When I heard that An Unexpected Journal was planning a special issue on “Shakespeare and Cultural Apologetics,” I was excited. So I asked the editors if they had ever thought of having a Shakespeare scholar as a guest editor, and they asked if I knew one. Very funny, guys. Seriously, I asked Zak and Jason if they would like my help, they said yes, and we soon invited Dr. Sarah Waters on board because not only does she know and love her Shakespeare, but also she knows more than anyone else in the world (to my knowledge) about C.S. Lewis’s extensive interaction with Shakespeare’s work.

The first thing we needed was a call for submissions. How could we nuance a call that would elicit smart, careful Shakespeare scholarship, with a focus on cultural apologetics (if we could agree on what that meant). Some of the pieces, we hoped, would be good examples of what I call primary cultural apologetics. Some would be about cultural apologetics. Some would just be interesting examples of how scholars, actors, directors, poets, and others  are interacting or might interact with Shakespeare and religion. So we sent out a call which included our working definition of cultural apologetics and a long list of possible topics: Here is the slightly condensed version.


William Shakespeare is not generally thought of as a religious apologist, but his imaginative engagement with the human condition provides ample opportunities for cultural apologists to explore his work. As Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

  1. Cultural apologetics may be seen as an endeavour to demonstrate through the interpretation or creation of cultural experiences and artifacts the suitability or even desirability of religious faith, or more precisely, of the Christian imaginative vision. The issue will not only explore Shakespeare from that lens but also reflect critically on cultural apologetics, using Shakespeare as a test case.
  2. We invite responses to the topic through scholarly essays; poetry and creative prose; reflections from actors, directors, teachers, and fans; reviews and interviews, and shorter essays.
  3. Here is a brief list of key words/themes which we hope might match your interests and encourage you to participate:

eucatastrophe, prayer, forgiveness, magic, liminality, ghosts, heaven, hell, purgatory, wise folly, death, affect and emotion, judgement, faith, resurrection, music, race and religion, bad religion, good religion, Bardolatry, sanitized Shakespeare, exit pursued by a bear . . . . [1]

  1. Contact either or both of us to dialogue about an idea. On the other hand, we are also happy to receive fully formed pieces popped fresh from the head of Zeus.


The last six months or so have been busy as we sought and received submissions, read and commented on them, dialogued with potential authors, reminded them (and ourselves) what “cultural apologetics” might look like, and eventually made decisions about accepting, revising, and editing. We were, in short, doing our best to nurse this mewling and puking infant into something we could all feel good about.[2] Although we did not get a contribution that used the word “eucatastrophe” in its title, the Eucatastrophic Vision (as Sarah calls it), as formulated by Tolkien, haunted the entire volume.[3] This was especially true in works that attended to what you might call the redemptive turn in Shakespeare – in plays like The Winter’s Tale, As You Like It, Much Ado about Nothing, (and surprisingly) King Lear; in the theoretical “final act” of an incomplete Shakespeare play (as theorized by N.T. Wright via Jeremy Bloomfield’s essay); and in the grace-charged possibilities of a ghost-filled production of Richard II (as registered by Laura Higgins). We were also pleased that, given the prejudice in favor of tragedy in Shakespeare criticism and teaching, plays like Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure, Merchant of Venice, and Twelfth Night were an important part of the discussion.

We wondered and worried at first whether we would spark any interest. How elated we were then, when, very early in the process, we received complete papers from two distinguished Shakespeare scholars, John D. Cox and Grace Tiffany. Soon to follow, came lots of exciting communication with other potential contributors – some with just an idea which we encouraged them to pursue; others a work in progress we asked them to develop. We especially want to thank two theatre artists – Tony Lawton, a wonderful actor from Philadelphia, and Tracy Manning, an award-winning director and university professor. Their openness and insights are invaluable to a comprehensive approach to our topic. We are also pleased by the variety and quality of the creative contributions, including reflections on (and by) Shakespearean characters, imitations of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and two letters from the Bard himself! Thanks to all the contributors who waded into this adventure with us. You will all be richly rewarded with An Unexpected Journal t-shirts and virtual high fives.


The rest of this essay is in two parts. First, I will try to make some careful distinctions about cultural apologetics – its different kinds or even genres, about who can and should be called a cultural apologist, and about what sorts of things cultural apologists do, especially in relation to cultural artifacts like the body of work we call “Shakespeare.” Then I want to write about some of the issues at play, even some of the obstacles in the way, of viewing Shakespeare through the lens of cultural apologetics. That gets tricky.


