Book Review: Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery by Jem Bloomfield

From Amazon:

‘In Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery, Jem Bloomfield investigates the literary legend that the famous playwright left his mark on the Authorized Version. He delves into the historical, textual and literary evidence, showing that the story isn’t true – but that there are much more engrossing stories to be told about Shakespeare and the Bible.’

My Photo [Shakespeare and Bible]

I’m an English student at the University of Nottingham. Last year, I studied a module called Shakespeare’s Histories: Critical Approaches. Jem Bloomfield was one of the lecturers responsible for providing some thoroughly enjoyable lectures, talking to us about Shakespeare’s works, as well as the literary, historical and religious contexts.

One lecture that I particularly found interesting was exploring the intertextual links between Shakespeare’s plays such as Richard II and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and various editions of The Bible.

When Jem contacted me his year to ask if I wanted to read his new book, which explores potential links between the King James Bible and Shakespeare, needless to say, I was interested.

Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery was a good, quick read. As Jem talks* you through a variety of literary, linguistic, and contextual evidence, it soon becomes clear religion and Early Modern Theatre are subjects he is passionate about.

*I say talks; the book captures Jem’s voice wonderfully as he debunks a myth I never even knew existed, recreating the feel of another engaging lecture.

The structure of the book is mostly clear. Jem discusses why the Psalm 46 myth is merely a myth, then moves on to answering questions such as why the legend even exists, and what attracts people to it. However, the only section that tripped me up was the chapter focused on Rudyard Kipling. I didn’t really understand this section, which was a shame, as I followed everything else quite easily.

Nonetheless, if you’d like to learn some interesting things about Shakespeare and the Bible, presented in an engaging and accessible way, I recommend Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery is available as an e-book or a paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

– Judith

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Book Review: Perfect People

Perfect People is a thriller novel from the acclaimed crime and thriller writer, Peter James.

After losing their four-year-old son to a rare genetic disorder, John and Naomi Klaesson are grieving, yet want another child – one who will be free from genetic diseases and as healthy as possible. Geneticist Leo Dettore offers them a lifeline: the chance to choose the perfect genetic makeup of their new baby – their sex, their hair colour, abilities, and so much more. However, the couple notice something is wrong too late, and they can’t turn back, because Naomi is already pregnant…

I read Perfect People in abut 2-3 days, because it really had me hooked. In an era where genetically modifying embryos is already a possibility, the notion of “designer babies” does not seem that much more of a stretch, and James capitalises on this.

‘There are certain things in life that happen that shouldn’t happen – which don’t need to happen – and which science can now prevent from happening.’ 

(Perfect People, p.15)

It’s difficult to speak openly about my response to Perfect People without giving away spoilers, but I’ll try my best.

It’s a good thriller, and whilst some of the plot twists I saw quite clearly, others caught me completely off-guard.

I liked James’ style of writing, although the description was too poetic in places for me: elaborate imagery doesn’t’ gel with the book’s attempted realism and authenticity. Also, at one point, he used the phrase ‘quite unique’ – a grammatically incorrect phrase that bothers me immensely.

The scientist Dettore was suitably creepy, along with the psychopathic, genetically modified children he breeds.

However, I felt that the inclusion of religious extremism as an antagonistic force didn’t work well. Whilst sects, cults and religious extremism can be incredibly scary (and is thus often used in paranormal horror), it just didn’t feel authentic in Perfect People. I’ve no doubt that there are real people in the world prepared to use extreme measures to campaign against issues like genetic testing, but James’ fictional cult, The Disciples of the Third Millennium, felt like it was purely inspired by imagination rather than inspired by research. This mean that for me, the mentions of gods, prophecies and Biblical passages just fell flat.

I would have preferred to see Dettore’s psychopathic children rise as an antagonistic force – perhaps against parents, adults or other figures of authority, and it’s a shame this wasn’t explored.

Despite my criticisms, I still thoroughly enjoyed Perfect People, and would strongly recommend it.

– Judith

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Goblin Market is a Victorian poem about two women, Lizzie and Laura, one of whom is tempted by the goblins that frequent their village to sell exotic fruits all year around. Laura becomes grievously ill after eating some of this fruit, and is saved by her sister’s bravery and heroism against the goblins.

To me, the most striking element in Goblin Market is its use of symbolism – of religion, of the patriarchy and, as an offshoot of this, the sexual oppression of women.

Religion

Firstly, Goblin Market’s religious imagery is overwhelmingly clear. The premise of the poem is that deceptive, supernatural creatures tempt a pure woman into eating a mysterious and forbidden fruit, which then has negative consequences. This is a direct parallel to the events in Genesis 3; the goblins symbolise Satan and Laura symbolises Eve.

However, there is a second layer to this religious imagery. Lizzie saves her sister by standing resolute in the face of the goblins’ horrid behaviour towards her, enduring suffering for the sake of Laura. She is described as ‘fruit-crown’d’ – an irony – because a crown is meant for royalty, highlighting Laura’s virtuous and honourable nature, yet it is made from fruit, the goblins’ “weapon” of attack. This may be a parallel to the ‘crown of thorns’ (Matthew 27:29) worn by Christ during the crucifixion, to mock him. Furthermore, during Lizzie’s attack from the goblins, she ‘utter’d not a word’, again imitating Christ’s behaviour when he was trialled by Herod:

  • ‘He [Jesus] was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7)
  • ‘He [Herod] plied him [Jesus] with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.’ (Luke 23:9)

Patriarchy

Secondly, although the goblins are in some ways supernatural, they are also described as ‘goblin merchant men’. The significance of calling them ‘men’ suggests the poem can also be read as a poem about the male oppression of women within a patriarchal Victorian society. It is important that while the goblins are running their market and earning money, both Lizzie and Laura are confined to the home, undertaking stereotypically female tasks, such as sewing, baking cakes and talking like ‘modest maidens’. This highlights the separate spheres ideology which was rife in Victorian society, that encouraged men to leave the house and work to provide for the family (in the “public” sphere)  whilst women were to stay at home as housekeepers and mothers (in the “private” sphere).

Yet there is more. Rossetti also highlights that within a patriarchal society, not only were women confined to their domesticated “sphere” of life, but they were also victims of sexual abuse. This is evidenced by the goblins’ attack on Lizzie. The goblins, whilst ‘grunting and snarling’, ‘tore her gown’, ‘held her hands’, ‘kick’d’ and ‘maul’d’ her in order to force her to eat their fruits. The goblins’ fruit is a metaphor for sex, and thus this distressing scene symbolises one of rape and domestic abuse, a scenario sadly commonplace within Victorian relationships.

***

Of course, there’s so much more that could be said about the poem. I enjoyed reading Goblin Market; it’s beautifully written narrative poem with vivid imagery and multiple interpretations. There are many other offered readings of the poem, but I think Goblin Market’s parallels with the Christian faith, and the message of female oppression are its most significant undertones.

Thank you for reading this blog post.

– Judith