The Greek word hamartia, an archery term meaning "to miss the mark, is used both in the
Bible, where it is translated by the English word, "sin, and in Aristotle's Poetics, in which it
designates the "tragic flaw" which, in the Aristotelian theory of tragedy, gives rise to action and
dénouement. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the de Vere Bible annotations display a persistent
concern for the origin and nature of sin. The word "sinne" (often cropped) is written seven times
in the margin of the Bible, more often than any other word, alongside verses detailing some
aspect of sin's nature. Many more verses concerning the subject of sin -- some forty-five in all --
are marked by underlining, most often in the VN style in black ink.
The theme is equally prominent in the writings of Shakespeare. Several Shakespeare
Diagnostics not marked in the de Vere Bible also concern the question of sin, or more specifically
"original sin. The Genesis narrative of the fall (Gen. 3) and of Cain's crime and exile (Gen. 4.1-
16) are for Shakespeare typological paradigms for tragedy, moments in the human condition
which recur to Shakespearean characters caught up in the vortex of sinful ambition. Claudius,
meditating in the privacy of his cloister, remembers Cain when he confronts the criminal nature
of his deeds:
My offense is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the eldest curse upon't,
A brother's murder!
As does Bolingbroke, discussing Mowbray's culpability in the murder of Thomas of Woodstock,
Duke of Gloucester, in Richard II:
.He did plot the Duke of Gloucester's death,
.And .like a traitor coward,
Sluic'd out his innocent soul through streams of blood:
Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's cries,
Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth,
To me for justice and rough chastisement.
Edward de Vere's Bible annotations
on sin are more theologically subtle than
these prominent and easily recognizable
citations from Genesis. A striking example
of this subtlety is Wisdom 2.24, marked as
part of a sequence of verses (figure fifty-
three) which summarizes the "prayer of the
Ungodly" which takes up most of the
chapter and is a favorite Shakespearean
Biblical topos. These verses recount an
etiology of the devil as the cause of the sin
of envy and ensuing punishment of mortality. An impressive list of cross-references in the
Geneva text of STC 2106 includes Genesis 1.27, 2.7, 3.2 and 5.1 and Ecclesiastes 17.2. Although
has not previously been noted, the verse has nevertheless left a clear and
unequivocal stamp on the moral theology of Measure for Measure, in a comic passage in which
Duke Ludovico debates the origins of sin with the bawd Pompey:
Duke. Fie, Sirrah! A bawd, a wicked bawd!
Canst thou believe thy life is a life,
So stinkingly depending? Go mend, go mend.
Pompey. Indeed, it does stink in some sort, sir: but
Yet, sir, I would prove--
Duke. Nay, if the devil had given proofs for sin
Thou wilt prove this. Take him to prison, officer;
Correction and instruction must both work
Ere this rude beast will profit.
The passage illustrates a textual dependence on the marked verse from Wisdom which is no
less impressive simply because it has hitherto remained unnoticed by critics unfamiliar with the
de Vere Bible annotations. The Duke's somewhat peculiar idea of the devil "giving proofs" for
sin originates in the statement of Wisdom 2.24 that the devil's partisans "prove" that death came
into the world through the agency of their master's envy. As a pimp, Pompey is one of those
identified in the marked passage as "they that holde of [the devil's] side. He has started to justify
his occupation by citing scripture, but the Duke interrupts him by pointing out that if the devil
himself were giving the proofs, they would be the same as those on the tip of Pompey's tongue.
This resolution of a textual crux by reference to a verse marked in de Vere's Geneva Bible
constitutes a striking example of prediction from new data.
