Be Playful

The Creative Secrets of Jesus and Shakespeare

Posted on: 7 February 2008


William Shakespeare and Jesus Christ were two of the most creative people ever walk on this planet. Their ideas have shaped the history of the Western world, and continue to shape the lives of individuals and communities to this day.

Here I reveal three secrets of their creative genius, methods still used today by writers, musicians, artists and business-people.

Contrary to what we like to believe, Shakespeare did not pluck the storylines for his plays out of the air, nor did they come to him magically whilst in a daydream. Likewise, the parables of Jesus were not dictated straight from heaven.

Both Shakespeare and Jesus, like all truly creative people in all times and all places, took ideas from the world around them, the culture in which they lived, and added their own twist.

Most of Shakespeare’s plays were retellings of contemporary folk stories or of other plays that Shakespeare had watched or acted in. Shakespeare retold these stories in his own voice, adding his own penetrating insight, and sometimes extra scenes.

The same is true for Jesus. Many of Jesus’ parables were common folktales of the time, to which Jesus added new details or new endings that caused people to look at the world in a different way. Jesus was aware that familiar stories with an unfamiliar ending can be more challenging than a completely new story.

For example, the parable of the prodigal son was a retelling of well-known Jewish story. Jesus’ addition to the story was the moody and hard-hearted older brother, whose attitude reflected those who condemned Jesus.

So how can the writers, artists, and clowns of today add some Shakespearean magic to their creative toolbox?

1. Go People-Watching

Both Jesus and Shakespeare had an acute understanding of human nature. Whenever they added a new twist to old ideas, it was always with the aim of showing something new about being human that they had observed.

You could spend some time people-watching, and think up a biography for someone you see.

Another tip is to read psychology or self-improvement books. Learn different psychological theories, apply them to different situations, and come to your own conclusions.

2. Use Creative Synergy

No creative idea is completely new. Instead, creativity is putting together two or more already existing ideas and see what comes out of the mix. This is called creative synergy.

Most blog posts are a mixture of ideas from books, other blogs and the author’s personal experience. Similarly, the steam engine combined a mix of fire, water, and mechanical machinery.

Ravi Vora has a great article on using creative synergy to write an A grade paper.

3. Inject your own voice

The most important thing to remember when you are re-telling, re-painting or re-writing is to inject your own voice and experience.

This gives your work the authenticity necessary to be provoking and challenging, whilst allowing others to gain new understanding by relating to your experience.


7 Responses to "The Creative Secrets of Jesus and Shakespeare"

You seem to be referring to Jesus as a mere man. He was the son of God. Linking him with Shakespeare is just so wrong in my humble opinion . You act like you were there when Jesus was speaking. If you were I doubt you’d have the opinion of Jesus that you do today. I’m Justa sayiing!

PS. If you knew Jesus like I know jesus(in my heart) you’d understand.


Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I totally agree with you about the difference between Jesus and Shakespeare – I’m certainly not trying to suggest that Shakespeare was the son of God.

I was deliberately being a bit provocative with this post. However, as a Christian I find it inspiring to know that Jesus learnt from the culture around him, meaning that he was able to engage with that culture in such a real and yet transcendent way.


David, Thanks for coming over to my site and commenting. Commenting is a pain and you had to work to do that I really appreciate you making the effort.

I completely missed your point about Jesus. You were “injecting your own voice” as you eluded to in your last paragraph. Sorry about that.

Glad you brought this up – a LOT of Shakespeare’s work is a blend of history, folklore and mythology. King Lear, for example, was a legendary figure from pre-Roman Britain (one of the earliest mentions of Lear in literature dates back to the 1100’s). The story is also heavily influenced by a common folk legend about a father splitting his wealth between three daughters. Or there’s Romeo and Juliet, which borrows from a long tradition of ill-fated romance stories and has strong parallels with a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The list goes on. For analysis of Shakespeare, check out Shmoop.

Thanks for including a link to my article on writing in yours! I really like your concept of being playful as I agree that everyone finds a lot more happiness when they realize life is a game. Keep up the good work David.

People watching is my favourite thing! I love to try to work out what names people have, what careers people are pursuing just by using intuition and initial response. I think there may be a reality TV Game show in that!

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