Redefining the Sacred in Early Modern England

NEH Summer Institute

Center for Shakespeare Studies

June 22 through July 31, 1998

Institute Website (Archived)

Institute Website Part I (PDF)

Institute Website Part 2 (PDF)

Directed by Richard C. McCoy, Professor of English at Queens College and the Graduate School and University Center at the City University of New York                                                                                                                                                

"Redefining the Sacred in Early Modem England" will explore the varieties of religious thought and experience in the English Reformation along with current scholarly approaches to the subject, giving special emphasis to the adaptation of primary materials for instructional purposes.

The institute will examine the persistent doctrinal ambiguities found in such sources as the plays of Shakespeare, the poetry of Donne and Milton, the polemics of the English Civil War, and published and unpublished works by women authors. It will also probe links between popular and high culture as they are forged between sectarian politics and theological dogma, polemical tracts and literary fictions, social history and the history of ideas, and great works of art and acts of iconoclasm.

Central to the work of the institute is the vigorous reexamination of the Reformation by a cadre of renowned scholars, many of whom have agreed to serve as visiting faculty. The institute will investigate new historical challenges to older, teleological conceptions of reform (often characterized as Whiggish) that saw the period as a slow and steady advance toward secularization. It will examine the contested dogmas, devotional practices, and ecclesiastical politics of the period that prompted some to denounce the established church as "a cloaked papistry or mingle-mangle."

Vestiges of Catholic beliefs and ceremonies were vigorously attacked by sixteenth-century Protestant propagandists like John Bale and Luke Shepherd and the host was mocked as a wafer cake and Jack-in-the-box; in the mournful words of a contemporary ballad, "blessings arc turned to blasphemies." Christopher Marlowe deploys many of these same iconoclastic impulses in the brutal slapstick of Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus. By contrast, many of Shakespeare's plays reflect unease in the face of "maimed rites" and nostalgia for traditional practices. Donne wittily and uneasily balances attacks on Jesuit fanatics and "pseudo-martyrs" with poetic parodies of martyrdom, relics, and canonization, parodies that do not completely undercut veneration. Lady Mary Sidney's and Queen Elizabeth's translations of the Psalms along with Herbert's contemplative verse in The Temple reassign priority to prayer and meditation over preaching. The Stuart ,,' masque stages an absolutist vision of monarchy while the paintings of Rubens and Van Dyke sustain a royal apotheosis. Milton, among others, strikes back at what he calls a "civil kind of idolatry" in his polemical prose and theological verse of the Civil War and Restoration.

The Folger's extraordinary collections of early modem texts will serve as one of the institute's richest resources. During their six weeks in residence at the Library, participants will study books and manuscripts that carry traces of the intensity of contemporary religious conflict. These rare materials will include late medieval primers and prayer books, many with images and words blacked out, Protestant devotional works adorned only with royal insignia, churchwardens' accounts ordering the stripping of altars, translations of the Bible, a copy of Shakespeare's Folio censored by an official of the Inquisition. and numerous religious tracts of England's Civil War. Based on sustained exposure to and discussion of these records of the lived experience of religion. participants will collectively rethink their classroom approaches to early modem history and literature. In support of that rethinking, participants will assemble a set of sixty representative texts and images that will be reproduced for them to take home as teaching materials.

Proposed Schedule and Visiting Faculty

"Redefining the Sacred in Early Modem England" will meet four afternoons a week for six weeks, from 22 June through 31 July 1998. Meetings will begin at 1:00 p.m., break for tea at 3:00 p.m., and resume from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m., when the Library closes for the day.

The average week will include a sequence of presentations by Professor McCoy and the consulting faculty members, group discussions of required primary texts and archival materials, and oral reports by participants. Professor McCoy will usually begin the week by reviewing the readings in primary and secondary sources and framing the discussion for the week. In the second and third sessions of each week, visiting scholars -- usually a historian or theologian and a literary scholar-- will discuss the materials and methods of their respective disciplines.

In the course of the week, participants will work in small interdisciplinary groups, designing class presentations and course materials for the topic under discussion for that week. These small groups will present their ideas and materials to the group at large at the end of each week, and their contributions will provide a basis for an instructional workbook.

