Wayne Rebhorn & Frank Whigham, Directors 208 W. 21st Street B5000, PAR 115 78712 • 512-232-2483
Renaissance Institute Summer Symposium, 2010
The religious conflict I want to examine in my essay for the symposium is an internal one, running through the society of late Tudor England and, in particular, running through the audience of Christopher Marlowe. I want to posit a new understanding of Marlowe’s relationship to his society’s religious culture. It leaves aside the question of his personal religious convictions, whether sceptical or sincere, claiming that, whatever they were, Marlowe was adept at manipulating the religious turmoil within his audience. The paper will focus on the issue of damnation, and the way that Marlowe’s villain-heroes in three plays (The Jew of Malta, The Massacre at Paris and Doctor Faustus) present that audience with a clearly damned protagonist who is, at times, the object of disconcerting pity—a volatile and, a times, transgressive emotion in Renaissance England. Thought these tragic protagonists Marlowe complicates the sympathies of the spectators, and probes the uneasy conscience of the Elizabethan religious settlement.
In offering a tactic by which an individual might answer judicial interrogatories while simultaneously disguising the full substance and meaning of one’s answer, the Catholic doctrine of equivocation responded to the precarious position of Catholics in the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras. This project demonstrates, however, that the impact of the controversy over equivocation was not limited to its most public appearance during the trials of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. In articulating a potentially viable theorization of the impenetrability of the human mind, equivocation instead demonstrates the centrality of human cognition to definitions of citizenship and subjecthood circulating throughout the religious and political conflicts of the seventeenth century. In their own debates over Biblical stories and the role of language and intentionality in both speech and writing, both Protestant and Catholic polemicists debate developed more than just theological treatises. Rather they pursued working theories of the contextualization and design of narratives, transforming their texts into investigations of the process of reading and writing. Equivocation thereby becomes a key to understanding how issues of law, textual interpretation, and cognitive access helped shape seventeenth-century religious literature and conflicts.
In "Spenser's Dark Materials: Representation in the Shadow of Christ," I argue that Spenser's concern for the idolatrous nature of poetic representation conceals a deeper fascination with its materiality. As representations of the body of Christ wane in post-Reformation England so too does the mediating power of Christ's body. Spenser's "satire" of Catholicism reveals an attempt to find in idolatry a productive discourse for imagining mediation; that is for construing the relationship between words and things. This desire for mediation in the wake of an absent Eucharistic or incarnational poetics appears in a shadow world of materiality in the Legend of Holiness: dark forests, monstrous bodies, women's bodies, dreams, Hesiodic cosmogonies, and harrowing underworlds. Spenser's interest in the "evil" materiality of a shadow world of idolatry reveals an attempt to forge in the world of organic matter a new contract to mediate emerging disjunctions between words and things, matter and form, flesh and spirit.
John Donne’s apostasy and eventual installment as the Dean of St. Paul’s Church provided him with a rare perspective: few people in England were so positioned to hold a nuanced view of religious ideology. It is surprising, then, that when Donne considers his apostasy—which he does in little and in large in Holy Sonnet 19—he casts conversion in somatic terms. In Donne’s Holy Sonnets, the soul’s condition posits bodily consequences: spiritual crisis is rendered in terms of humoral subjectivity (“As humorous is my contrition…and as soon forgot: / As riddlingly distempered, cold and hot”). If the discourses against religious others are framed within physical technologies as they are understood, as I claim they are, Donne’s humoral constitution of faith in the Holy Sonnets anatomizes the agency of the soul in the organization of the human subject. Of course, English Catholics are not regarded in precisely the terms of somatic difference that I have been attributing to religious others in foreign lands. But the distinction lies, I would argue, in the potential for the reformation of Catholics on English soil. As one such planted former Catholic, Donne supplies evidence of spiritual growth apprehended as bodily transformation.
Although scholars over the past several decades have given increasing attention to Early Modern life-writing, there is still surprisingly little criticism on both the variety of forms that autobiographical writing took in the Renaissance and the role of religious identity and religious conflict in shaping those forms. This essay argues that the unexpected moments of autobiography that emerge in and around the edges of works of nonfictional religious prose deserve further study as a class of autobiography all their own: they are confessions of faith, occasioned by the political and generic pressures of writing in a context of religious controversy. With illustrations drawn from the prose works of James I, Donne, Milton, Browne, Bunyan, and James II, this essay suggests that while such autobiographies typically perform their author’s confidence in his religious identity, they reveal, upon closer inspection, a deep sense of uncertainty—about their author’s orthodoxy, salvation, or fulfillment of the divine plan. That these confessions of faith seem motivated by an anxiety they attempt to erase tells us something about early autobiography, but even more about the difficulty of negotiating a private religious identity in a century and a genre that preferred stark binaries.