As we suggested in the call, a great deal of cultural apologetics (the most easily identified because it identifies itself) is scholarship about cultural apologetics. In fact, one need not even have a religious commitment to do such work. Many of the essays in this volume (and others) describe and explicate in ways that help us understand the religious content and religious potential of cultural phenomena using scholarly methodologies available to anyone. It’s a matter of asking the right questions, doing the necessary research, and correctly interpreting the data. Of course, it helps if you can write. This genre of cultural apologetics usually describes, explains, or assesses (or some combination of these). In this volume, for example, Jeremy Bloomfield describes, explains, and to some degree assesses how N.T. Wright and Malcolm Guite have used Shakespeare for cultural apologetic purposes. Many books of “cultural apologetics” mostly try to explain cultural apologetics or suggest how to do cultural apologetics. I call this secondary cultural apologetics.

How is primary cultural apologetics different? Much “pure” primary cultural apologetics does not identify itself as cultural apologetics at all and some important cultural apologists might be horrified to find their work in the “cultural apologetics” section of a Christian bookstore (if there were such a thing). Instead, such works might be paintings, poems, essays, plays, reviews, operas, or hip-hop albums which provide a vision or a suggestion of “the suitability or even desirability of religious faith” without announcing it. Such a work might not mention religion at all but would be committed to and motivated by a religious vision and understanding. The sermon on pessimism in this volume is my attempt at something like primary cultural apologetics, although it is really more of a mongrel mash-up of secondary and primary. On behalf of other such mongrels, I commend the essays in this volume most of which combine a scholarly approach with an undercurrent of primary cultural apologetics, suggesting how Shakespeare’s work (or an adaptation) may point towards a religious vision of reality worth the reader’s consideration. They describe and analyze beautifully, but they also point.[4]

In case someone might ask why I keep talking about religion rather than Christianity more specifically, I want to pose another difficult question. Does cultural apologetics need to be Christian? Not necessarily. This volume is talking about Shakespeare and, therefore, reflects the life, thought, and beliefs of early modern (Christian) England. Furthermore, this journal is published by graduates of a Christian university, and our vision is one of doing and reflecting on Christian cultural apologetics. However, even C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man was not doing specifically Christian apologetics.[5] At a more fundamental level, his defense (both rational and imaginative) was of a moral universe and a moral vision which, he claimed, had been shared by most human beings and most religions throughout history. He does something similar in the introduction to The Problem of Pain (with his discussion of the origins of all religion in the numinous), although he moves quickly into the unique significance of Judaism and the significance of Christ.[6] Given that Lewis embraced Christianity as the fulfilment of the great myths, much of his literary (cultural) apologetic in The Narnia Chronicles and elsewhere, suggests mythic realities like other possible worlds, the long-lasting effect of moral choices across time (even eons), and the existence of other rational moral creatures besides human beings which need not end in embracing the Christian story. Many readers, of course, follow the path from Aslan to Christ to “mere Christianity,” relating all these possibilities to one great myth. But we suppose that some stop short of that final step. Under Lewis’s spell, they, perhaps, embrace the vision of an enchanted universe without understanding or accepting the uniqueness of Jesus Christ (as imagined in the Aslan narrative). Similarly, Gary Tandy’s essay on Lear and homelessness may be read as a good moral lesson relevant to everyone. People of many religions (or none at all) might respond to it as a reminder of the obligation of human charity. We hope so. But Tandy also uncovers the Christian parable underpinning Lear’s “conversion,” which places care for “the least of these, my brethren” on an equal plane with devotion to Christ.[7] It gets more complicated when, for example, Shakespeare himself undercuts the ornate “mercy” speech of Portia and the gracious poetry of her fellow Christians in The Merchant of Venice by allowing Shylock to spit out in simple prose the story of his humiliation at their hands simply because he is a Jew.[8] Is this Christian cultural apologetics? Or Jewish? Or both? I was hoping to ask a good friend, a great scholar and director, to write a Jewish Cultural Apologetic perspective on Shylock and other related characters. I finally didn’t, but only because I knew how busy he was.


