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Shakespeare and Spirituality Resources
Resources and links on Shakespeare's use of spiritual themes and symbols in his writing
Authors Book Excerpt Books DVDs Online Library of Articles



Shakespeare Online Library of Articles
 TitleSourceAuthor 1Author 2SubjectWW HTMLWW PDFExternal Link
The Secret of Shakespeare (part 3)Tomorrow, Vol. 13, No. 3. (Autumn 1965)Lings, Martin Christianity, Poetry, Spiritual Life, Symbolism
The Secret of Shakespeare (part 2)Tomorrow, Vol. 13, No. 2. (Spring 1965)Lings, Martin Christianity, Poetry, Spiritual Life, Symbolism
The Secret of Shakespeare (part 1)Tomorrow, Vol. 13, No. 1. (Winter 1965)Lings, Martin Christianity, Poetry, Spiritual Life, Symbolism
Shakespeare's Sonnet 53 - Commentary and AnalysisShakespeare's Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian SourcesZinman, Ira B. Christianity, Poetry, Spiritual Life, Symbolism
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 - Commentary and AnalysisShakespeare's Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian SourcesZinman, Ira B. Christianity, Poetry, Spiritual Life, Symbolism
The Method Followed in Shakespeare's Sonnets and the BibleShakespeare's Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian SourcesZinman, Ira B. Christianity, Poetry, Spiritual Life, Symbolism
Introduction to Shakespeare's Sonnets and the BibleShakespeare's Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian SourcesZinman, Ira B. Christianity, Poetry, Spiritual Life, Symbolism
Foreword to Shakespeare's Sonnets and the BibleShakespeare's Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian SourcesCharles Windsor Prince of Wales, HRH Christianity, Poetry, Spiritual Life, Symbolism
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Shakespeare Selected Books

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A small book titled "Shake-speares Sonnets" was published in 1609. Since that time, the 154 sonnets in the collection have seen times of indifference, criticism, wild adoration, numerous translations, and countless interpretations. This is not simply due to the waxing and waning fame of the author, though this is certainly part of the shifting fortunes of The Sonnets. Nor can we attribute the great interest in the Sonnets to the beauty of its language alone, for just as there is undoubtedly beauty, there is also complexity and difficulty in the language that challenges modern readers. More than anything, it is because of the remarkable richness and depth of the content that readers and scholars continue to be drawn to the Sonnets.

It is quite common for readers and scholars to find multiple layers of meaning in the Sonnets. Some people derive political meanings from some verses in which others find pure, sensual references. While attention has, in recent times, been increasingly paid to the religious or spiritual dimensions of Shakespeare's plays, his Sonnets have generally proved elusive to such scrutiny. Until now.

The book Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian Sources (World Wisdom, 2009) offers a closer look at the spiritual dimension behind the beauty and sensuality of the Bard's sonnets. Author Ira B. Zinman examines each sonnet with an eye to a spiritual level of interpretation. The book is organized sonnet by sonnet. For each sonnet, Zinman first "summarizes the overall scriptural theme." Then, the author supplies a "glossary," quatrain by quatrain, which restates the original poetry in terms simpler for current-day readers to understand and which brings out spiritually significant elements in the words or symbols found in the verse. Next, Zinman adds a section for each sonnet which is his commentary on how that sonnet might be interpreted at a religious or scriptural level. Finally, the author cites Biblical passages which were likely known to or used by Shakespeare himself in crafting the sonnet.

Christian readers and admirers of Shakespeare will be fascinated to learn the extent to which the most widely read author in the English-speaking world relied upon the Bible as an inspiration for his work. Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian Sources should be an invaluable reference work for readers of the Bard who suspect that a given sonnet may contain spiritual resources. This book of 495 pages supplies readers with a roadmap to the many deposits of spiritual "gold" in the Sonnets, and also outfits them with many tools with which to continue the prospecting on their own.

Here is a sample of Ira B. Zinman's treatment of the famous Sonnet 18. All of the sonnets in the book receive similar treatment. The words in italics are Shakespeare's words, and the non-italics indicate the author's comments:

SONNET 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.

So long as man can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

THEME

Eternal summer and eternal Life are attributes of the Spirit. For those who live according to the highest spiritual precepts, the beauty of the Spirit, found in the soul of man, is everlasting and outshines the seasons of life.

GLOSSARY

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more beautiful and more balanced in Thy Nature. The rough times are difficult in the springtime of life, and the flourishing times are all too short:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm’d; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course

Often in our lives, we feel the eyes of heaven hotly upon us, and at other times the golden face of Spirit is only dimly perceived; and every beautiful and flowering thing begins to decline, either by misfortune or due to the course of nature.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st, Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.

But thy soulful flourishing shall never fade, nor lose its vibrancy and beauty, nor shall death be able to touch you. When you live your life in spiritual renewal, time cannot touch you, and your flowering never ceases.