When Satan confronts Gabriel and his angelic squadron in Paradise Lost, God intercedes: he “Hung forth in heaven his golden scales,” and “in these he put two weights / The sequel each of parting and of fight” (IV.997, 1002-03). As critics have long objected, Milton’s use here of a deus ex machina seems to encroach on Satan’s and the angels’ free will. If we accept the Arminian premise at the core of the theodicy, that God created not only human beings but also “all the ethereal powers / And spirits” as “authors to themselves in all” (III.100, 122), we would not expect the Creator to prevent angelic conflict by providing a timely and telling preview of where Satan’s choices might lead. This paper will examine God’s golden scales in the context of epic precedent, seventeenth-century disputes over predestination, and, perhaps surprisingly, early modern uses of weights and measures. By also comparing the divine intervention that ends the stalemate in the war in heaven, I wish to analyze God’s balancing act both for what it implies about Milton’s concept of military valor and for what it reveals about the relation between divine foreknowledge and angelic freedom.
In readings of two polemical texts written during a time of crisis in Jamestown, Virginia, this article examines the rhetoric of temperance as a linchpin of seventeenth-century English colonial ideology. John Donne’s sermon "To the Honorable, the Virginian Company" and Christopher Brooke’s "Poem on the Late Massacre in Virginia"—both responses to a 1622 Powhatan attack that killed over three hundred English settlers—bear witness, I argue, to the decline of religious idealism and the ascendancy of commodity-based avarice as the foundation of England’s colonial ambitions in the New World.
The texts distinguish moderation from temperance: the former consistent with classical temperance-qua-affective restraint; the latter an ethos entangled in the mandates of time management, mercantile efficiency, and commodity culture. Donne, I argue, embraces moderation but eschews temperance, in an attempt to advocate evangelism rather than primitive accumulation to Virginia Company investors. Brooke, on the other hand, recommends preemptive and excessive violence, a response he calls temperate precisely because it facilitates material gain. As a critical and interpretive lens, temperance, thus redefined, offers new vantage into the history of secularization, colonial ambition, and proto-capitalistic ideology in early modern transatlantic culture.
Conflicts of Devotion: Re-writing Religious Community in Spenser, Donne, and the 1559 "Book of Common Prayer"
Who will pray with me? Who will mourn with me? Who is my neighbor? The religious and political upheavals of the sixteenth century made it difficult for many English Christians to answer questions like these with confidence. The publication of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer marked a seminal moment in Western Christianity’s attempt to repair the spiritual and communal fractures that opened up during the Reformation era. This paper first examines the complex rhetorical textures of two liturgical ‘hot-spots’ in the English Prayerbook that were intimately connected to English spiritual and communal identity: the Holy Communion and the Order for the Burial of the Dead in order to gain a deeper understanding of how the ‘liturgical poetics’ of the Book of Common Prayer worked to refashion English concepts of spiritual community. The paper then explores the unintended rhetorical and spiritual outcomes of the Prayerbook’s liturgical rubrics in the hands of two poets who knew them well: Edmund Spenser and John Donne. The critical lens of liturgical poetics allows us to see more clearly some of the fertile contradictions that not only lay at the foundations of early modern English representations of community, but also energized the poetry of English Christians who attempted to write their way out of the liturgical and communitarian crises of the Reformation era.
Religious schism leaves its mark on each and every literary text produced in the early modern period, whether in accommodations of form, scrupulous care with language, deep-seated concerns about authority of any kind, decisions of style and genre, its political imaginary, the nature of its appeals to readers and perhaps most of all, the recurring concern with its own authority as text. These hallmarks of early modern writing also become the grounds of its strengths, potentially unified objects carved out of the prevailing disunities of everyday life and belief. But the receptiveness of early modern authors and readers to foreign models of living with religious schism, the extent to which writers in the period have sought beyond Europe for exemplary models and even surrogate worlds in which to test these new, post-Reformation realities has not been fully explored. That the cultural encounters so avidly related in ethnographies, comparative histories and travel writing of the period, classical and contemporaries treatises and translations as well as Hakluytian catalogues and transactions, betray an abiding interest in non-European negotiations of religious conflict closely attuned to the needs of late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century readers is my contention. This interest finds informed expression on the Jacobean stage, both public and private. I propose first to identify the nature and sources of this interest in non-dramatic writing, before weighing the influence on a selection of Jacobean plays exerted by the tropes, paradigms and opportunities of these cross-cultural investigations of religious conflict in the lives of Mediterranean peoples at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My paper will be book-ended by readings of Marlowe’s densely-packed Tamburlaine plays and the plays and pamphlets surrounding the careers of the notorious Sherley brothers nearly twenty-five years later.
