Shakespeare and the King James Bible


In the famous radio programme Desert Island Discs, castaways are always automatically given the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare as essentials on their desert island, symbolizing the position the two hold as the twin pillars on which so much of our culture is founded.

Until Sunday January 8th, you can see original editions of both the King James Bible of 1611 and the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays from 1623 on display at NLS – not quite side by side, but close enough to compare, in their two separate exhibitions. The King James Bible is at the centre of our Treasures display, which Anette blogged about in November, and which will close on Sunday, and the First Folio is in our Beyond Macbeth exhibition, which runs until the end of April. Both are surrounded by other early editions – the translations which preceded and rivalled the King James Bible, and the quarto playbooks in which individual plays were published.

It’s very interesting to compare the circumstances under which the Bible and the plays of Shakespeare were published in early modern Britain, and the similarities and differences in the appearance of the final printed volumes. A whole book could be written about this subject, but in this blog entry I just want to mention a couple of things which strike me – one way in which they are similar and one in which they are very different. Continue reading Shakespeare and the King James Bible