1st Edition

Shakespeare and the Grace of Words Language, Theology, Metaphysics

By Valentin Gerlier Copyright 2022
    228 Pages
    by Routledge

    228 Pages
    by Routledge

    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.


    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


    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