Generally, on alternating years Wheaton College Special Collections has hosted a conference examining the influence of Christian faith and traditions in the poetry and plays of William Shakespeare. Dr. Beatrice Batson, Professor Emerita of English at Wheaton College and Coordinator of the Shakespeare Special Collection, has invited accomplished scholars from all over the world to present papers exploring a suggested theme. These specialists typically address such issues as whether the Immortal Bard of Avon was Protestant or Catholic, or the presence of Christian reconciliation and other scriptural elements woven throughout his plots. After each conference Dr. Batson, acting as editor, collects the lectures into a book.
The most recent title, Word and Rite: The Bible and Ceremony in Selected Shakespearean Works (2010), produced by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, attempts to show something of the ways in which the Bible and Christianity intersect the language of Shakespeare. Word and Rite also focuses on the matter in which rites are efforts to illuminate mysteries: the mystery of marriage, the mystery of baptism, the mystery of confession, the mystery of the Eucharist, the mystery of funerals, and even the mystery of words in their relation to the Word. Holy objects such as the Fountain of blood are also considered. Contributors include Dr. Leland Ryken (“Shakespeare and the Bible”), Dr. Brett Foster (“‘Each letter in the Letter’: Textual Testimonies in Shakespeare”) and Dr. Jack Heller (“‘Your statue spouting blood’: Julius Caesar, the Sacraments, and the Fountain of Life”).
Reviewing the contents, Dr. Maurice Hunt, author of Shakespeare’s Romance of the Word and professor at Baylor University, states: “This book amounts to a fitting capstone of the several previously published Institute volumes of high-quality papers. Deserving special mention in this latest volume are Jeffrey Knapp’s fresh reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets as confessional autobiography, Grace Tiffany’s comprehensive analysis of the triumph of the English language over the French tongue in Shakespeare’s plays, Christopher Hodgkins’ eloquent account of Christian apocalyptic thought in The Tempest, and David George’s persuasive linking of the abbreviated rites and interrupted ceremonies typical of Shakespeare’s plays to the wars of religion waged in the playwright’s lifetime…Here we have a banquet – a smorgasbord – of commentary on Shakespeare’s art.”
The Shakespeare Special Collection (SC-34), housed at Wheaton College, is considered the premiere holding of secondary literature pertaining to the use of religion in the plays of William Shakespeare.