Literature and Theatre

The multiplicity of interrogative perspectives at 'play' in the Elizabethan public theatres, and the Globe in particular, began with the make-up of the audiences. Their widely recognized diversity across class, occupation, education, and to some degree gender included 'penny stinkards' in the pit and wealthy merchants, Inns of Court scholars, members of the gentry and nobility. It also included religious diversity. Moving beyond assertions relating to personal spiritual questioning on Shakespeare's part, this exploration of the play focuses on the way in which he consciously uses the innately interrogative qualities of confessional conflict for dramaturgical effect. In Henry V, in particular, the Chorus imperatively demands an active rather than passive response from its audience as the first order of business. Shakespeare's decision to maintain and enhance the motif of stealing found in the source play therefore directly feeds the interrogative character of the play.

in Forms of faith
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A world of difference: religion, literary form, and the negotiation of conflict in early modern England

This book explores the specific ways available to mediate religious conflict, precisely because faith still mattered more than many other social paradigms emerging at that time, such as nationhood or race. It also explores a range of literary and theatrical forms as means of mediating religious conflict in early modern England. The book focuses on this issue from a variety of angles: the representation of Catholic figures in post-Reformation texts and contexts and the survival and ongoing importance of Catholic ritual as a mode of experience and of representation. Another angle is the drama's engagement of the audience in and beyond confessional conflict, especially by exploring religious pluralization and its irenic potential. This includes the possibility that the perception of multiple religious positions may support the practice of mediation rather than exacerbate conflict and reinforce divisions.

in Forms of faith
Confessional conflict and the origins of English Protestantism in Samuel Rowley’s When You See Me You Know Me (1605)

This chapter focuses on When You See Me You Know Me written by Samuel Rowley and performed by Prince Henry's Men. This play delves deeper than the others into the historiographical dynamics and contemporary resonances of early Tudor confessional conflicts. It deserves closer examination than it has hitherto received for the provocative way that it historicizes the origins of English Protestantism, and the canniness with which it makes this story present to Jacobean audiences. Post-Reformation England struggled with what it meant to live in a world fragmented by religious change. The chapter considers a central scene in When You See Me You Know Me's presentation of the history of the Reformation in England. In this scene the young Prince Edward reads dueling letters from his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth.

in Forms of faith
Negotiating confessional difference in early modern Christmas celebrations

The English Protestant monarchy took the lead in exemplifying the continued importance of Christmas to post-Reformation England. Mostly the Christmas celebrations, which by the early seventeenth century had consolidated into a list of customary foods, activities, and entertainments, carried little or no potentially objectionable devotional content. The central ideal for the season was open-handed generosity, signified primarily by the copious amounts of food showered on guests. Traditional foods consumed during the holiday included roast meats, mince pies, and plum puddings washed down with wine, strong beer, and the 'strong brown ale' in the wassail cup. King James I's initiative on Christmas is reflected in John Taylor's Complaint of Christmas, the pamphlet that ends with the ecumenical suggestion that Protestant faith could use a little bolstering with Catholic charity and vice versa.

in Forms of faith
Confessional conflict and Elizabethan romances

The Roman Catholic liturgy and doctrine of transubstantiation were maintained during the early years of Reformation under Henry VIII. When Henry's young son Edward ascended the throne, the English Reformation gained momentum. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and the leading theologian during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, gradually adopted Huldrych Zwingli's figurative understanding of the sacraments as the official Anglican position, and reformed the liturgy accordingly. This chapter focuses on crucial moments in Philip Sidney's romance narrative Arcadia that are informed by Eucharistic thinking, rituals, and emotional experience. As a remnant of the officially abandoned faith, the Catholic Eucharist remained an active force in Elizabethan culture for a wealth of reasons. Not only did a considerable group of Englishmen and women cling to the old faith, but the potential official return to Catholicism also remained an issue in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

in Forms of faith

One common response to the seemingly radical tonal shift between Acts 4 and 5 has been to scour the latter for signs of dissension and unease: evidence that all is not as well in Belmont as it appears. This chapter expresses that the two acts are united by a pervasive Easter symbolism that revolves around Shylock's conversion. Act 4's echoes of the passion and crucifixion are well known. But if Act 4 alludes to Good Friday, Act 5 alludes to Holy Saturday and the dawning of Easter Sunday. While the language and rituals of the Easter Vigil present an uncomplicated narrative of Jewish-Christian succession, the liturgy's complicated history raises implicit questions about that narrative and about the immutability of any religious identity. Protestant familiarity with the Vigil appears to have come through multiple channels. The play is unquestionably more interested in Christian harmony than in Christian-Jewish harmony.

in Forms of faith
Goodnight ballads in Eastward Ho

This chapter examines how the conventions of the goodnight ballad contribute to or even constitute both how and what the songs communicate. In Eastward Ho, an understanding of the public use and persuasive power of the goodnight ballads clarifies the satirical and coercive intent of the final song. The reading does not dwell on the sincerity and agenda of a single character. Such a reading finds the play satirical about drama yet serious about grace, providing a commentary on how style, form, and convention can simultaneously and uneasily both facilitate and subsume sincerity and honesty. Goodnight ballads fit well into Bruce Smith's balladic assessment as they are psychological, social, and emotional as well as both political and religious. They create communities though participation and inclusion as well as through delineation and exclusion. While every goodnight ballad deviates somewhat from the conventions, most follow a highly recognizable script.

in Forms of faith

For decades, John Webster's The White Devil has been pushed and pulled between the poles 'early' and 'modern'. On one end is the claim that the play in fact offers a complexly moralist, even providentialist worldview. On the other end is the reading of The White Devil as a cynical, even radical tragedy. This tragedy bears witness to a culture facing nihilistic anxieties and represents the many subversive tendencies of early modern English tragedies more generally. This chapter expresses that The White Devil, with its many religious references and performances, offers less than moralism, more than cynicism. Following the longstanding evaluation of religion in early modern English studies, the chapter re-examines the purpose of religious performance, cynicism, and meta-theatricality in The White Devil. The White Devil is especially attuned to religious mediation as a process of inter-subjectivity.

in Forms of faith
Mercilla and other Elizabethan types

The 1570 "Homelie against Disobedience" and court sermons responding to the Northern Rebellion and the threat posed by Mary Stuart employ biblical figures to develop a spiritual interpretation of current events. Public sermons in 1587, the year of Mary Stuart’s execution, and in 1589 likewise use biblical typology which shades into nationalism. Recent critics see the Mercilla episode, in its idealization of Elizabeth’s attitude and inaccurate presentation of Mary Stuart’s trial, as evidence of Spenser’s bad faith or a sophisticated critique of power. Rather, his allegory recalls preachers’ use of typology to spiritualize recent events and present them as reflecting well upon Elizabeth and God’s care of England.

in Spenserian allegory and Elizabethan biblical exegesis

Occasional liturgies are scripts for religious services which respond to specific occasions: emergencies like plague (in 1563), Muslim invasions in Europe (in 1565 and 1566), bad weather (in 1571), the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the London earthquake of 1580, the Spanish invasion (expected from 1586 through 1588), or plots against the queen like Dr. Parry’s in 1585 and Babington’s in 1586. Two occasional liturgies from 1576 and 1585 offer readings and prayers for November 17, signalling that, like Pentecost and Christmas, Accession Day was part of the church year. Identifying England with Israel, liturgists treated Elizabethan current events and public figures as interchangeable with events and characters described in the Bible. Elizabethan churchgoers thus had abundant training in decoding allegorical narratives—a facility they could bring to a reading of The Faerie Queene.

in Spenserian allegory and Elizabethan biblical exegesis