Some small-group work will be assigned for out-of-session gatherings. Additionally, several field trips-perhaps to Washington's cathedrals, the National Gallery of Art, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, or other memorial sites in the nation's capital-will be organized as an aid to understanding the express ion of religion in architecture and the fine arts and as a way of modeling the use of analogous opportunities at participants' home campuses.

A provisional description of the schedule and readings follows. Brief selections from the works of Pierre Bourdieu, Emile Durkheim, Mircea Eliade, Walter Ong and Max Weber will be assigned as advance readings. The core weekly readings will be chosen from the provisional bibliographies that follow, taking into account the current projects of visiting faculty and participants.



Faculty - Peter W. M. Blayney, Distinguished Resident Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library and author of The Bookshops of Paul's Cross Churchyard (1990) and The Texts of 'King , Lear' and their Origins. vol. I: Nicholas Okes and the First Quarto (1982). Laetitia Yeandle, Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library, coauthor of two handbooks on English paleography in the early modem period, and coeditor of The Journal of John Winthrop (1997).

Archival Sources - Sacred books and manuscripts, including late medieval primers will be displayed as evidence of the dramatic changes in devotional practices and beliefs at the beginning of the Tudor period; a Book of Hours that belonged to the mother of Henry VIII and that attests to the force of lay, feminine piety in its inscribed appeal to a lady reader to pray for her; later Protestant versions with phrases and images effaced.

Provisional Bibliography - Selections from John Bossy's "The Mass as a Social Institution 1200-1700"; Christopher Haigh's introduction and essay on Reformation historiography in English Reformation Revised (1987); Mervyn James's "Ritual, Drama, and Social Body in the Late Medieval English Town," in Society, Politics, and Culture: Studies in Early Modern England; Jaroslav Pelikan's The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300) and Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700) (1984); and Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971).


Faculty - Eamon Duffy, Director of Studies in Theology at Magdalene College, Cambridge and author of The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (1992). He is a founding member of the Editorial Board of the journal The Seventeenth Century. Christopher Haigh, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Oxford and author of English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (1993) and Reformation and Resistance in Tudor Lancashire (1975).

Archival Sources - Original copies of Luther's Babylonian Captivity will be shown along with a papal edition of Henry VII's Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which includes an offer of indulgences to the reader and a papal bull threatening Luther with expulsion. The group will also examine a royal proclamation of royal supremacy and a translation of Marsilio of Padua's Defensor Pads justifying imperial autonomy against ecclesiastical encroachment.

Provisional Bibliography - Primary sources will include selections from Desiderius Erasmus, including A Pilgrimage for Religion's Sake; Martin Luther, including The Babylonian Captivity; and John Skelton, including Ware the Hauke, Collyn Clout, and A Replycacion. Secondary sources will include selections from Margaret Aston's Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion (1984) and Faith and Fire: Popular and Unpopular Religion (1993); Susan Brigden's London and the Reformation (1991); and A.G. Dickens's English Reformation (1964).


Faculty - Diarmaid MacCulloch, Lecturer in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oxford and author of Thomas Cranmer: A Life (1996) and Suffolk and the Tudors: Politics and Religion in an English County 1500-1600 (1986). Janel Mueller, William Rainey Harper Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, editor of Modern Philology, and author of Donne's Prebend Sermons (1971).

Archival Sources - Plans for Edward's coronation revels with payment for "cardynalls hattes for players"; churchwarden's accounts of purchase and alterations mandated by the reform such as the "polyng dowwne of the roode"; different versions of the Book of Common Prayer.

Provisional Bibliography - Primary texts will include Croxton's Play of the Sacrament; excerpts from Jerome Barlowe and William Roye, Rede Me and Be Not Wroth ("The Burial of the Mass") ; Luke Shepherd, John Bon and the Mast Person; and Christopher Marlowe Doctor Faustus. Secondary sources will include A.G. Dickens's "The First Prayer Book and the Rebellion," "Protestant Propaganda," and "The Second Prayer Book" in English Reformation" (1964); Ronald Hutton's The Rise and Fall of Merry England (1994); and John King's English Reformation Literature: The Tudor Origins of the Protestant Tradition (1982).


