Publication date:02 October 2014
Length of book:358 pages
PublisherDuquesne University Press
Neuer came Reformation in a Flood, / With such a heady currance, exclaims the Archbishop of Canterbury in Shakespeare’s Henry V, describing the king’s seemingly miraculous conversion from the reprobate prince he had been. This description must have seemed quite apt to Shakespeare’s post-Reformation audience. Religious reform in early modern England, whether driven by individual experience or by institutional theology or politics, occurred as more of a deluge than as a clearly defined or steady voyage. And the English stage—where drama revised, resisted, and reacted against Reformation doctrine, but also reinforced it—became a place for engaging and even navigating this heady currance of changing religious belief and attitudes.
Stages of Engagement, in 12 essays from a wide range of scholars, reflects a reinvigorated concern for religion’s role in the early modern English stage. The essays address reformed redefinitions of intimate, sacred experience, anxiety about Calvinist determinism, attitudes toward icons and representation, and the relationship of liturgy and performance. Importantly, these intertextual discussions are grounded in a meticulously historicized viewpoint that acknowledges the often chaotic and multidirectional nature of Reformation in England.
Throughout, the contributors offer a corrective to the secularization thesis by treating religion on the stage on its own terms while also challenging older histories that see professional English drama evolving from liturgical ritual. Thus, it becomes clear that the confessional makeup of English drama’s audiences cannot be reduced to Protestant and Catholic, or to recusant, Anglican, and Puritan; rather, we must explore the ways in which early modern theater staged its religious culture’s complex negotiations of ideas.
From the early Elizabethan touring companies’ role in disseminating reformed doctrine to the representation of Wolsey and Cranmer in London’s playhouses, English stages were potential sites of encounter—officially sanctioned or not—with mainstream ideology. As Stages of Engagement demonstrates, early modern drama both conveyed and shaped Protestant beliefs and practices, and drama was itself shaped by the religion of its producers and its audiences.