Discontented Harmonies: Words against Words in Pomfret Castle


Despite its ubiquity, Bible-reading in Shakespeare’s day was not merely a linear transfer from text to reader, but rather circulatory, folded and layered. Scripture might reach out into a web of cross-references and echoes, or be amplified through glosses, marginalia, and other paratexts. These relationships were not always complementary, but could generate contradiction, incoherence, or repugnancy. In Act Five of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Richard, imprisoned in Pomfret Castle, contemplates a thought that “set[s] the word itself / Against the word.” Considering Richard’s meditations in the context of contemporary biblical harmonies and glosses opens a view of complex networks of signification that are particularly resonant in the multi-dimensional setting of the theatre.

Tom Bishop is Professor and Head of English at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, where he teaches Shakespeare, Renaissance literature, and Drama. He is author of Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder (1996), translator of Ovid’s Amores (2003), editor of Pericles, Prince of Tyre for the Internet Shakespeare Editions, and a continuing general editor of The Shakespearean International Yearbook (Routledge). He is currently working on Shakespeare’s use of the Bible and on a book called Shakespeare’s Theatre Games.