So long as man can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

So long as man can breathe, or eyes can see, so long lives this eternal way of life, and this gives everlasting life to Thee.

COMMENTARY

Shakespeare frequently borrowed from scriptural sources, as has been well-documented in Noble, Shaheen, and others. Sonnet 18 suggests the following from Isaiah, “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” (Isa. 40:18)
   In Sonnet 18 Shakespeare continues the theme of man’s spiritual renewal explored in Sonnets 15, 16, and 17. Time is the “bloody tyrant” (Sonnet 16.2) and, as in Sonnet 15, time seems to conspire with “decay . . . To change your day of youth to sullied night.” (Sonnet 15.11-12) Man must exercise his free will to choose “means more blessed than my barren rhyme” so “virtuous wish would bear you living flowers.” (Sonnet 16.4, 7)
   Sonnet 17 provides a transition from Sonnets 15 and 16 to Sonnet 18. In Sonnet 17, Shakespeare laments that even if he could express the praises of the Divine, few would understand. “If I could write the beauty of your eyes, and in fresh numbers number all your graces, the age to come would say, ‘This poet lies.’” (Sonnet 17.5-7)
   In Sonnet 17, Shakespeare avers that when spiritually-attuned souls should in the future (“some child of yours alive that time”) read “my rhyme” they may be spiritually inspired and gain from a deeper understanding of the Sonnets; thus they will “live twice.” (Sonnet 17.13-14)
   Again in Sonnet 17.5-6, our Poet says: “If I could write the beauty of your eyes, and in fresh numbers number all your graces,” few would understand that this refers to the soul of man, which is a reflection of the beauty contained in Spirit. “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” (Ps. 82.6)
   In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare considers the possibility of comparing the Spirit, in its aspect of Beauty in creation, to a “summer’s day.” As the soul of man is made in the image of the Creator, it also contains all the perfection of an idyllic “summer’s day.” While the Spirit, however, is changeless and perfect, man must live upon this “huge stage [which] presenteth nought but shows.” (Sonnet 15.3) Life is full of changing fortunes (“rough winds”) and our days are few as “summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” Even when all seems to be flourishing, misfortune and the vagaries of life pursue man’s footsteps. “And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d.”
   A “summer’s day” fades, but the Spirit, an innate reflection in man’s soul, manifests Beauty which does not diminish—“But thy eternal summer shall not fade.” The secret is for man to live in “lines of life that life repair” (Sonnet 16.9) or “in eternal lines to time.” The choice to live “in eternal lines to time” means to consciously pursue a life in tune with timeless spiritual values. In this way, one is renewed in Spirit (“I engraft you new”) (Sonnet 15.14) and such a course of pursuit “gives life to thee.”

BIBLICAL PASSAGES SUGGESTED BY SONNET 18

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.” Ps. 8:3-5

“Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” 1 Cor. 15:46-49

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” 1 Cor. 15:26.


The above excerpt is: © 2009 Ira B. Zinman
All Rights Reserved.
For Personal Usage Only

Shakespeare Book Excerpt

Here is a sample of Ira B. Zinman's treatment of the famous Sonnet 18, taken from Zinman's book Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian Sources, described above. All of the sonnets in the book receive similar treatment. The words in italics are Shakespeare's words, and the non-italics indicate the author's comments:

SONNET 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.

So long as man can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

THEME

Eternal summer and eternal Life are attributes of the Spirit. For those who live according to the highest spiritual precepts, the beauty of the Spirit, found in the soul of man, is everlasting and outshines the seasons of life.

GLOSSARY

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more beautiful and more balanced in Thy Nature. The rough times are difficult in the springtime of life, and the flourishing times are all too short:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm’d; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course

Often in our lives, we feel the eyes of heaven hotly upon us, and at other times the golden face of Spirit is only dimly perceived; and every beautiful and flowering thing begins to decline, either by misfortune or due to the course of nature.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st, Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.

But thy soulful flourishing shall never fade, nor lose its vibrancy and beauty, nor shall death be able to touch you. When you live your life in spiritual renewal, time cannot touch you, and your flowering never ceases.

So long as man can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

So long as man can breathe, or eyes can see, so long lives this eternal way of life, and this gives everlasting life to Thee.

