The English Bible that Shakespeare was most likely to have owned was the "Breeches* Bible." Like all others in the period, including the justly admired and long-lived King James version, it was based on the translations of William Tyndale* and Miles Coverdale*.

So-called because when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, "they knew that they were naked, and they sewed figtree leaves together and made themselves breeches" (its translation of Genesis 3:7).

Close

A graduate of Oxford, Tyndale was influenced by Erasmus, and, from the safety of Germany, translated the New Testament and the first five books of the Old Testament. He was arrested in Antwerp, and put to death for his actions, ironically just after Henry VIII had made the translation of the Bible into English a national priority.

Close

Coverdale finished Tyndale's translation, and had a hand in several later translations, including the officially sanctioned "Great Bible" of 1540 and the "Breeches Bible" (1557).

Close

The act of translating the Bible was revolutionary in effect, since it made the most powerful book in the debate over religion available to all--even those who could not read could understand it as it was read in the church each Sunday*.

An Act of 1538 ordered that the English version of the Bible should be kept and read in every parish church in the country.

Close

And its influence extended beyond the religious: the prose style that Tyndale and his followers chose was an elegant and poetic balance between the plain style of ordinary communication and the ornate style later popularized by Lyly.

The Humanities Text initiative of the University of Michigan includes this searchable edition of the King James Bible. On Biblical matters in general, see The WWW Bible Gateway.

Footnotes

  1. Biblical breeches

    So-called because when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, "they knew that they were naked, and they sewed figtree leaves together and made themselves breeches" (its translation of Genesis 3:7).

  2. William Tyndale

    A graduate of Oxford, Tyndale was influenced by Erasmus, and, from the safety of Germany, translated the New Testament and the first five books of the Old Testament. He was arrested in Antwerp, and put to death for his actions, ironically just after Henry VIII had made the translation of the Bible into English a national priority.

  3. Miles Coverdale

    Coverdale finished Tyndale's translation, and had a hand in several later translations, including the officially sanctioned "Great Bible" of 1540 and the "Breeches Bible" (1557).

  4. Access to the Bible

    An Act of 1538 ordered that the English version of the Bible should be kept and read in every parish church in the country.