Shakespeare: The Empire Builder

William Shakespeare loved empire, and so should true Christians.

Through his brilliant prose, William Shakespeare helped prepare the British people to rule over the greatest empire on the planet. With its colonies around the world, the sun never set on the British Empire.

Shakespeare’s writings also explain why Britain has lost its empire. What went wrong? His answer applies in principle to the United States, which is filled with a cauldron of evils today. He points to our nations’ ability to solve their problems if willing to do so. There is a giant lesson to take away from Shakespeare’s writings. Shakespeare showed how to sustain an empire after building it. Problems will only keep intensifying until we learn this lesson.

Why did the British Empire come into existence? We must answer this question.

In The Facts About Shakespeare, William Allan Neilson and Ashley Horace Thorndike wrote:

Shakespeare knew his Bible. Several volumes have been written to exhibit the extent of this knowledge, and it has been shown by Anders that he knew both the Genevan and the Great Bible …. Charles Wordsworth, a bishop of St. Andrews, and a scholar well versed in both Latin and Greek, wrote, “Take the entire range of English literature, put together our best authors who have written upon subjects not professedly religious or theological, and we shall not find, I believe, in them all united, so much evidence of the Bible having been read and used as we have found in Shakespeare alone.”

Shakespeare wrote a lot about the Bible and how to apply its lessons. He lived at the time the King James Bible was printed, in 1611, and during the reign of Queen Elizabeth i before that. This was a critical period in history—the foundation of the British Empire was being laid.

In Lectures on the Science of Language, Max Müller wrote in 1861: “A well-educated person in England who has been at a public school and at the university … seldom uses more than about 3,000 or 4,000 words ….” He went on to praise Shakespeare’s variety of expression: Shakespeare used about 22,000 words in his plays! What a vocabulary, and what an educator he was for the British people and the world. He was the greatest non-Bible writer to ever live.

Biblical Themes

Biblical themes appear throughout Shakespeare’s plays. In King John ii, he wrote:

With that same purpose-changer, that sly devil,
That broker, that still breaks the pate of faith ….

Satan the devil has the power to shatter people’s faith. This is a prime way to destroy an empire.

In The Merchant of Venice, the character Portia says:

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself ….

God is more merciful than anyone. Mercy is a godly quality. How many nations are taught like this from their literature—especially of the secular category?

Shakespeare’s best play, arguably, is Hamlet. Abraham Lincoln’s favorite soliloquy in the play centered on repentance. Hamlet’s father was king until his own brother killed him, became king, and married his widow less than two months later. This is one of the most abominable scenes in Shakespeare’s plays. After quite some time, the new king, Hamlet’s uncle, realized the magnitude of his horrible sin. He said:

O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder.

This is an obvious reference to the first family in human history. Adam and Eve led the world away from God. Their eldest son, Cain, killed his brother, Abel. Such a tragedy should have made the parents realize the curses of rebelling against God! King Claudius continued in the soliloquy:

Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!

The Apostle Paul wrote something extremely similar in Romans 7:24: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Repentance must be toward God; only He can deliver us. Here’s one more section of the soliloquy:

Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well.

Repentance heals all our ills, if we are humble and teachable like a little child (Matthew 18:1-3). Shakespeare understood that.

Hamlet’s mother was an accomplice in the despicable plot to depose her husband. Hamlet confronted her and implored her to repent:

Mother, for love of grace, …
Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what’s past; avoid what is to come ….

Would a message like this have anything to do with preparing the way for the mighty British Empire? (Request our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy to understand God’s involvement in making the British Empire great.) Hamlet continued:

The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

God calls a small group of people today to be a part of the seventh era of His Church and to raise up the ruins of the wayward sixth era. It is our job to “set it right.”

Hamlet asked, “What is a man?” In Psalm 8:4, King David asked the same question. Hamlet continued:

Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and God-like reason
To fust in us unused.

God made us with minds that can think and reason like Him! The human mind is not meant to “fust,” or to rust. We must use it the right way! There’s something different about man. No animal has “God-like reason.” We are made to look like God, and to develop the mind and character of God (Genesis 1:26). Shakespeare pointed to this divine purpose of human life. What powerful poetry!

James Russell Lowell wrote: “It may be reckoned one of the rarest pieces of good luck that ever fell to the share of a race, that (as was true of Shakespeare) its most rhythmic genius, its acutest intellect, its profoundest imagination, and its healthiest understanding should have been combined in one man ….”

Was it really luck?

Love of Empire

In The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality, Charlton Ogburn quoted early 19th-century Shakespeare commentator Hermann Sincheimer as writing (emphasis mine throughout):

There was not room enough for him in the island of Britain. He had to roam far and wide in order to keep his genius supplied with raw material. Like Drake and Raleigh, he discovered and held as booty the material which set his imagination on fire. Between the lines and between the characters, one may read the legend, “Our island is too small; Our kingdom is the world.

Shakespeare believed that the British should rule the world—and they almost did! He has been called Britain’s triumph, the soul of the age. He expanded the minds of the people, especially the leaders. Winston Churchill loved his poetry and said that one only needs the Bible and Shakespeare to be well educated.

The name Israel in the Bible applies primarily to Manasseh and Ephraim—the United States and Britain, respectively. (The United States and Britain in Prophecy will prove this to you.) In Genesis 35:11, God promised that Ephraim and his descendants would grow into “a nation and a company of nations.” Shakespeare helped the British people fulfill that promise!

“And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days” (Genesis 49:1). God has revealed what would happen to America, Britain and the other descendants of ancient Israel in this end time. Jacob explained in this chapter the overwhelming prosperity that the British people would enjoy as they colonized the world—their “branches run over the wall” (verse 22). At least a quarter of the Bible is written in beautiful poetic form like this.

Miriam Joseph quoted 16th-century author Henry Peacham in Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language, writing that Shakespeare lived “in an age ardently devoted to the reading of the Bible, wherein a knowledge of the figures of rhetoric ‘help much for the better understanding of the holy Scriptures.’”

The British people don’t read the Bible today. The empire is gone. Is there a connection? The Bible would show America and Britain the solutions to our deadly problems. Spiritual rot has consumed these nations. As spiritual empire builders, God’s people must learn from Britain’s failure to sustain its empire.

Shakespeare sweated and struggled to perfect his poetry and to avoid the crass and uncouth meter of false grammar. “For a good poet’s made as well as born,” he said. God makes His people strain and strive to be successful. We need the mind and faith of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5; Galatians 2:20).

Julius Caesar says:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune ….

This quote greatly inspired Abraham Lincoln. Build momentum, and ride the tide to victory as empire builders for God!