Figure Fifty-three: Wisdom 2.23-24 in De Vere
A quite different kind of
influence may be noted in the case of
Romans 7.15-20, a series of verses
marked incidentally in the de Vere
Bible by the annotator's insertion of
the first person pronoun "I,"
mistakenly omitted from the text of
Romans 7.20 in STC 2106. By
coincidence, it happens that of all the
Shakespearean touchstones for the concept of sin, by far the most prominent (cf Shakespeare
Diagnostics list in appendix B) appears to be Romans 7.15-20, the latter verse of which is marked
here by editorial correction in de Vere's STC 2106¹ (figure fifty-four). Skeptics may, if they like,
expend the effort to deny that this verse is actually "marked" by the annotator, but this seems like
trying to kill an elephant with a pin. Such efforts might be justified in light of the implications of
conceding that the elephant is alive, large, and dangerous --
but they seem unlikely to be
effective. Numerous occurrences of Shakespearean reference to this series of verses have been
documented by students of the source question ever since Carter first drew attention to its
importance in 1905. In a brief article recently published in Notes and Queries
the present writer
listed four established references to these verses and pointed out a fifth in the case of Sonnet 151,
which is described as "an elaborate paraphrase" of Romans 7.20 (Stritmatter 1997). A more
complete listing, given in the SD list attached to this dissertation, finds a total of ten established
prior references to the idea and adds two more -- Sonnet 151 and Twelfth Night 2.2.31.
Perhaps the most striking instance of the influence of Romans 7.15-20 in the plays is
Hamlet's apologia to Laertes:
Give me your pardon, sir, I have done you
Was't Hamlet wrong'd Laertes? Never Hamlet!
If Hamlet from himself be ta'en away,
And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes,
Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it.
Who does it then? His madness. If't be so,
Hamlet is of the faction which is wronged.
His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy.
Omitted, Kathman Bible data transcript.
Figure Fifty-four: Romans 7.19-21, with marginal note (n) in the de
Vere STC 2106.
Both Carter (381-82) and Milward
(1987 57-8) identify Romans 7.15-20
as the inspiration for this striking
passage, in which Hamlet substitutes
the secular concept of "madness" for
the hamartia of Paul and Aristotle. As
I argued in Notes and Queries,
examples "illustrate the powerful
formative influence of Romans 7:15-20
on Shakespeare's theology of sin and
even his conceptualization of tragic
action in at least one of the great
tragedies (515). In the case of Sonnet
151, furthermore, Shakespeare
demonstrably knew these verses from Romans in a Geneva translation containing the note (n),
visible in the above reproduction from de Vere's STC 2106, attached to Romans 7.19 in that text.
This note, along with Romans 7.20 per se,
has entered into the compositional idioms of the
Sonnet, as may be illustrated by the following diagram (figure fifty-six):
Shakespeare echoes the Genevan note phrase, flesh stayeth,
concluding lines of the
second quatrain of the Sonnet where we read that "flesh staies
no farther reason. This unusual
conjunctive influence of marginal note and Biblical verse, as I concluded in Notes and Queries,
"supplies an additional proof [to supplement those offered by Burnet and other scholars]
confirming Shakespeare's frequent and direct consultation of the Geneva Bible and the 'bitter
notis' which, by so disturbing Archbishop Parker, helped to inspire the preparation and
publication of the official Anglican (f.p. 1568) Bishop's Bible (516).
Figure Fifty-five: 1609 Q text of Sonnet 151.
n The flesh sta-
yeth even y mo-
My soul doth tell my body that he may,
ste perfect to ru-
Triumph in love, flesh staies no farther reason.
ne forwarde as
y spirit wisheth.
Influence of Genevan note Romans (n) on Sonnet 151 (after Stritmatter 1997).
Also previously published as influential in
Shakespeare is the idea marked in scarlet ink in the
(C)ontinuous mode at II Esdras 8.31 (figure fifty-
According to Peter Milward (1987 47-48), this
obscure passage from the obscure apocryphal book of
II Esdras is the source of Queen Gertrude's reference
to her "sick soul, as sin's true nature is (4.5.17). The
idea that sin is a form of spiritual sickness, perhaps
even the ultimate cause of physical sickness -- which
then becomes a mere symptom of pre-existing spiritual
is fundamental in Shakespeare, as
echoed in several other overt references to related
verses marked in the de Vere Bible in II Chronicles and
Ecclesiasticus (figure fifty-eight).
Carter (1905 273) cites the parallel phraseology of
Mark 2.17 as the source for the following exchange
from II Henry IV:
Poins. And how doth the martlemas your master?
Bardolph. In bodily health, sir?
