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The Prodigal Son in English and American LiteratureFive Hundred Years of Literary Homecomings$
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Alison M. Jack

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198817291

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198817291.001.0001

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The Prodigal Son and Shakespeare

The Prodigal Son and Shakespeare

Chapter:
(p.47) 3 The Prodigal Son and Shakespeare
Source:
The Prodigal Son in English and American Literature
Author(s):

Alison M. Jack

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198817291.003.0003

In this chapter the ubiquity of references to the Prodigal Son in Shakespeare’s work is explored, leading to a discussion of Shakespeare’s use of the Bible in general and of the Geneva Bible in particular. Two plays are considered in detail: Henry IV Part 1 and King Lear. It is suggested that Shakespeare offers a creative exegesis, or midrash, of the parable in both plays. In the first, the parable is reworked in a way which leads the reader to question the motives of both Hal and the Prodigal in the original text. In the second, the complex overlay of the parable on the plot and characterization offers at least the possibility of grace and hope at the end of the play.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, King Lear, Cordelia, Prince Hal, midrashic exegesis, Geneva Bible

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