Literature and Theatre

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The epilogue discusses the depiction of the church as a sacred space in the Middle English carol By a chapel as I came. The chapel has a multisensory, dynamic sanctity, and is presented as the house of God and all his saints. The epilogue concludes by showing how this mode of sanctity can still be experienced in the modern world by describing a visit to the church of St Botolph’s, Slapton, to examine the wall paintings and by discussing modern material replicas of church architecture, including the Lego Durham cathedral and the ‘Woolly Spires’ knitted churches project.

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
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Reading sacred space in late medieval England

The introduction establishes the methodology for reading sacred space in Middle English literature through an examination of the fifteenth-century text ‘The Canterbury Interlude’, in which Chaucer’s pilgrims arrive at Canterbury Cathedral, visit the shrine of Thomas Becket and argue over their interpretation of the stained glass. The chapter explores the relationship between texts, buildings, visual art, and lay practice in the production of sanctity and sets up the theoretical framework for discussing the church as sacred space. The chapter argues that sacred space is performative and must be made manifest, with reference to Mircea Eliade’s concept of the hierophany, and suggests that sacred space is a powerful tool in the negotiation of social relationships. Finally, the chapter discusses sanctity as a form of symbolic capital in an increasingly competitive devotional environment.

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
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Pastoral care in the parish church

This chapter argues that the profane challenge posed by lay misbehaviour and sacrilege in the church paradoxically strengthens sacred space. Sermon exempla from the literature of pastoral care (e.g. Mirk’s Festial, Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne) show how devils and demons assist in the cleansing of the church from profane contamination and the chapter argues for the integral relationship between violence and the sacred, focusing on the punishment of sinners and on the sacrificial blood of Christ, depicted in lyrics and wall paintings. The chapter reassesses the relationship between church art and sermon exempla and argues for a symbiotic relationship that presents the material church and its devotional objects as living, breathing actors in the drama of salvation. The performance of narrative exempla animates the visual depictions of angels, devils, and saints in the church who come to life to protect and fight for their sacred spaces.

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
Placing the people at the heart of sacred space

This chapter examines the debate over the relationship between the church building and its community in orthodox and Lollard texts. The chapter begins with the allegorical reading of church architecture in William of Durandus’s Rationale divinorum officiorum and the Middle English What the Church Betokeneth, in which every member of the community has a designated place in the church. The chapter then discusses Lollard attempts to divorce the building from the people by critiquing costly material churches and their decorations in The Lanterne of Liȝt, Lollard sermons, and Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede. The chapter concludes by examining Dives and Pauper in the context of fifteenth-century investment in the church, both financial and spiritual, and argues that in practice church buildings were at the devotional heart of their communities.

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
Evading theology in Macbeth

In the Life of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell records a conversation on April 8, 1779 among the guests at Allan Ramsey's house whose subject apparently turned to Macbeth. This chapter explores the different layers of theological uncertainty with which Macbeth confronts its spectators. Stephen Greenblatt observes that Shakespeare never offers the audience a clear understanding of the Sisters, instead 'staging the epistemological and ontological dilemmas that in the deeply contradictory ideological situation of his time haunted virtually all attempts to determine the status of witchcraft beliefs and practices'. It examines the reasons behind the play's remarkable reserve by connecting epistemological uncertainty to textual instability. Since the belated publication of Thomas Middleton's The Witch in 1778, scholars have recognized its strong textual connection with Macbeth. Middleton's putative changes certainly heighten the ambiguity of the Sisters' nature through contradiction and obfuscation.

in Forms of faith
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Reformed indifferently

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts covered in the preceding chapters of the book. The book focuses on all new approaches to a familiar narrative, in which cultural form and religious reform were as closely identified as Shakespeare's constabulary suspects, and the aesthetic emerged as a placeholder for toleration when the Wars of Religion stalled, because, in the words of Hugh Grady, 'it began to appear that art, not any faith, would have to provide a cultural community'. 'Confession is a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship', Micheal Foucault had maintained, 'for one does not confess without the presence of the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console, and reconcile. The contributors to Forms of Faith have apparently taken a self-denying ordinance never to mention the term 'political theology' which so excites Shakespeareans.

in Forms of faith

According to Horace, the poem is a memorial surpassing the commemorative function of funeral monuments like the pyramids. This claim to the superior mnemonic power of poetry derives from the immateriality and consequently the immortality of the poem as well as the person commemorated by it. Highlighting the decay, past and future, of material monuments, the ruin is a conceptual feature of topos. The significance of ruins changes according to different temporal and cultural contexts. Thus in the wake of Reformation iconoclasm, ruin poems took on a specific function in England. The vogue for ruin poems in Elizabethan England was more than a simple coincidence, let alone self-evident: ruin-poetry fulfilled important social, mnemonic and poetic functions after the Reformation. This chapter seeks to reconstruct these functions and to show how they informed one particularly instructive text, Edmund Spenser's The Ruines of Time .

in Forms of faith

John Donne's complex religious identity has long been a challenge to literary scholars. The question of Donne's ecumenicalism may reasonably prompt us to search Donne's oeuvre for statements that address the question explicitly. Even focusing specifically on Eucharistic theology, one finds several strongly ecumenical statements in Donne's sermons. Catholics and Protestants agreed that the Eucharist was a sign but differed radically over exactly how it signified; Protestants also disagreed with one another. As a result, continental and English tractarians produced a large body of polemic articulating a range of semiotic approaches to the sacrament. The model of exhibition becomes more prominent in the English Protestant Eucharistic tracts beginning in the 1550s. The substantial body of work on Donne as a coterie poet tells us that seemingly audacious features of his verse must be read in the context of socially situated production and circulation.

in Forms of faith
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Literary form and religious conflict in early modern England

This book explores a range of literary and theatrical forms as means of mediating religious conflict in early modern England. It deals with the specific ways available to mediate religious conflict, precisely because faith mattered more than many other social paradigms. The first part explores the ways in which specific religious rituals and related cultural practices were taken up by literary texts. In a compelling rereading of the final act of 'The Merchant of Venice', the book investigates the devotional differences informing early modern observances of Easter. Subsequently, it explores the ways in which Christmas provided a confessional bridge uniting different religious constituencies. Goodnight ballads were not only commercially successful pieces of public entertainment but also effective forms of predominantly Protestant religious persuasion. The book's consideration of Elizabethan romance links the literary form to the sacrament of the Eucharist, and argues that the Eucharist debate had an impact on Elizabethan romances. The second part 'Negotiating confessional conflict' provides a rereading of When You See Me You Know Me, exposing the processes of religious reform as an on-going means of mediating the new normality of confessional plurality. It examines the potential of the tragic form by a reading of the play The White Devil, and discusses the ideological fault line in the views of witchcraft. The book also shows that Henry V anticipates later sermons of John Donne that served to promote 'an interrogative conscience'.

This chapter reconsiders Michel Foucault's critique of confession in order to examine, in slightly broader yet more methodological terms, what exactly we mean by negotiating 'confessional' conflict in late Reformation English literature. It offers a candid analysis of ecclesial and professional division as forms of life, illuminating in Foucault's mature work a more interesting prospect. This prospect is the re-definition of confessional practice away from a 'hermeneutics of the subject', and the articulation of a more local, civic understanding of the religious self, in which doctrinal confession forms a 'stylistics of existence', rather than subjection. The chapter focuses on John Donne's remarks at The Hague to consider his explicit references to such 'care', which Donne finds prefigured in the spiritual and vocational 'nets' of the apostolic fishermen in Matthew's gospel, as well as the theology of the confessionalized Church on which it is based.

in Forms of faith