A. Why Shakespeare?

The question of why Shakespeare’s work has been so central to discussions of just about everything human never seems to go away. Almost every semester I offended some student by my response to his “I’m just not into Shakespeare.” Something like, “Sticks and stones mayhap to break my bones, but Master Shakspere careth not a whit for your unmannerly drivel, thou flea, thou nit, thou winter-cricket!” More kind to her students and readers, Sarah Waters shows how C.S. Lewis theorized, in several places, why he relied on Shakespeare as a common literary ground for discussion with his contemporaries. In short, it is because he believed he could no longer count on their common knowledge of the Tao (as he calls natural law in The Abolition of Man) or the Jewish-Christian scriptures.[9] Shakespeare, for example, often draws on stories like the Prodigal Son, Cain and Abel, and the parable of the talents to characterize or to develop certain scenes, themes, and actions.[10] Lewis almost certainly could have referred to biblical characters and stories to develop his ideas about affection. Instead, he draws upon King Lear because he believes his audiences will more easily connect with it. Our volume abounds with examples, characters, scenes, speeches from Shakespeare which could, for example, serve as powerful illustrations of Christian truths: Much Ado about Nothing’s Dogberry as a Wise Fool,[11] Lear as a model of a priveleged, powerful man who must be humbled to see the truth of what he owes to the “least of these,”[12] and both old Adam and young Orlando in As You Like It who feelingly perform hope, compassion, and community, refuting Jaques’ pessimism.[13]

Shakespeare’s examples, though, are never simple, because his art is complicated by its form, the pressures of his culture, and the dialogical profusion of opinions and attitudes throughout one play. Our authors, we think, have been careful not to take these images out of context or omit the counterevidence. In other words, Jaques has a point, Dogberry really is a fool of sorts, and Lear’s transformation does not undo the horrors his selfishness has set in motion. Details matter. Throughout the volume, our authors work outward from a position that Shakespeare can help us think about important religious issues. But they are sensitive to the fact that his works are complicated, and that communicating truthfully requires careful interpretation.

B. Bardolatry and Its Kin

Which brings us to one of the ongoing problems we face in using Shakespeare for discussing religious ideas, including cultural apologetics: a tendency, still prevalent but more popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, often now called “Bardolatry.”[14] Bardolatry (“the worship of the Bard”) was a pejorative term coined by George Bernard Shaw, criticizing the almost blind faith in Shakespeare which sometimes led to claims for his divine inspiration and to reading his works as a sort of inspired third testament.[15] Victorian author George MacDonald celebrated Shakespeare in near Bardolatrous fashion, picturing Shakespeare as God’s gift to England, learning the Bible at his mother’s knee, and teaching spiritual truths to help reformation England overcome the darkness of its Catholic past.[16]

It wasn’t just Shaw, though, who complained about Shakespeare worship. F.J. Furnivall, the formidable president of the New Shakspere (sic) Society, mocked MacDonald’s reverent attitude towards “pious” Shakespeare. Ironically though, Furnivall engaged in his own kind of Bardolatry, offering a starkly contrasting (but no less hero-worshipping) version of a liberal, irreligious, rakish Shakespeare. In other words, a Shakespeare in his own image.[17] Pious Christian Bardolatry may have faded but other kinds have replaced it. In the early 1960s, Polish political activist and theatre critic Jan Kott, penned Shakespeare, Our Contemporary, making Shakespeare an ally of lost, angry, existentialist moderns and situating him in the company of avant-garde artists like Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Becket.[18] More recently, Harold Bloom spent much of his prolific career championing Shakespeare, claiming that Shakespeare invented the modern idea of the self. As far as Bloom was concerned, “Bardolatry, the worship of Shakespeare, ought to be even more of a secular religion than it already is.”[19]

The problem, of course, is that Bardolatries of all sorts may obstruct attempts to provide a legitimate representation of the complex, sometimes paradoxical reality that is Shakespeare.[20] You might, for example, sigh and swoon over the beauty of Portia’s speech on mercy or Theseus’ famous lines on poetry and the imagination (“which gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name”), but in both cases, the play itself, by what I call the complication of form, undercuts or at least problematizes those characters and their inspiring lines.

