Guest Post by Rebecca Aduculesi, Straus Scholar
On Tuesday, September 1, 2020, the Beren Straus Scholars of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought participated in their first seminar on Shakespeare and the Bible, which explores the text’s influence on the works of playwright William Shakespeare.
The weekly Shakespeare reading group is coordinated by Dr. Chaya Sima Koenigsberg, Straus Center resident scholar, and features Dr. Shaina Trapedo, adjunct English professor at Stern College for Women, whose research addresses the influence of the Bible on Shakespeare’s writings.
Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center, introduced the seminar with an overview of Shakespeare’s relationship with the Bible. He highlighted how both works provide insights into the human soul and what it means to be human. Shakespeare’s society was familiar with texts and themes of the Bible, and Shakespeare was inspired by those stories and images, allowing them to impact his plots and phrases.
Following Rabbi Soloveichik’s introduction, Dr. Trapedo officially began the session, explaining that Yeshiva University students are best suited to study Shakespeare because they can easily recognize his Biblical references. She next told the scholars that Bible sales have skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, while Shakespeare screenings have increased. The scholars were asked to consider why it is that when people find themselves with more time and increased stress, they are driven to the Bible and Shakespeare.
Dr. Trapedo informed the scholars that during Shakespeare’s life, everything was organized around religious activity. Therefore, Shakespeare could not have become what he became if he did not live in a time charged by religious activity. When Shakespeare references the Bible, we must pay attention. Does he do it so his audience would get his references, or is it to appeal to their value system?
At the end of the seminar, the scholars played a game called “Shakespeare or the Bible?”, where the scholars guessed whether a given quote is found in Shakespeare or the Bible. This game was more difficult than expected, and the scholars were often surprised by the answer.
The Straus Scholars look forward to future seminars led by Rabbi Soloveichik, Rabbi Dov Lerner, Dr. Trapedo, Dr. Koenigsberg and other guest lecturers.