Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

In the beginning…of the King James Bible

Just as William Shakespeare’s life and work attract myths and speculation, the King James Bible has been privy to a number of legends and half-truths in its 400-year history. And like the works of Shakespeare, the King James Bible has had a profound influence on English-speaking peoples across the globe. The creation and influence of this remarkable book is the topic of a new exhibition and website, Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, recently launched by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.

The Manifold Greatness website offers rich resources for educators, including content designed specifically for elementary and middle school audiences. Students can explore key questions surrounding the King James Bible, including what Bibles were used previously, how translators worked together to create the King James Bible, and how this remarkable text continues to be a part of our daily culture.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCi0nXMbAFw?rel=0&w=336&h=221]

Explore interactive content to get activity ideas for your classroom. The “how to” videos, including the one above, show you and your students how to make ink, quill pens, quartos, and other materials that relate to life during the period the King James Bible was being produced. For older students, you might visit the “Literary Influences” timeline to see how language from the King James Bible has impacted subsequent works, including the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the novels Jane Eyre, The Grapes of Wrath, and Song of Solomon.

Curious about a few myths associated with the King James Bible?

We won’t spill all of the beans right now, but it’s true that:
1. The King James Bible was not the first translation of the Bible into English.
2. King James did not personally translate any part of the text.
3. Shakespeare did not help to translate the King James Bible. As exhibition curator Hannibal Hamlin says in his blog post on this topic, “No way, no how.”


  • I’m not sure what half truths or legends are privy to the King James version of the bible, sounds like an interesting conversation; however, I’ve noticed in Shakespeare’s work a strong influence of the bible in his work. For example, the character Prospero from The Tempest, who personifies grace, Shakespeare puts a face on a biblical concept: forgiveness. Prospero forgave those who usurped his title and throne, of course after some mischief, ultimately, he repairs the broken relationships from his past. I would suggest that Shakespeare was not only influenced by the language of the bible but also by its message.

  • Eboni, thank you for your comment! While Shakespeare couldn’t have been influenced by the KJB directly because most his plays had been written and performed before the KJB published in 1611, he clearly was influenced by the Bible, most likely the Geneva Bible. Exhibition co-curator Hannibal Hamlin recently spent two years here as a Folger Fellow studying Shakespeare’s use of biblical allusions and references to make meaning in his plays and how the experience of hearing the Bible in church conditioned Shakespeare’s audience to recognize and interpret those biblical allusions when they heard them in the theater.

    More on this topic is here:

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