Ronald Mansbridge: William Tyndale & William Shakespeare

Both men were born in the country, in neighbouring counties. Both were of good, middleclass families; Tyndale's father a yeoman farmer, Shakespeare's a glover. Both spent their formative years in the English countryside.

Shakespeare's imagery shows a close familiarity with farm and garden, with plants and animals and birds; it comes from homely things, from fire, wood and cooking:

The hedge sparrow fed the cuckoo so long... t is the bright day that brings forth the adder ..As flies to wanton boys ... If you can look into the seeds of time... There is a tide in the affairs of man... We two will sing like birds in a cage...

Dr Donald Smeeton says of the other William: His style is precise, direct, and down-toearth... He employs similes, metaphors and illustrations drawn from the commoner everyday life. He speaks of, and to, the tanner, the weaver, the shepherd, the housewife and the mother. He often quotes folk proverbs, revealing his confidence in the wisdom of the common man.' When revising the NT he doesn't speak of omitting or correction errors, but of 'weeding out of it many faults', and he writes of 'dressing it and seasoning it, that the weak stomachs may receive it.' He accuses George Joye, for putting his name to Tyndale's work, of 'playing boo peep.' And adds, perhaps with less charm but more force, 'the fox when he hath pissed in the gray's (badger's) hole, challengeth it for his own.'

The use of country language is not the only thing the two Williamses have in common. Both favour short, strong Anglo-saxon words: Shakespeare gives us:

It is not, nor it cannot come to good. .. But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue... He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again... The time is out of joint... Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice...

In the same way Tyndale avoids latinate words like 'charity', preferring the plainer 'love'. He doesn't say 'The creator commanded that illumination should appear, but 'Then God said, "Let there be light".' The 'existing authorities' of others are his 'powers that be.'

It would be a mistake to think these vigorous words came easily from his pen, as by divine inspiration, since his revisions show us otherwise. His 1525 text 'Blessed are the maintainers of peace' is sharpened to 'Blessed are the peacemakers' in 1534, and this is typical of his approach to revision.

Finally, both had a knowledge of the classics, of mythology, of history. Tyndale in particular was highly educated, but never let his formal education stiffen his translation Their strength lay less in their learning than in their feeling of commonalty with the grew: mass of their fellow men. Shakespeare kept his groundlings in mind, and Tyndale never forgot that he was writing for the unlettered men and women of England, and for the 'boy that driveth the plough.'

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