Edmund Spenser refashioned scenes symbolizing religious conflict from medieval romances to craft ways of expressing England’s new Protestant struggles while maintaining connections to England’s cultural traditions. Book 1 of the Faerie Queene is a sustained response to Malory’s Grail quest, but the climax, the fight with the dragon, draws extensively on Bevis of Hampton, a romance that features prolonged engagement, sometimes friendly and sometimes violent, between Christians and Muslims, and in which the dragon haunts the borders between Christian and Muslim. Spenser also draws more briefly on dragons used by Malory in his story of the Grail to engage in a literary struggle between Christian and Catholic.
Thomas Middleton’s A Game at Chess transplanted the language and imagery of Protestant propaganda directly onto the English stage. As a result of his dependence upon the pamphlets written in response to the Spanish Match, literary critics and historians have focused their attention on Middleton’s identifiable political allegory and its relevance to court politics, rather than engaging the broader implications of the play’s engagement with religious conflict. My project focuses instead on the pawns’ plot—a struggle over faith that is dominated by the experiences of two doctrinally distinct women—and argues for a view of international religious politics that acknowledges the significance of seemingly marginal figures. To establish my argument, I demonstrate how Middleton’s polemical representation of Protestant and Catholic discourses of religious obedience garners much of its narrative energy from the figure of the Black Queen’s Pawn, a Catholic woman who ultimately rejects clerical hierarchies and undermines the Spanish political threat. Middleton creates a sensationalist vision of religious conflict, but his play also reveals the burgeoning importance of Catholic Englishwomen in seventeenth-century religious and political culture. My readings of A Game at Chess and Gertrude More’s The Spiritual Exercises show how Catholic women’s interventions into debates over spiritual obedience and temporal authority helped to shape England’s post-Reformation literature of religious conflict.
The Dark Arts of Personal Destruction:Religious Conflict and Literary Production in the Late Tudor Era
In the aftermath of the notorious Martin Marprelate scandal, the roles of the polemicist and professional writer effectively merged in the decisive decade of the 1590s. This striking convergence accelerated after 1589 during a phase of intense confessional conflict when the Elizabethan Church enlisted professional writers to aid its official spokesmen in neutralizing the "Martinist" influence. Such efforts to humiliate, through a multimedia campaign of comic abuse, the architects of the Marprelate venture exerted a lasting effect on literary production in the period. In a short time, the polemicists Richard Bancroft and Matthew Sutcliffe succeeded in appropriating previously oppositional modes of protest and, in the process, helped impose key limits on the uses of satire and mass publication—key chronological and cultural contexts that have gone largely uncharted. The career of Thomas Nashe, who defended the Elizabethan bishops before exasperating them with his provocative satirical pamphlets, affirms the restraining influence of such thresholds, especially in regard to discursive license and generic development. In this regard, his work represents an ideal test case by which to measure the impact of official culture on the emergence of professional authorship. Specifically, the subtle "instruction" disseminated as part of Sutcliffe’s polemical project compelled Nashe—and a whole generation of writers struggling to build careers in the competitive marketplace of print—to extend the dark arts of personal destruction popularized by Marprelate and his anti-Martinist opponents. This trend, in turn, precluded the growth of a distinctly English tradition of carnivalesque writing in the early modern era and permanently intensified the verbal violence that late Tudor culture both lamented and eagerly promoted.
This paper claims that Herbert of Cherbury’s metaphysics of conformity serves as the foundation of an ethical program designed to defuse religious conflict. It studies the rhetoric of conformity in De Veritate (1624), arguing that Herbert emphasizes its aesthetic dimension so as to promote his irenic agenda. Dissociating the term from its fraught political association with ecclesiastical sanctions, Herbert declares it a criterion of epistemological truth along with universal consent. By linking conformity with consent, he not only reclaims the moral high ground for conformity, but he also reinvents it as a collective ideal that will unite all peoples, even pagans. The paper compares the utopian usage prevalent in De Veritate and in his poetry with Herbert’s politique approach to conformity and consent in his histories, especially his neglected masterpiece, The Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth. Thanks to his experience as ambassador to Paris, Herbert is a shrewd student of international relations, attuned to shifting alliances and problems of dissent and religious conflict. His skeptical analysis of the onset of the Protestant Reformation offers an instructive counterpoint to his philosophical theorizing of conformity and consent, suggesting not a contradiction in his thought so much as an appreciation of the practical difficulties involved in attaining consensus on religious matters.