Rev. Leithart, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, wrote this book for high school students, but Brightest Heaven of Invention will be helpful to readers who have long since graduated from school. The book is divided into three sections, history (“Henry V” and “Julius Caesar’), tragedy (“Hamlet” and “Macbeth”), and comedy (“The Taming of the Shrew” and “Much Ado About Nothing”). In each section, Leithart gives a brief introduction to the genre, walks the reader through each play, act by act, and closes with questions for review, discussion, and reflection.
In the introduction to the book, Rev. Leithart outlines something of why reading fiction is so vital for the Christian mind:
There are theological reasons why we think of life as having a narrative structure. Though everyone naturally arranges the events of his life into a narrative pattern, Christians have particular reasons for doing so. God has a plan—that is, a story—for each one of His children. Strictly speaking, we do not shape the facts of our lives into stories; we try to discern the pattern of the story that God is telling with our lives. The story is built into the web of life; it is not a figment of our imagination. More generally, we believe and confess that history is the story of God’s plan for mankind. The whole history of mankind and the creation has a beginning, a middle, and is moving toward an end. The history of the world began with creation and the fall of man; the center of history was the coming of the Son in human flesh to redeem us; and the end will come when Jesus returns. It is not just that we arbitrarily impose narrative patterns on life. Real life is sovereignly shaped and arranged by God into a story. History is not just His-story; it is His-story.
Thus, it is a mistake to suggest that literature and life are completely different from one another. They are not the same, but they fall into similar patterns. This means that learning narrative literature can enhance our understanding of real life… Literature abstracts from the complex events of life (just as we do all the time every day) and can reveal patterns that are like the patterns of events in the real world. Studying literature can give us sensitivity to those patterns. This sensitivity to the rhythm of life is closely connected with what the Bible calls wisdom.
Families wishing to introduce their children to Shakespeare, individuals going to see a play, and leaders of book discussion groups—along with just about everyone else who reads good literature—will find Brightest Heaven of Invention a helpful resource. Leithart, who writes with an infectious love for Shakespeare, says that he has found “Shakespeare to be a stimulating source for reflections on pastoral practice, history, politics, love, and life in general, not even to mention that Shakespeare uses the English language as no human being, before or since, has used language.”
We recommend Brightest Heaven of Invention to you.