Poins. Marry, the immortal part needs a Physician, but that moves not him: though that be sick
it dies not.
Other references might be cited:
When the Doctor says of Lady Macbeth:
More needs she the divine than the physician. (5.1.74)
Figure Fifty-seven: II Esdras 8.31-32 in the De
Vere STC 2106.
Figure fifty-eight: Ecclesiasticus 38.15 in De
Vere STC 2106.
When Lear, ironically, calls out like Asa from II
Chronicles not for God's mercy for his hidden,
"unwhipped crimes," but for a technician to perform brain
Let me have surgeons! I am cut to the brains.
Shakespeare demonstrates an interest in the social as well
as the individual dimension of sin. A series of marked
verses from Ezekiel 18 (figures fifty-nine and sixty)
which comment upon moral autonomy of souls is the
pretext for Harry of Cornwall's lecture on theology to the
enlisted men Will and Bates in the fourth act of Henry V. Although the influence of these verses
on Shakespeare has been acknowledged in other cases, for some reason the dense reticulation of
language, imagery and diction linking Ezekiel 18.20-30 to Henry's sermon (4.1.130-305) has
been overlooked, not only by Naseeb Shaheen but also by his two distinguished predecessors,
Richmond Noble and Thomas Carter.
Such scholars have, however, noted the prominent influence on Shakespeare of related verses
from Ezekiel. Ezekiel 18.2, which states the principle disputed in the marked verses in more
colorful poetic language -- "the fathers have eaten a sower grape, & the children's teeth are set on
inspired Hotspur's complaint about poetry in I
That would set my teeth nothing on edge.
in which we read that "the same
soule that sinneth, shal dye: the sonne shal not beare the
iniquity of the father" --
is alluded to in MacDuff's
soliloquy in Macbeth
when he laments that his children
died not for their own iniquities, but for his:
They were strooke for thee: Naught that I am:
Not for their owne demerits, but for mine,
Fell slaughter on their soules.
In Rape of Lucrece, the protagonist advances the
same conclusion as Macduff:
Here in Troy, for trespass of thine eye,
Figure Fifty-nine: Ezekiel 18.1-4 in de Vere
Figure Sixty: Ezekiel 18.20-22 in de Vere
The sire, the son, the dame, and daughter, die.
Why should the private pleasure of some one
Become the public plague of many moe?
Let sin alone committed, light alone
Upon his head that hath transgressed so;
Let guiltless souls be freed from guilty woe.
For one's offense why should so many fall,
To plague a private sin in general?
Two parallel passages, though literally expressing the opposite moral found at Exodus 20.5
and Numbers 14.18, that the sins of the parents should be
visited upon the children, occur in
Merchant of Venice:
The Sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.
So the sins of my mother should be visited upon me.
Only in Henry V, however, does the marked sequence of verses from Ezekiel eighteen form
the basis for what is literally a sermon on moral theology, commenting on the action of the play
while didactically instructing other characters, and presumably the audience, in principles of late
Tudor theology. This is a striking example of the tendency, noted by O.B. Hardison and
commented upon at length by Daniel L. Wright in his book The Anglican Shakespeare (1993), for
the history plays to activate "the audience's theological sensibilities by associating secular history
with a sacred purpose and form, a project particularly exemplified in Henry V, according to
Wright and Hardison.
In Measure for Measure, the disguised Duke dons the garb of a Roman priest to restore moral
order to a lax Vienna; in Henry V, the king disguises himself as a common footsoldier, armed with
Anglican theological doctrine, to administer the reformation version of last rites to his men on the
eve of the Battle of Agincourt. Both, in disguise, become theologians, but of different doctrinal
persuasions and with different theological purposes.
Henry comes upon the enlisted men William and Bates in the early hours of dawn just before
the battle. His forces are radically outnumbered, half-starved, and retreating on enemy territory;
all rational expectation favors their immediate and humiliating defeat. The subject for debate
under such circumstances is whether the justice of "the King's cause" affects the disposition in the
afterlife of the souls of soldiers fallen in battle. Bates contends that loyalty to the monarch
confers its own reward, whether the King's cause is ipso facto a just one: "if his cause be wrong,
our obedience to the King wipes the crime out of us (4.1.132). William, while not directly
disagreeing with this reasoning, affirms an antithesis (based on the same premise):
But if our cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make .I am afear'd,
there are few that die well, and dye in a battle: for how can they charitably dispose of anything,
when Blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for
the King, that led them into it; who to disobey, were against all proportion of subjection.
