Is this Shakespeare Country?

Is this Shakespeare Country?

Standing on this high point of the Cotswold Way I can hear the voices of William Shakespeare and William Tyndale. These two men have influenced the English language more than any others.

Shakespeare Country?

A mile or two from the village of Elkstone is the Cotswold Way with wonderful views of the Severn valley and beyond. Standing at this Tyndale Monument, you can see Berkeley castle with the Forest of Dean behind. On a clear day there are views of the distant Black Mountains on the border of Wales. Beside the river Severn, winding its way across the landscape, is the graceful tower of Gloucester Cathedral with the Malvern Hills standing proud in the distance. North-eastwards is Shakespeare country, Warwick, with its historic castle, Stratford and the Forest of Arden. This is the heart of middle England. English history is unmistakably bedded into the landscape here.

Portrait of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s influence?

We have all had to get to know some of Shakespeare’s plays in our school-days. Now we find ourselves dipping into them as adults, looking for the familiar quotations. But was the Bard ever here on these hills?

Local history in Dursley, claims that, in his younger days, William Shakespeare lived near here for a time. Did he have relatives here? The name ‘Shakespeare‘ appears in several local records. Shakespeare certainly seems to have known this part of Gloucestershire. 

In Henry 1V Act 5 there is reference to ‘Woncot’ under ‘the hill’. This could be the present day village of Woodmancote near Dursley, which has a local footpath that used to be called ‘Shakespeare’s Walk‘.

The English Language owes a huge debt of gratitude to William Shakespeare. He has enriched our language with his sublime words and phrases. A quote from one of his plays or sonnets often settles the matter!

Walker's gate on the Cotswold Way
A walker’s gate on the Cotswold Way

William Tyndale

But it was Tyndale who first opened the ‘gate’ and showed us ‘the Way’, through his printed English translation of the New Testament. This Tyndale Monument (top photo), standing above his birthplace in the village of North Nibley, is a fitting tribute to the hugely influential work of this courageous man.

If God spare my life before very long I shall cause every plough boy to know the Scriptures better than you do.”

William Tyndale’s words to a visiting priest who attacked him for his Bible beliefs.

His printed New Testament in 1526 was banned and copies were publicly burned by the authorities, yet it still spread widely. His last words, just before he died as a martyr were this prayer, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes…” That prayer was answered two years later when Henry VIII ordered that the ‘Great Bible’ (heavily dependent on Tyndale’s work) must be used in every parish in the land. You can still read his work to this day, in the King James Bible of 1611, 84% of which is based on Tyndale’s version.

As well as individual words, Tyndale also coined such familiar phrases as:

A page from William Tyndale's New Testament nt

Good Samaritan
twinkling of an eye 
a moment in time
seek and you shall find
eat, drink and be merry
ask and it shall be given you
judge not that you not be judged
let there be light
the powers that be
the salt of the earth
a law unto themselves
it came to pass
gave up the ghost
the signs of the times
fight the good fight

Tyndale and Shakespeare

William Tyndale’s immortal words hang in the Cotswold air. They have deeply influenced the ‘Golden Age’ of Elizabethan English. Our everyday speech is full of phrases taken from his New Testament.

It has been said that England has two books, The Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare but the Bible made England. You can hear the cadences of Tyndale’s Bible in the Shakespeare plays.

The Bible, translated into many languages, has become a world’s best selling book. How satisfied must William Tyndale be. Not just ‘every plough boy in England’ but millions throughout the whole world reading the Book that he gave his life to promote.

Next time – ‘Walking with John Clare’

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