COMMENTARY

Shakespeare frequently borrowed from scriptural sources, as has been well-documented in Noble, Shaheen, and others. Sonnet 18 suggests the following from Isaiah, “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” (Isa. 40:18)
   In Sonnet 18 Shakespeare continues the theme of man’s spiritual renewal explored in Sonnets 15, 16, and 17. Time is the “bloody tyrant” (Sonnet 16.2) and, as in Sonnet 15, time seems to conspire with “decay . . . To change your day of youth to sullied night.” (Sonnet 15.11-12) Man must exercise his free will to choose “means more blessed than my barren rhyme” so “virtuous wish would bear you living flowers.” (Sonnet 16.4, 7)
   Sonnet 17 provides a transition from Sonnets 15 and 16 to Sonnet 18. In Sonnet 17, Shakespeare laments that even if he could express the praises of the Divine, few would understand. “If I could write the beauty of your eyes, and in fresh numbers number all your graces, the age to come would say, ‘This poet lies.’” (Sonnet 17.5-7)
   In Sonnet 17, Shakespeare avers that when spiritually-attuned souls should in the future (“some child of yours alive that time”) read “my rhyme” they may be spiritually inspired and gain from a deeper understanding of the Sonnets; thus they will “live twice.” (Sonnet 17.13-14)
   Again in Sonnet 17.5-6, our Poet says: “If I could write the beauty of your eyes, and in fresh numbers number all your graces,” few would understand that this refers to the soul of man, which is a reflection of the beauty contained in Spirit. “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” (Ps. 82.6)
   In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare considers the possibility of comparing the Spirit, in its aspect of Beauty in creation, to a “summer’s day.” As the soul of man is made in the image of the Creator, it also contains all the perfection of an idyllic “summer’s day.” While the Spirit, however, is changeless and perfect, man must live upon this “huge stage [which] presenteth nought but shows.” (Sonnet 15.3) Life is full of changing fortunes (“rough winds”) and our days are few as “summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” Even when all seems to be flourishing, misfortune and the vagaries of life pursue man’s footsteps. “And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d.”
   A “summer’s day” fades, but the Spirit, an innate reflection in man’s soul, manifests Beauty which does not diminish—“But thy eternal summer shall not fade.” The secret is for man to live in “lines of life that life repair” (Sonnet 16.9) or “in eternal lines to time.” The choice to live “in eternal lines to time” means to consciously pursue a life in tune with timeless spiritual values. In this way, one is renewed in Spirit (“I engraft you new”) (Sonnet 15.14) and such a course of pursuit “gives life to thee.”

BIBLICAL PASSAGES SUGGESTED BY SONNET 18

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.” Ps. 8:3-5

“Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” 1 Cor. 15:46-49

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” 1 Cor. 15:26.


The above excerpt is: © 2009 Ira B. Zinman
All Rights Reserved.
For Personal Usage Only

Shakespeare DVDs
Before his death in 2005, Dr. Martin Lings (b. 1909), a respected scholar of the spiritual message in Shakespeare's plays, granted some interviews to author Ira B. Zinman. Mr. Zinman produced a two-hour DVD with highlights of those interviews in which Dr. Lings discusses, among other topics:
  • How he came to understand the deeper, spiritual meanings often found in Shakespeare’s mature works.
  • How Shakespeare’s work can be considered “sacred art,” and the higher functions of art in general.
  • Recollections of his (i.e. Dr. Lings's) relationship with his tutor at Oxford, C.S. Lewis.
  • Thoughts on the medieval (and thus Shakespeare’s) understanding of “the Intellect,” on Humanism, on the Middle Ages, and on Dante.
  • What makes Shakespeare “great.”
  • Shakespeare’s major theme of the “purification of the fallen soul,” reflected in his work having spritual meanings.
For information on the DVD presentation, or to purchase it, click here.
Shakespeare Key Authors
photo of Dr. Martin Lings

Martin Lings (1909-2005) was an important author of the “Traditionalist” or “Perennialist” school of thought. He was an acclaimed author, editor, translator, scholar, Arabist, and poet. Besides his many books on metaphysics, the spiritual life, symbolism, scripture, and sacred art, he wrote an influential book on the spiritual content found throughout the plays of Shakespeare. This book, first published in 1966 as Shakespeare in the Light of Sacred Art, explored the spiritual symbolism and messages found in Shakespeare's plays in a depth previously ignored. The texts titled "The Secret of Shakespeare" in the list above from our online Library were taken from the journal Studies in Comparative Religion, which published the content of Dr. Lings' book in segments. For more information on Dr. Martin Lings, click here.

  photo of Ira B. Zinman

Ira B. Zinman is the author of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian Sources, described above. He has made a long study of the spiritual symbolism within Shakespeare's works. This study included many hours spent with Dr. Martin Lings (see left), the author of the much-acclaimed book The Secret of Shakespeare (also titled The Sacred Art of Shakespeare), during which he recorded interviews with Dr. Lings on the subject of the inner spiritual meaning within many of the Bard's lines. Mr. Zinman has taught and lectured extensively on Shakespeare, recently presenting papers on Shakespeare’s Sonnets at the Ohio Shakespeare Conference. For more on Ira B. Zinman, click here to go to his author page on worldwisdom.com.





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