The enlisted men are of course unaware that they are speaking with the King himself.
Unbeknownst to themselves, their critical private theology is being exposed to a public arena of
debate and conflict. The scene mirrors 3.7 in which the French officers in their tent are almost
brought to blows with the Dauphin over the subject of who owns the best armor (see chapter
sixteen above ). While the French officers debate military technology, however, the English are
considering "final things" appropriate to their acknowledged circumstance of mortal desperation.
Henry responds to his men's debate with an amplificatio
of Ezekiel's statement in verses
marked in the de Vere Bible that "the sonne shall not bear the iniquity of the father, nether shall
the father beare the iniquity of the son (18.20). His response is tailored to counter the objections
of Will and Bates while exonerating the King himself from any moral responsibility for their
impending destruction. The theology is distinctively Anglican, not medieval or Catholic, in its
emphasis on the moral autonomy of subjects:
So, if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the
imputation of his wickedness, but your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him: or
if a servant, under his master's command transporting sum of money, be assailed by robbers and
die in many irreconciled iniquities, you may call the business of the master the author of the
servant's damnation. But this is not so: the king is not bound to answer the particular endings
of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant; for they purpose not their
death when they purpose their services.
Will, for his part, is persuaded by Henry's sermon: "'Tis certain, every man that dies ill, the ill
upon his own head: the king is not to answer it (4.1.186).
This emphasis in Henry V
4.1.125-305 on the moral problem of the transference or
inheritance of moral responsibility, although topical in its restatement of Anglican doctrine (see
below), is directly inspired
by marked verses in the de Vere Geneva Bible at Ezekiel 18.20-32.
Should individuals be held accountable for the crimes of their parents or grandparents --
that matter their monarchs? The question must be as old as the anthropological blood feud,
the answer native to all tribal cultures seems to be that they can and sometimes should be.
Ezekiel's answer in 18.20-30 is that they should not, although his use of the word "soul" might be
held to complicate the answer. Whether or not the soul is an aspect of the individual or --
Egyptian Ka --
a manifestation of a descent group or other social entity, remains in some doubt.
In any case, however, Henry is debating the casuistical theology of the marked verses with Will
and Bates. His sermon elaborates Ezekiel's original exemplum of the father and the son,
considering the derived analogies, appropriate to his context, of servant and master and soldier
As Daniel Wright has noted (following the lead of Lily Campbell), in this context the specific
reference to the doctrine of Ezekiel 18.2-30 invokes an Anglican apology. Henry's speech is a
rebuttal to calls for insurrection against the Elizabethan crown by Catholic propagandists like
Cardinal William Allen. Allen's tracts, widely distributed in England in the months leading up to
the 1588 Armada, insisted that any soldier who died in an unjust war fought on behalf of an
unjust world or in defense of a heretical prince would be forever damned. "Henry's declaration
that every individual is responsible for his own salvation .not only endorses an Anglican
theological judgement but specifically repudiates and reverses the antagonistic Catholic
suggestions of Cardinal Allen, which threatened to break the domestic peace and undermine the
authority of the realm (Wright 222).
In his subsequent victory prayer, Henry underscores the nationalistic piety of this theological
disquisition by seeking to heal up the domestic historical rift which still disturbs the tranquility of
his realm. He returns to the theme of the moral autonomy of souls in reference to his father's own
alleged crimes against Richard II:
..Not today, O Lord,
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
And yet, paradoxically, Henry verifies the continuing presence of the more ancient doctrine --
that "the fathers have eaten bitter grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge -- when he
defends his own moral piety by remembering the compensatory actions he took, on behalf of the
honor of his family's name and tradition, by honoring the man murdered by his own father:
I Richard's body have interred new,
And on it have bestowed more contrite tears
Than from it issued forced drops of blood.