Holy Shakespeare! 101 Scriptures That Appear in Shakespeare’s Plays, Poems, and Sonnets is a new book by bestselling author Maisie Sparks. In it, she pairs lines from Shakespeare with the Biblical scriptures that more than likely gave him inspiration or thought. According to Sparks, in the era that Shakespeare lived, people were very familiar with the Bible. Children grew up learning to read by reading the Bible. Minstrels came to town and put on plays with scenes from the Bible. And Shakespeare, as most people in that time, was very familiar with scripture. When he started writing, it was very easy for that kind of language or understanding to end up into his plays, Maisie explains.
In the past two years, Maisie has had three books published: 151 Things God Can’t Do, a devotional and coloring book called Christmas Quiet, and Holy Shakespeare! That’s not an easy feat. The Chicago Defender talked to the inspirational local author, whose books have sold over 200,000 copies, about what inspired her to write her latest trove, what she hopes people will take away from it, and her advice for new authors on whether to self-publish or seek a publisher.
Holy Shakespeare Book Signing
Wednesday, May 24
Oak Park Public Library
How did you come up with the idea of writing about Bible scriptures and Shakespeare?
I wish I could take credit for that, but not totally. It was because I had written 101 Things God Can’t Do that the publisher thought I could research an idea for them, and they contacted me last January. What they were looking for was prayers in Shakespeare. When I started to do the research, I wasn’t coming across prayers, but I was finding a lot of Bible verses and Bible imagery and scriptural sentiments. I got back to them, and I said, “That’s what I’m finding.” They said, “Okay, go ahead. Let’s do that and see how it comes out.”
Can you give me some examples of how you connected Shakespeare and Scriptures?
Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” This is what Shakespeare says in King Henry VI, “Blessed are the peacemakers on earth.” Then, Romans 12:21 says, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Shakespeare says in All’s Well that Ends Well, “We must do good against evil.” It goes on and on. A third one is Romans 13:10, “Love does not evil to his neighbor, therefore is love the fulfilling of the law.” In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare said, “For charity itself,” charity being love, “fulfills the law.”
Let me say this also. I’m not the first person who has noticed this. Quite frankly, from the time of Shakespeare this has been written about, and probably back then people didn’t even think much of it because they heard it in every area of life. Shakespeare was also known for borrowing from the classics before him. It would have been quite natural. I’m not saying he plagiarized or anything like that. But I think all writers often look at other literature and see what they can draw from it. Of course, the Bible is a book that throughout the ages people have gone to get some understanding of life.
What do you hope that people in general will take away from this book?
There are a couple of things. First of all, it’s just the fact that some people might have shied away from Shakespeare, and I was certainly one of those people when I was studying him in high school and college, not knowing that there is so much scripture embedded in his writing. It has made a lot of people take a second look at Shakespeare. It’s also made people take a second look at scripture. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from homeschool parents who are trying to give their children an introduction to the classics. It’s a way for them to merge and weave together some principles that they want to share with their children.
It’s giving people what I would call a fresh look at his work, as well as a heightened awareness of God’s Word, because sometimes we look at these great authors and we think it was all coming from them. It really wasn’t. He had another source. I want people to be at least aware of that.
What advice would give you for emerging writers?
They probably will want to think in pairs or think in sequels or how else can an idea or a format that they came up with will work in other areas. Because I am now looking at some ways to put together scripture with Bible timelines. I don’t want to get into too much of that because I’m still developing it. But now that I’ve come up with a format that is identifiable to me and the publisher, it’s how can we expand on that to write other books in a very simple format that people can easily grasp?
Did you ever consider self-publishing?
I started 25 years ago as a self-publisher. I wouldn’t knock it because it moved me into getting a publisher. There’s such a proliferation of self-published books today that it’s much harder to break through because the whole publishing space has changed. As far as the distributors, there are not as many distributors of books. I think a publisher can help you get in front of your audience better than you can as a self-publisher. That said, if you are someone who has your own audience, self-publishing can give you a platform to sell your books directly to your audience. Let’s say you are a pastor of a large church or you are a woman who gives conferences, and you’re speaking in front of large groups of people all the time. Then, you could take your sales number to a publisher if you wanted to do that, and then get more national or international exposure.
I have had my book reviewed in London, of course, because that’s where Shakespeare lived. If you have a book that has global appeal, a publisher gives you a better opportunity to get in front of those audiences.
The other thing that I see with a publisher is that the books are usually much better designed than a lot of self-published books, which look a little self-published. That can deter some buyers from purchasing your book unless you are right there and they know you and who you are. I think if you’re not there your book needs to stand on its own. That’s where the design of your book will come in.
I will say, sometimes people feel that it’s hard to get a publisher. I would say it’s identifying the right person in the publishing company that would be interested in your particular content or style of book. I think a lot of people spin their wheels sending their manuscripts to people who wouldn’t be interested. A little bit more time should be taken to identify the right person within a publishing company who would be interested.
Photos by Michael Gunn