Shakespeare and the Grace of Words : Language, Theology, Metaphysics book cover
1st Edition

Shakespeare and the Grace of Words
Language, Theology, Metaphysics

ISBN 9781032121406
Published May 30, 2022 by Routledge
228 Pages

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Book Description

Crossing the boundaries between literature, philosophy and theology, Shakespeare and the Grace of Words pioneers a reading strategy that approaches language as grounded in praise; that is, as affirmation and articulation of the goodness of Being. Offering a metaphysically astute theology of language grounded in the thought of Renaissance theologian Nicholas of Cusa, as well as readings of Shakespeare that instantiate and complement its approach, this book shows that language in which the divine gift of Being is received, apprehended and expressed, even amidst darkness and despair, is language that can renew our relationship with one another and with the things and beings of the world. Shakespeare and the Grace of Words aims to engage the reader in detailed, performative close readings while exploring the metaphysical and theological contours of Shakespeare’s art—as a venture into a poetic illumination of the deep grammar of the real.

Table of Contents


1 - Shakespeare, Language and Religion: Problems and Possibilities

Introduction: Shakespeare, Language and Religion

Skepticism and Cultural Poetics: Language as Power

The ‘Turn to Religion’ and its Ambiguities

Transition: Gadamer’s Hermeneutical Philosophy of Language and Rowan Williams’ Metaphysics

Some Theological Readings of Shakespeare

Grace, Gift and Ethics in The Winter’s Tale: John Milbank

Nature and Forgiveness in King Lear: John Hughes

Language, Acknowledgment and Forgiveness in the Late Plays: Sarah Beckwith

Shakespeare, Cusa and Doxology: Johannes Hoff and Peter Hampson

‘Theology and Literature’: Issues and Insights

Literature as Theology?.

Theology as Literature?

2 – ‘A Wide and Universal Theatre’: Shakespeare, Cusa and Doxology


Cusa, Theology and Language: Context and Background

The Limits of Language and the Crafting of Names

Praise, Possest and Poetics

Calling and Responding: The Voices of the Soliloquy

The Liturgical and the ‘Middle-Voice’

Response as Responsibility: The Hospitality of Words




3 – The Unsaying of the World: King Lear


Spatialisation versus Symbolic Speech

‘Nothing in the Middle’: Weightless Words, Ponderous Silences

‘Nature’, or Creativity versus Curses

Swearing and Jesting in Vain

The Voice of the Skeleton Man

Nakedness in Garments, or Fiction versus Justice

Words Without a Cause

4 – Words of Childlike Grace: The Winter’s Tale


Turning the World to Stone

The Rescue of Words: Fools, Counsellors and Oracles

Interlude: From Time to Tale

The Art of Storytelling: Cutpurses, Courtiers and Clowns

The Queen of the Flowers, or the Voice of Nature

The Grace of Words and the Ground of Language

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Valentin Gerlier is a Scholar, musician and lecturer in Theology, Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Chester, Research Associate at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge, and tutor at the Temenos Academy. He has acted in and directed numerous Shakespeare plays, and teaches Shakespeare at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge.


'This is an exceptionally sensitive and creative reading of Shakespeare's drama as an articulation of how grace and gratitude work in our language. Full of fresh insight and wide-ranging learning, written with clarity and energy, it will send us back to the plays with new eyes.'

Rowan Williams, Poet, Theologian and 104th Archbishop of Canterbury

‘This book illuminates Shakespeare’s work, and likewise illuminates the writing of the great if sometimes under-valued theologian, Nicholas Cusanus (1401-1464). The especial virtue of the volume is to demonstrate how theological conceptions of language derived from Cusanus may shed light on some of the essential characteristics of Shakespearian language. Following Gerlier, one is led to see that our God given capacity for language is fundamentally meant to identify the value of others in the divine order, and to enter into relationship, above all, through expressions of praise. Shakespeare is at one and the same time devoted to this understanding and aware of how easily it may be corrupted – and with what tragic consequences.

There is no strained suggestion here that Shakespeare had been directly influenced by Cusanus. But there is skill, even virtuosity, in the way that Gerlier elicits the concept of praise from Cusanus’s writing and then, through a very detailed analysis of two plays – King Lear and The Winter’s Tale – convincingly turns an interpretive key in the language and action of Shakespeare’s drama... All of this is accomplished in exceptionally lucid and elegant prose’.

Robin Kirkpatrick, Professor of Italian and English Literature, Robinson College, University of Cambridge

‘Valentin Gerlier has restored to vigour a Christian Humanist reading of Shakespeare in a more precisely theological key. He convincingly argues, through dazzlingly close readings, that King Lear and the late plays concern a Renaissance crisis of language: it is a human poetic construct; and yet if it is regarded as only an instrument of power and deceit, then its sacramental core as sign and gift of mediated transcendence is denied. Human trust and association become in consequence impossible, and nature herself is corrupted. Such tragic delusion means that we can only wait in hope for the divine miraculously to break through our discourse and actions if life is to be restored. Nothing could show better the new relevance of Shakespeare for our current human crisis’.

Catherine Pickstock, Norris-Hulse Professor in Divinity, University of Cambridge