Saul, the first king of Israel mentioned in the Bible, has endured volatile shifts in opinion about his reputation; he has been viewed as both a noble hero and an incompetent leader (Ehrlich, "Introduction," 1). Anointed by the prophet Samuel, Saul had a tendency to disobey the words of God and his prophet. In one instance, he failed to do as he was instructed and kill all of the members of an enemy clan, which earned him a condemnation from Samuel and prophecy that foretold Israel's eventual political fracture. Although he provided the means for David to rise to prominence, Saul came to envy David's success and popularity. The two men became enemies with Saul making numerous attempts on the younger man's life. Saul ultimately committed suicide after the Philistines, who formed an alliance with David, defeated his army at the Battle of Giboa.
Saul's destiny can be read as that of a reluctant king who favored the glory of kingship over its duties, and Steven L. McKenzie states that he "is simply fated to disobey and be rejected." (McKenzie, "Deuteronomistic," 62) Part of his problem lies in his own internal conflict; he constantly fluctuates between a love and a hatred for David (Nicholson, "Poetic Eye," 314) and even clashes with God himself (Nicholson, 326). The nature of Saul's story lends itself well to literary use, as demonstrated by Browning's poem "Saul," which David narrates:
Ay, to save and redeem and restore him, maintain at the height
This perfection, — succeed with life`s day-spring, death`s minute of night?
Interpose at the difficult minute, snatch Saul the mistake,
Saul the failure, the ruin he seems now, — and bid him awake
From the dream, the probation, the prelude, to find himself set
Clear and safe in new light and new life, — a new harmony yet
To be run, and continued, and ended — who knows? — or endure!
Browning's David ruminates on the question of saving the troubled Saul from himself. Furthermore, he argues on a largely emotional platform, and like Carlyle, Browning chooses to place more emphasis on the unconscious than some sort of material "intellectual power." (Johnson, "Authority," 93)
Carlyle refers in his "Signs of the Times" to Saul joining the prophets of the time. This directly recalls the tradition of asking if Saul "is also among the prophets" (Nihan, "Prophets," 95), which originates in two biblical events. When Samuel first anoints Saul, he experiences a series of events that culminate in a procession of prophets playing instruments, and he joins them. Later, when Saul sends his men after David, they encounter the prophets. These religious men convince the soldiers, and eventually Saul, to abandon the pursuit of David and join in the music-making. The prophets offer Saul lyrical and spiritual bliss that he cannot refuse despite his mission. Carlyle draws on this connection, however, to make a critical point against the so-called prophets of his age; the infectious words of these men prove so powerful that they can permeate the minds of even the most political and mercurial individuals. Whereas the biblical prophets sought to ease their way into King Saul's heart, the contemporary prophets target the brain and bombard it with ideas that run contrary to true spiritual and intellectual growth. Carlyle takes a biblical incident and translates it to a modern stage while playing with the consequences such an incident has on a society.
"Dramatic Lyrics by Robert Browning: Saul." Classic Authors. 2009. 30 March 2009.
Ehrlich, Carl S. "Introduction." Saul in Story and Tradition. Eds. Carl S. Ehrlich and Marsha C. White. Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.
Johnson, E.D.H. "Authority and the Rebellious Heart (Chapter 3)." The Alien Vision. The Victorian Web. 2009. 30 March 2009.
McKenzie, Steven L. "Saul in the Deuteronomistic History." Saul in Story and Tradition. Eds. Carl S. Ehrlich and Marsha C. White. Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.
Nicholson, Sarah. "Catching the Poetic Eye. Saul Reconceived in Modern Literature." Saul in Story and Tradition. Eds. Carl S. Ehrlich and Marsha C. White. Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.
Nihan, Christophe. "Saul among the Prophets." Saul in Story and Tradition. Eds. Carl S. Ehrlich and Marsha C. White. Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.
"Saul." Wikipedia. 2009. 31 March 2009.
Last modified 1 April 2009