Friday, November 1, 2013
Saint Paul. The apostle Paul's writings are everywhere in Shakespeare. One example is Paul's comments on marriage in Ephesians, which figure both seriously and ironically in The Comedy of Errors. But the play in which Paul is specifically invoked is Richard III (that's Car Park Richard). Richard himself likes to swear by Paul. This is puzzling. Maybe someone has figured it out, but I haven't. I think I understand his swearing "by St. Paul" in the second scene of the play, as Richard's little joke, since he and his auditors are near St. Paul's Cathedral, a prominent church and, in its yard, a commercial gathering place in early modern London. (It's pictured above in its pre-Great-Fire-of-1666 incarnation.) What I don't understand is why Richard keeps swearing by Paul as the play goes on, as though Paul's his patron saint, though Richard himself is something between atheist and devil-worshipper. There's another, more subtle reference to Paul in the later Shakespeare. The Winter's Tale's Paulina, the brave, outspoken servant who risks prison to shame her sinning king into repentance, is named for him. The reason's obvious.