Christopher Highley

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This page reflects a scholar's association with the Folger Institute.

Long-term fellowship

“Blackfriars: Playhouse, Church, and Neighborhood in Early Modern London” (Mellon, 2015–2016)

Blackfriars: Playhouse, Church, and Neighborhood in Early Modern London is a history of an ex-ecclesiastical Liberty, best known for its playhouses and its Puritan residents. This small corner of the City provides a unique arena in which to study the vexed relationship between the theatrical and religious cultures of the metropolis. How was the business of theater conducted alongside the parish church of St. Anne’s where the Godly preachers Stephen Egerton and William Gouge held sway? Physically, church and playhouse were next door to each other, but ideologically they seemed poles apart. Yet despite occasional efforts by some residents to close the playhouse, Godly religion and commercial theater managed to coexist in this small, close-knit neighborhood. How was this possible? In answer, I examine the conflicting religious and economic priorities of residents, as well as the writings of Egerton and Gouge that discuss the dangers of playgoing, but also the need to promote neighborliness. For all their Puritan zeal, Egerton and Gouge realized that some of their parishioners attended plays, that actors lived close by, and that local businesses benefitted from the presence of a playhouse. Even the Godly knew that in order to maintain communal harmony, a modus vivendi was required. More radically, I argue that in the Blackfriars, pulpit and stage were mutually informing sites of performance. As a Liberty, the Blackfriars enjoyed certain exemptions from civil and ecclesiastical interference that preachers as well as playwrights and players exploited in airing radical and satiric views of the established church and state. I show by reading Blackfriars sermons and plays side-by-side that a synergy existed between the two institutions, binding them together in mutually beneficial if unacknowledged ways.

Short-term fellowship

"The Blackfriars Neighborhood: God’s House and Playhouse" (2012–2013)

Scholarly Programs

Speaker, Reassessing Henry VIII (Workshop, 2010–2011)