page) mentioned that The Two Gentlemen of Verona has a dog as a member of the cast and then observed that "it is not a speaking part." I laughed again when the longest word used in Shakespeare's works was identified as "honorificabilitudinitatibus." Now there's a mouthful worthy of a snicker or two.

I loved the closing question for each day. They often read like a writing prompt and opened up a whole realm to consider and weigh individually. For example, the question on October 30th was "What metaphors would describe your life?" I could easily see myself using this book to prompt a daily writing session in the morning to kick off whatever writing needs to be tackled for the day. The questions were perfect for writers, but would also appeal to any individual wishing to take the devotional thought and apply the concepts to life.

This year-long devotional is sure to appeal to writers, and eager literature students, to those in the mood for a chuckle, as well as those seeking serious contemplation, to readers with no knowledge of Shakespeare and to readers who have taken Shakespeare 101. The focus is unique. The passages are noteworthy. The concluding questions are thought-provoking. There is much to be gleaned in this volume. In the words of the playwright himself: "how far that little candle throws its beams!"

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