This is the Sixteenth Century : no festivity can do without the Church of England’s blessing. Besides that, 31 July is the Eve of St. Peter’s in Chains. A regular holy day, and this evensong may be important enough to be under England’s Law an obligation to attend. Today’s lesson from the New Testament is from Acts 12. The community knows the bible by heart, but there is no harm in refreshing the cultural memory of less devout future generations :
1) Now about that time, Herod the King stretched forth his hand to vex certain of the Church, 2) And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3) And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further, to take Peter also (then were the days of unleavened bread.) 4) And when he had caught him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to be kept, intending after the Passover to bring him forth to the people. 5 ) So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer was made of the Church unto God for him. 6) And when Herod would have brought him out unto the people, the same night slept Peter between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and the keepers before the door, kept the prison. 7) And behold, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and a light shined in the house, and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. 8) And the Angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. Then he said unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. 9) So Peter came out and followed him, and knew not that it was true, which was done by the Angel, but thought he had seen a vision. 10) Now when they were past the first and the second watch, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city, which opened to them by its own accord, and they went out, and passed through one street, and by and by the Angel departed from him.
Consistency demands the use of the 1568/1572 Bishops’ Bible. Which was the standard bible on Church of England lecterns. But this was essentially a Geneva Bible without its marginal notes, that were too Calvinistic to an Elizabethan bishop’s taste. It was this annotated version that Shakespeare knew by heart, and its number of notes expanded a lot between 1560 and 1599, which years’ editions are available on internet. The limited choice, unfortunately, prevents an exact dating of this note from verse 12, that is not in the 1560 edition, and that establishes a firm link between the day’s lesson and the two great love scenes in Romeo and Juliet : ‘Holy meetings in the night as well of men as women (when they cannot be suffered in the day time) are allowable by the example of the Apostles.’