C. Keats and Negative Capability

An equally problematic response to Shakespeare was that of the Romantics, especially as espoused by John Keats. In several of his letters, he convinced his generation, many readers since, and almost all my teachers at all levels of my education, that Shakespeare essentially held no beliefs. Why? Because Keats believed that Shakespeare, like Keats himself (see a trend?) believed, that such beliefs or commitments could not co-exist with the visionary power necessary for great poetry. In a letter to his brothers, Keats wrote:

Several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. . . . [W]ith a great the poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.[21]

In another letter, Keats explains how this “obliteration” might work and how it might  “overcome every other consideration,” including the consideration of good and evil:

As to the Poetical Character itself … it is not itself — it has no self —  It is everything and nothing — It has no character … It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago[22] as an Imogen.[23] What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon poet.[24]

For Keats, then, Shakespeare’s imagination was such that he sympathized with, even in some way “became” every one of his characters. This, Keats claimed, ruled out any moral or religious judgments in favor of a participatory imaginative experience. My question to Keats and his disciples (including my teachers): Must it be either/or? On what basis do you claim that a deep identification with Iago “obliterates” the moral or metaphysical perspective of the artist? I find myself able, within certain limits, to sympathize with and enter into the consciousness of others with whom I disagree, even people I think monstrous. Perhaps if all Shakespeare did was create a series of characters who were totally unrelated by some larger story (plot) and larger meaning (theme), the Keats option might be more compelling. In fact, however, Shakespeare also imagined actions, relations, stories, meanings, and emotions for his characters. Wouldn’t such an author also “conceive” the horror of good people in the play (and in the audience), not to mention the communal disgust at the malicious destruction of a scheming monster? Who says that a dramatic poet can’t be both chameleon enough to create a variety of characters and philosopher enough to have “other considerations”? If Keats means what he seems to mean, he makes artists out to be rather like Victor Frankenstein, and he ignores every other aspect of dramatic writing except character-creation.

D. The Hermeneutics of Suspicion

The late twentieth century saw the rise of what has come to be called “theory.” Two rather amorphous terms, postmodernism and deconstruction, although difficult to pin down, represented schools of thought seen as antagonistic towards traditional interpretations and committed to dethroning so-called canonical works from their positions of cultural authority. Christian philosopher and theorist, Paul Ricoeur referred to “the hermeneutics of suspicion” as part of his interpretation and critique of the major figures of modernity who worked to “destabilize” traditional textual authority.[25] Ricoeur identified Freud, Marx, and Darwin as the “masters of suspicion” because they all, in different ways, tried to “get behind” the text (of Western literature, of scripture, of traditional social structures, you name it) not only to see what it really meant but to uncover what it repressed and who it dispossessed. The clearest example was Marx’s assertion that religion was “the opiate of the people” – offering the majority of humanity (the poor workers) a deferred and false hope (a textual “mystification”) about some future paradise in exchange for a dark and shoddy life here and now. All while the ruling class held on to its inherited property, which Marx read as “theft.”[26]

Even though I identify, roughly, as postcritical,[27] I believe that attention must be paid to the suspicious readings of Western culture (literature, religion, etc.), including Shakespeare. This is, after all, not totally unlike what Bonhoeffer meant by attaining the “perspective from below,” a view that he and his priveleged friends gained after ten years of Hitler’s power:

There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.[28]

Suspicious reading eventually swerved away from Freud, Marx, and Darwin to focus primarily on class, race, colonialism, and gender. Because much of my work in Shakespeare has been on representations of women (especially the idea of the “shrew”), I couldn’t ignore such suspicion. But neither could I ignore the fate of Shylock (and Morocco) in The Merchant of Venice or the treatment of Caliban in The Tempest. Nor did I want to. Some years ago, I wondered aloud in an essay distributed to friends if we could still talk about “grace” in The Merchant of Venice, despite Portia’s beautiful speech on mercy. Since then, I have wondered whether we can or should still talk about magic as a metaphor for the imagination in The Tempest, and Prospero as a sort of stand in for Shakespeare himself, without commenting, at least, on the cultural domination of the colonial magician over the indigenous inhabitants of the island? Can we talk about male/female mutuality in Shakespeare when the “end result” in Act Five so often looks like good-old power relations/control. Personally, I think we can still read, teach, and perform these plays, and still be honest to their content. But if we use them in our cultural apologetics, we must be careful not to ignore racism, colonialism, sexism, and the like (whether it is Shakespeare’s own or part of a larger culture). This takes more than proof-text quotations of pretty words about mercy and magic.

