In the year in which the English speaking world is celebrating the four hundredth year of the King James Authorised bible it’s interesting to reflect on what a period 1604, when the work started, to 1611, when it was published, was in England. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine seven years of such literary activity. Apart from all the drama that was going on – the richness of Jacobean theatre with such brilliant and highly productive writers as Webster, Tourneur, Ben Jonson, Middleton, Rowley and scores of others, there was William Shakespeare, of course.
During the period of the translation of the Bible Shakespeare wrote All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Othello, Timon of Athens, Troilus & Cressida, Twelfth Night, Cymbeline, Pericles, and The Winter’s Tale. And in 1611 the year of the Bible’s publication The Tempest was performed for the first time. And there’s more. The Sonnets were published in 1611
Wow! I hear you say. Yes indeed. And the effect those two bodies of literature – Shakespeare’s plays and the King James Bible – had on the English language, is phenomenal. Whereas Shakespeare moved the language on with new words flowing like water from his pen, the translators of the Bible sought to preserve the English language in its most formal form, while at the same time creating a poetry of their own. The result was of the authoritative voice of God in the English language.
Between them, the two works express the whole range of human activity and emotions in language that is an inextricable part of the human experience they are portraying. It would be impossible to get through a day without consciously or unwittingly using the language of either Shakespeare or the King James Bible to express everyday things. If we find ourselves kicking against the pricks or killing two birds with one stone or having a bloody nose or loving our neighbour or darkening someone’s doorway we are inside the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. If it weren’t for those two phenomena the English language would be vastly different from what it is today.