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Shakespeare's Henry V & the Geneva Bible

Shakespeare’s Henry V & the Geneva Bible

Knoepfle, John

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 6 (1989)

Abstract

Shakespeare in Henry V sculpts the character of the king, the French nobles, and the London rascals in terms of strictures from the prophet Isaiah. It has long been established that Shakespeare’s favorite biblical sources were the Bishops’ Bible and the Geneva Bible. The Geneva, as distinguished from the Bishops’, is heavily glossed, and as will be seen below, these glosses are as important as the verses from Isaiah in terms of the light they cast on the text of Shakespeare’s Renaissance play about a medieval king. The Geneva Bible, with 122 editions between 1560 and 1611, was by far the most popular Bible in Elizabethan England. Its nearest competitor was the Bishops’ Bible, with twenty-two editions. The Geneva was issued in a handy quarto; it was also the first Bible to be fully numbered by chapter and verse, and the first to be printed in roman and italic type. Although in its many editions the Geneva varied considerably in terms of its glosses and other editorial accoutrements, for the purposes of this paper the text and glosses in the Genevan-Tomson 1595 edition–identified as the edition used by Shakespeare are the same as in the original edition of 1560.

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