A Key to Understanding
Are you looking for books that analyze literature from a Christian perspective? There are a slew of them but, unfortunately, most are of poor artistic or scholarly quality. Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare Plays by Peter Leithart (Canon Press, 1996) is a refreshing change. His writing is a pleasure to read and his ideas are insightful and well developed.
Leithart presents an overview of six Shakespearean plays from a Christian perspective. However, this book is far from a typical Christian literary analysis. Leithart opens the book with a thoughtful discussion of literary study. His approach to literature is intelligent, convicting, and gracious. Only after fully explaining his views on literary study does he examine the plays.
Leithart then carefully analyzes the form, artistry, and messages of six Shakespearean plays. He provides wonderful insights, helpful contextual information, questions, and resources. His writing is meaty, and he leads his readers through the plays slowly, pointing out biblical themes and images in the playwright’s work.
Leithart’s book is well structured. In the introduction, he provides a basis for his analyses and includes suggestions for incorporating his book into a literature curriculum.
Brightest Heaven of Invention consists of three main sections. In the first section, Leithart introduces Shakespeare’s history plays and walks readers through Henry V and Julius Caesar. The second section covers two of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Hamlet and Macbeth. The third section covers two of the most popular Shakespearean comedies, The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado about Nothing.
The author patterns the three sections similarly. He opens each by laying a foundation for the genre, whether history, tragedy, or comedy. He then provides a general introduction, summary, and background information for a single play. Leithart breaks down the play into a few major sections and walks his readers section by section through each play. Each lesson concludes with “Review and Thought” questions. At the end of each play’s analysis, Leithart lists a variety of films based on Shakespeare’s plays as well as some suggestions for papers.
Leithart targets his book toward high-school students. Homeschool students in the upper grades could easily use it. However, adults would benefit from and enjoy his thoughtful analyses. Leithart, through contextual information, historical background, and careful explanation, shows his readers how to read and understand Shakespeare. This book provides readers with a launching pad to analyzing and appreciating Shakespeare in a new way.
I found Brightest Heaven of Invention inspiring and one of a kind. I especially enjoyed Leithart’s analysis of The Taming of the Shrew. He clearly shows how Shakespeare used the play to uphold a biblical marriage structure. Comedy is powerful, and through it, Shakespeare skillfully presented his audience with truth. Leithart’s analysis of this comedy helped me appreciate the artistry, depth, and lessons it contained. The thoughtfully presented ideas, the eloquent wording, and the well-contextualized analyses make this book a wonderful addition to any family’s reading list.
It is available at http://www.leithart.com.
By Emily Adams
Emily Adams has a B.A. in English from Belhaven College and enjoys reading, writing about, and teaching literature in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
—Originally published in the “God’s Word Does Not Return Void” issue (May/June 2009) of Homeschooling Today magazine