I learned about The Merchant of Venice from Father Grimes in sophomore English at St. Anthony’s Catholic in San Antonio. He was in a wheel chair, he chain-smoked, and he came to class with his bulldog. As we listened to a recording of the play (my first Shakespeare), Father Grimes explained that it was an allegory of Christianity vs. Judaism, Grace vs. Law, Mercy vs. Justice. That stuck with me until I actually read through the entire play for myself and started seeing productions in which Shylock was repeatedly humiliated. That a thread of “allegory” is at work in the play is certain. That we can trust it to provide the ultimate meaning of the play is less obvious. The total reality of the play is complicated by the fact that Shakespeare gives Shylock a chance to speak on his behalf.[29] He becomes a Jewish apologist of sorts, defending himself first in the marketplace (his famous “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech) – and later in the courtroom when he argues, cogently if cold-heartedly, that if the court ignores the requirements (bonds) of the law, chaos would come to Venice.[30]  Of course, Shakespeare gives Portia a voice too (a man’s one at that) in Antonio’s defense. She, too, is an apologist. Portia does not argue that Antonio is innocent, because he isn’t. Instead, she acknowledges that Shylock’s legal claim is valid, but then gives a poetic speech saying that all humans are guilty, and heaven teaches us to be merciful. Shylock had previously suggested, given the argument from mercy, that all the Christians in the court should free their slaves. I imagine the courtroom got very quiet. Interestingly, in the final scene of the play, we hear Portia herself (not her alter-ego) arguing that some people, her new husband at least, should not be set free from their bonds (especially those symbolized by wedding rings), regardless of smooth-talking lawyers in or out of court. Otherwise, chaos would come to Belmont.

Similarly complicated, Caliban in The Tempest, a native (perhaps a “native American”) of “Prospero’s Island,” which he claims is “by right” his own, is depicted as the offspring of a witch.[31] It is not entirely clear whether he is fully human, although we learn that he has been civilized, to a degree, by Prospero and his daughter. He must be taught language, although his sensitivity to beauty and music seem to be “natural.”[32] He is also depicted as having unruly sexual desires, although some might find his behavior preferable to the back-stabbing, treacherous, drunken European visitors to “his” island. Shakespeare perhaps is complicit in the colonial enslavement of Caliban. Perhaps not. Whatever it means, at the end of the play, Prospero pronounces, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”[33] One thing it should mean to us is that we pay attention to Caliban in contemporary reading and performances. Which is to say, contemporary Christian readers/viewers/apologists/scholars should not allow themselves the luxury of seeing this indigenous inhabitant of an exotic island as a monster, at least without acknowledging our own monstrosities. C.S. Lewis reminds us “All over the earth the White Man’s offence ‘smells to heaven’: massacres, broken treaties, theft, kidnappings, enslavement, deporation, floggings, lynchings, beatings-up, rape, insult, mockery, and odious hypocrisy make up the smell.”[34]

My hope is that in this volume and in the future, we will forthrightly address such issues in our cultural apologetics, advocating the religious significance of apology, even confession. Further, I hope that by doing so we might clear the ground a bit, making the Christ-haunted option more accessible to those who have either previously rejected it or never considered it. The plight of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Caliban in The Tempest, and Katherine (the name the “shrewish” Kate actually owns) in The Taming of the Shrew (or Hermione in The Winter’s Tale) should be of concern to any contemporary cultural apologetic arising out of Shakespeare. Obviously, one is free to interpret how one sees fit, but seeing accurately is a good thing.

Does Shakespeare escape the “mystifications” of his age— that Christians are gracious and Jews are greedy, that Europeans rightfully should enslave/civilize indigenous peoples, that male headship gives men the right to silence women’s voices? Surely he didn’t originate them. But does he resist them? Again, it’s complicated. Consider. In this volume, Gary Tandy reads King Lear as, in part at least, an indictment of the powerful and privileged for their intentional ignorance of and subsequent ignoring of the poor, linking this with our need to “show the heaven’s more just.”[35] Hamlet in the graveyard, holding Yorick’s skull, asks Horatio to remember not simply that “we are dust and unto dust we will return,” but that the rich, the noble, the powerful are just as much dust as the court fool or the common gravedigger (both who may do more for the common good than a King).[36] In Richard III, one arrogant privileged character after another (most of whom had served the murderous, atheist Richard’s bloody climb to power) has a final moment of conscience, of true self-knowledge, even of confession. Much of this is cut in performances, so I was overjoyed recently to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production in which those scenes were kept and given great significance.[37] Similarly, despite obvious examples to the contrary, tyrannical masculine authority is resisted and criticized in several places in Shakespeare, none more clearly than in The Winter’s Tale, when Paulina (called “a shrew” in the play), saves and shelters Hermione, a victim of abuse, and then graciously heals the abuser, Leontes, from his toxic jealousy.[38] The results are, some say, miraculous.[39]

