Shakespeare, Lee Oser argues, is a Christian literary artist who criticizes and challenges Christians, but who does so on Christian grounds. Stressing Shakespeare’s theological sensitivity, Oser places Shakespeare’s work in the "radical middle," the dialectical opening between the sacred and the secular where great writing can flourish. According to Oser, the radical middle was and remains a site of cultural originality, as expressed through mimetic works of art intended for a catholic (small "c") audience. It describes the conceptual space where Shakespeare was free to engage theological questions, and where his Christian skepticism could serve his literary purposes. Oser reviews the rival cases for a Protestant Shakespeare and for a Catholic Shakespeare, but leaves the issue open, focusing, instead, on how Shakespeare exploits artistic resources that are specific to Christianity, including the classical-Christian rhetorical tradition. The scope of the book ranges from an introductory survey of the critical field as it now stands, to individual chapters on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, the Henriad, Hamlet, and King Lear. Writing with a deep sense of literary history, Oser holds that mainstream literary criticism has created a false picture of Shakespeare by secularizing him and misconstruing the nature of his art. Through careful study of the plays, Oser recovers a Shakespeare who is less vulnerable to the winds of academic and political fashion, and who is a friend to the enduring project of humanistic education. Christian Humanism in Shakespeare: A Study in Religion and Literature is both eminently readable and a work of consequence.
"Lee Oser is making what is now a novel argument – how the pendulum swings – that Shakespeare’s plays should be read through the lens of Christian humanism...I don’t think I’ve read anything on Shakespeare in years that’s drawn my attention to the importance of so many moments and aspects of the plays that I had simply paid no attention to before."~William Flesch, Brandeis University
"Lee Oser's reading of Shakespeare as an Erasmian humanist is a work of scholarly conscience and commitment. Oser shows real delicacy in his treatment of the plays, and a generous wit in his dealings with the vast secondary literature. Shakespeare emerges here not as a champion of orthodoxy but rather an exuberant skeptic who saw that questioning must have an end."~David Bromwich, Yale University
"Lee Oser offers insight after insight concerning Shakespeare’s art and language, the values contested in his dramas, and the degree to which religion plays a pivotal role on the Globe’s stage. If one remains skeptical about the argument that Shakespeare’s Christianity is, as Oser claims, ‘entirely relevant’ to his achievement, then, as Coleridge offered about Christianity itself, ‘TRY IT’: in short, read this provocative, controversial, and scrupulously written book."~James Engell, Harvard University
"Anyone who has any love for Shakespeare and desire to gain deeper insights into Shakespeare—his context, time, and the dramas of stage and life—will find an exceptional work in Christian Humanism in Shakespeare. For those of us who are involved in the curating and cultivating of the heart and the mind in relation to God and the arts, this is an indispensable read."~VoegelinView