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Godless Shakespeare

Eric S. Mallin

DOI: 10.5040/9781472554949

ISBN: 9781472554949

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Godless Shakespeare is the first book to discuss Shakespeare's plays from an atheist perspective.   Although it is clear that Shakespeare engaged with and deployed much of his culture's broadly religious interests - his language is shot through with biblical quotations, priestly sermonizing and Christian imagery - Mallin argues that there is a profound absence of or hostility to God in his plays.

Following Dante's three part structure for The Divine Comedy - Hell represents expressions of religious faith in Shakespeare's plays, Purgatory sets out more sceptical positions, and Heaven shows articulations of godlessness - Mallin traces a spiritual ascent from the unthinkingly devout to the atheistically spiritual. This polemical, vigorous account focuses on the moral and spiritual dilemmas of major characters, developing the often subtle transitions between belief, scepticism and atheism. Finally, Godless Shakespeare argues for the liberating potential of unbelief.

"Always intriguing, usually provocative and occasionally infuriating, Godless Shakespeare is a brilliant meditation on Shakespeare's ways with his characters and the systems of moral values in which we place them. Mallin's Shakespeare is never constricted by conventional parameters of religion and belief but instead is a thoroughly original creator, demanding our engaged moral response to his creations. In Mallin's excitingly heterodox cosmology, Cleopatra and Aaron, Pericles and Isabella find themselves with unexpected companions in the new heaven, hell and purgatory in which Mallin arranges them. Thinking about Shakespeare and religion has never seemed such fun." - Professor Peter Holland, Notre Dame University, USA

"If Nietzsche were put in charge of Dente's afterlife, and then asked to find appropriate places for Shakespeare's characters, the result would be something like this. Eric Mallin's perverse and excoriating anti-metaphysic shows just how many settled assumptions about Shakespeare are overturned when religion in his plays is taken seriously. Audacious and innovative, Mallin conflates renaissance scepticism and modern atheism, scattering light and darkness equally as he sears Christianity with a torch lit from the Christian flame." - Professor Graham Holderness, University of Hertfordshire, UK

"At last! An iconoclastic Shakespeare with a mind and spirit unconstrained by orthodox religion. Eric Mallin guides us through the undiscovered country where the bard's spirituality survives in and as unbelief. Godless Shakespeare is beautifully written, well-conceived, and irresistibly funny. I felt as though I were encountering the plays for the first time." - Professor David Riggs, author of The World of Christopher Marlowe

"Defying recent Catholic and Protestant claims to Shakespeare's endorsement, and challenging Stephen Greenblatt's claim that Renaissance atheism was merely a defensive shadow cast by Christianity, Mallin's wide-ranging book suggests that Shakespeare recognized Christianity as a defense against the burdens of unbelief, which has important values of its own. With its taxonomy of characters into a non-religious ethical hierarchy, Godless Shakespeare jauntily defies the conventional wisdom about a writer who himself typically defied such wisdom." - Professor Robert Watson, UCLA, USA

-Mention. Daily Telegraph/ April 8, 2007

"This is a persuasive and well-argued work, based on evidence and examples from key texts in the Shakespearean oeuvre.  It succeeds very well in fulfilling the aim of the general editors of the series in reaching out to the general reader, without compromising its scholarly rigor." -Abdulla Al-Dabbagh, The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 39, Winter 2008

"The book is both fun and funny; it is often exciting and irreverent. Like Bruster's and Davis's books in the same series, it is able to stimulate thinking with a fairly light...touch. Hearing South Park's Eric Cartman weigh in on the Eucharist in a mostly relevant way was extremely pleasurable." - Peter G. Platt, Studies in English Literature, Spring 2008

"Mallin offers readings of selected plays, organized, clumsily, by the tripartite structure of Dante's Comedy, and occasionally intersperses his interpretations with cynical reflections on contemporary Christianity...Mallin accomplishes less than his titles promises. Godless Shakespeare reveals not a Godless Shakespeare, but a Godless Mallin...Mallin's analysis is also anachronistic. He projects the late modern struggle of fundamentalisms back into the 16th century. " - Peter J. Leithart, Christianity Today, September/October 2008

"This entire 'mini-graph,' in fact, is a cheerful map of misreading by a writer resolutely determined to force Shakespeare to share his own atheist views...There is a perfectly sound book to be written about Shakespeare's changing religious views, from his early Creationism and endorsement of the Great Chain of Being to his reluctantly evolving, horrified sense (stimulated by such conscienceless villains as Iago and Edmund) that there may be nothing transcendent in the universe beyond Nature. But Godless Shakespeare is not that book. In a vain effort to enlist Shakespeare into the legions of contemporary atheists, not to mention his compulsion to say something, anything original about the plays, the author often falls into stylistic contortions and strained anachronisms." - Robert Brustein, American Theatre, September 2008

Mention -Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance, Tome LXX-2008

"The ambitious project of the Shakespeare NOW series is to bridge the gap between 'scholarly thinking and a public audience' and 'public audience and scholarly thinking'. Scholars are encouraged to write in a way accessible to a general readership and readers to rise to the challenge and not be afraid of new ideas and the adventure they offer. There are other bridges the series is ambitious to cross: 'formal, political or theoretical boundaries' - history and philosophy, theory, and performance." English Vol. 58, 2009

"[Shakespeare Now! is] an innovative new series... Series editors Simon Palfry and Ewan Fernie have rejected the notion of business as usual in order to pursue a distinctive strategy that aims to put "cutting-edge scholarship" in front of a broad audience. Shakespeare Now! with its insistent appeal to the contemporary- this is fresh Shakespeare for readers turned off by the prospect of dry-as-dust scholarship-aims to reach a general audience... Eric S. Mallin's Godless Shakespeare is perhaps the most self-consciously iconoclastic of the group.... [his] work is thoroughly and throughout personal... Mallin's is a courageous and fascinating performance, and there is no question that it grows out of some serious thinking... Godless Shakespeare is a deeply personal essay"

"Where is Shakespeare now? This question is the brief for a new series of short books from Continuum, an enterprising publisher trying to break down the border between academic literary criticism and books for the thoughtful general reader...Eric Mallan's Godless Shakespeare helpfully reminds us that the plays are fundamentally engaged with the art of being human and living in society, not with the different dispensations of the Catholic and Protestant churches." - Jonathan Bate, The Sunday Telegraph Sunday Telegraph