There is no one size fits all response to the hermeneutics of suspicion regarding Shakespeare and cultural apology. The question is not so much whether Shakespeare was a racist, a colonialist, or a sexist since the question unfairly assumes twenty-first century standards. An honest question would be: what was his role in originating, representing, questioning, resisting, or suggesting alternatives? Finally, we don’t need to ignore any of these important questions when we ask one more: does Shakespeare sometimes create literary and theatrical experiences which suggest the beauty, meaningfulness, and desirability of religious faith, more precisely the Christian imaginative vision – including the sense of a world charged with moral meanings and the potential for redemptions.


Is there way to “get past” the problematic to get to the apologetic? Yes. But it is a difficult way, by including honest apologies in our apologetics. Apologize for Shakespeare? Perhaps. Certainly, though, for the sins of the Christianity of his age and ours. Unfortunately, the first move in defining “apologetics” is often something like “whatever you do, don’t confuse apologetics with apologizing.” To that the editors respond, whether Christian apologists need to apologize to anyone for Christianity and Christians depends on whether Christianity and Christians owe anyone an apology. Ironically ahead of his time, noted and self-described dinosaur, C.S. Lewis, made the same point near the end of his life:

If ever the book I’m not going to write is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery. Large areas of “the World” will not hear us until we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.[40]

Some years ago, I apologized in person to George Steiner, a brilliant and significant literary theorist, author of Real Presences among other works. As was his wont those days, he had been talking at length about the remarkable gospel story of Jesus Christ found in scripture  and then pivoting to his own reasons for resisting Christianity – primarily what he saw as its built-in antisemitism.[41] My apology was actually part of a larger question I was asking him as to whether Christianity had the right to correct itself mid-course so to speak, reinterpreting misinterpretations of scripture, especially in regards to its views of Judaism and the Jewish people. He wasn’t sure.

Perhaps we can. Perhaps not. Either way, after centuries of European antisemitism culminating in the holocaust, after colonialism, after slavery, after the sexual abuse scandals, any rational and/or imaginative defense of Christianity might do well to include an apology in its apologetics. Our work is not simply correcting wrong assumptions and misinterpretations on the part of our audience.[42] Clearing the ground might require pointing out, correcting, and apologizing for the wrong assumptions and misinterpretations of Christians on the ground, as well. I mean our obvious failures to live up to the example and teaching of Our Lord. Holly Ordway rightly claims that “the orthodox Christian position . . . is often tarred [emphasis mine] with claims of ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry.”[43] We should add, however, that, as Lewis suggests, it is also true that the Christian position has been marred “with ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry.” Christianity is part of the problem to be addressed by Christian apologetics. Ordway’s image of the apologist as a gardener, clearing the path from “large obstacles” and “brambles” refers to the misunderstandings of outsiders or even insidious anti-Christian prejudices. Sometimes, though, the obstacles are something else. Sometimes they demand our apology to the world. And to heaven.

Citation Information

Joe Ricke, “Introduction: Shakespeare and Cultural Apologetics,” An Unexpected Journal: Shakespeare & Cultural Apologetics 5, no. 4. (Advent 2022), 6-23.


[1] The real list was three times longer.

[2] Shakespeare, As You Like It, in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. by Stanley Wells et al, 2nd edition. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), 2.7.144. See also my sermon “Against Pessimism” in this volume.

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, eds. Verlyn Flieger & Douglas A. Anderson (London: HarperCollins, 2014), 75.

[4] I am presently reading an excellent collection of essays on Shakespeare and Religion which only accidentally “points,” if at all. The editor, Hannibal Hamlin, writes: “The contributors to this volume, it is worth saying, were not chosen because of any common religious beliefs. Some may consider themselves religious, some not. The only person of whose religion I am reasonably sure is Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.” The scholarship in the volume should be of great interest to those interested in Shakespeare and cultural apologetics, although the editor (the world’s leading expert on Shakespeare and the Bible) confessed to me that he had never even heard the term “cultural apologetics” before I told him about it a few months ago. See Hannibal Hamlin, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019), xiii.

[5] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1943).

[6] Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: Centenary Press, 1940), 1-13.

[7] Matthew 25:40.

[8] Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, in Complete Works, 4.1.179-202 (see whole scene for context).

[9] Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 15. See a fuller discussion in Sarah Waters’ essay in this volume.

[10] The standard work on biblical allusions in Shakespeare is Naseen Shaheeb, Biblical References in Shakespeares Plays (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2011).

[11] See Jack Heller’s essay in this volume.

[12] Matthew 25:40. See Gary Tandy’s essay in this volume.

[13] See my sermon on pessimism in this volume.

[14] See Charles LaPorte, The Victorian Cult of Shakespeare: Bardology in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021).

[15] See George Bernard Shaw, “Preface” in Three Plays for Puritans (1901).

[16] See selection from MacDonald’s essay, “St. George’s Day,” in this volume.

[17] Information from my unpublished essay on Furnivall and MacDonald, originally presented at the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference, Dallas, Tx, March 2019.

[18] Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary (1961; translated by Boleslaw Taborski with an introduction by Peter Brook, London: Doubleday, 1964).

[19] Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (New York: Riverhead Books, 1999), 1.

[20] See John Cox’s essay in this volume.

[21] John Keats, Letter to George and Thomas Keats, 22 December 1817, The Letters of John Keats, ed. Sidney Colvin (London: Macmillan, 1918), 48. My reference is from Owen Barfield’s copy of the book and he has the passage above noted in the margin (as he does other significant passages throughout the volume).

[22] Coleridge’s annotated copy of Shakespeare,” British Library, accessed December 6, 2022, A monstrous villain in Shakespeare’s Othello, described by Keats’ contemporary Coleridge as “a motiveless malignity” and “a being next to the devil”.

[23] An angelic heroine in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, described by Keats’ contemporary, William Hazlitt, as “perhaps the most tender and the most artless” of all Shakespeare’s women. See The Collected Works of William Hazlitt (London: J.M. Dent, 1902), 214.

[24] John Keats, Letter to Richard Woodhouse, 27 October 1818, The Letters, 184.

[25] Paul Ricoeur, Freud & Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Davage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).

[26] See Karl Marx, “Introduction,” A Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right (written 1843, unpub. in lifetime); first published in Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher (1844).

[27] Post-critical reading, sometimes called postcritque, is difficult to define in a brief footnote. For me, it is a reaction against scholarship that tears down without building up and settles for the debunking of anything established. On the other hand, the best postcritique both opposes the excesses of “suspicious reading” without ignoring its contributions. I often mention that my Victorian Poetry grad seminar read no women writers, although  the two most popular poets of the age were Elizabeth Barret Browning and Christian Rossetti. Some thoughtful feminist critics wondered out loud if this was really because of “artistic quality” (as the male-dominated academy argued). Things changed for the better.

[28] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years: A Letter to the Family and Conspirators (December 1942),” in A Testament of Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Revised Edition (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 482-86 (486).

[29] Also pointed out by John Cox in his essay in this volume.

[30] Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Complete Works, 3.1.53-68; 4.1.34-38.

[31] Shakespeare, The Tempest, in Complete Works, 1.2.333-34.

[32] Shakespeare, The Tempest, 3.2.138-46.

[33] Shakespeare, The Tempest, 5.1.278-9.

[34] C.S. Lewis, “The Psalms,” in Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces, ed. Walter Hooper (London: HarperCollins, 2000), 218-230 (223).

[35] Shakespeare, King Lear, 3.2.36.

[36] Shakespeare, Hamlet in Complete Works, 5.1; Genesis 3:19.

[37] Richard III, dir. Gregory Doran, Royal Shakespeare Company (2022).

[38] Shakespeare, The Winters Tale, in Complete Works. See a fuller treatment in Joe Ricke, “Kate, the Commonplace: The Framing of the Shrew,” in Approaches to Teaching Shakespeares The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Grace Tiffany and Meg Depuis (New York: MLA, 2013), 123-132 (especially the extended discussion of Paulina on 129).

[39] Shakespeare, The Winters Tale, 5.3. There may be a resurrection from the dead in the final scene, although most agree it is unclear what happens. Jennifer Woodruff Tait references the mystery in a poem in this volume.

[40] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Bles, 1960), 48.

[41] George Steiner. “The scandal of revelation,” Salmagundi, no. 98-99, Spring-Summer 1993, 42-70. <> [accessed 23 Nov 2022].

[42] Holly Ordway rightly defines this significant part of the “clearing of the road” aspect of apologetics in Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017), 12 (and elsewhere). My claim is simply that “to make straight paths” sometimes includes more.

[43] Ordway, 4.