Faculty - Patrick Collinson, Regius Professor of Modem History at the University of Cambridge. Emeritus and author of The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (1967), The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society 1559-1625 (1979), and The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1988). James Shapiro, Professor of English at Columbia University, author of Shakespeare and the Jews (1996) and Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare (1997).

Archival Sources - The documents on display will include then Quenes Maiesties Passage, an unprecedented published account of Elizabeth's coronation progress which eclipses the liturgical scandal of the more obscure church service; Puritan attacks on the persistence of traditional ceremonies such as the "View of Popish Abuses"; intelligence reports on recusant conduct; and, at the close of her reign, some of the tracts dealing with the perilous issue of succession.

Provisional Bibliography - Primary texts will include selections from Spenser's Shepheardes Calender and Faerie Queene and Shakespeare's Richard II, Hamlet, and The Pheonix and Turtle. Secondary sources will include Patrick Collinson's The Religion of Protestants (1982); Helen Hackett's ViJ8'in Mother. Maiden Qlleen (1995); William Haugaard's Elizabeth and the English Reformation (1968); Norman L. Jones's Faith by Statute (1982); Peter Lake's Anglicans and Puritans? (1988); and Robert Watson's The Rest is Silence (1994).


Faculty - Lori Anne Ferrell, Associate Professor and Co-chair of the Department of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, and coeditor, with David Cressy, of Religion and Society in Early Modem England: A Source Book (1996). Debora Shuger, Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of Sacred Rhetoric: The Christian Grand Style in the English Renaissance ( 1988). Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance: Religion, Politics, and the Dominant Culture (1990) and The Renaissance Bible: Scholarship, Subjectivity, and Sacrifice (1994).

Archival Sources - Texts on display will include justifications of Divine Right by the King himself. such as the True Law of Free Monarchies, as well as such theological speculations as Daemollo[ogie; court sermons by John Buckeridge and Lancelot Andrewes that link the restoration of "adoration and prostration and kneeling" to divine order and political harmony; and William Bradshaw's attacks on "ceremonial obedience" in his defense of English Puritanism.

Provisional Bibliography - Primary texts will include masques by Ben Jonson. including Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue; the erotic and religious poetry of John Donne and the devotional sequences of George Herbert; the translations, drama. and poetry of women writers such as Lady Mary Sidney, Mary Wroth, and Aemilia Lanyer. Secondary sources will include The Early Stuart Church, 1603 - 1642 (1993) edited by Kenneth Fincham; Religion, Literature, and Politics in Post-Reformation England, 1540-1688 (1996) edited by Donna B. Hamilton and Richard Strier; Anthony Milton's Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600-1640 (1995); Debora Shuger's Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance: Religion, Politics, and the Dominant Culture (1990); and Nicholas Tyacke's The Anti-Calvinist: The Rise of English Arminialism, 1590-1640 (1987).


Faculty - Peter Lake, Professor of History at Princeton University, author of Anglicans and Puritans?: Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker (1988), and coeditor, with Kevin Sharpe, of Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England (1994). Barbara Lewalski, Kenan Professor of English Literature at Harvard University, and author of Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric (1 979), Writing Women in Jacobean England, 1603-1625 (1993), and "Paradise Lost" and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms (1985).

Archival Sources - Among the works displayed will be Henry Parker's Observations upon some of his Majesties late answers, making the Parliamentary case for civil war; the Kings Cabinet Opened, exposing the scandalous contents of the king's correspondence; the Eikon Basilike with its Christ-like image of the king; Milton's response in Eikonoklastes, attacking this "pretty piece of poetry"; and Edward Sexby's justification of tyrannicide directed at Oliver Cromwell called Killing No Murder.

Provisional Bibliography - Primary texts will include Andrew Marvell, The Horatian Ode and The First Anniversary; John Milton, Paradise Regained; John Bunyan, selections from Pilgrim's Progress; and Ranter and Quaker tracts such as The Fiery Burning Roll. Secondary sources will include Sharon Achinstein's Milton and the Revolutionary Reader (1994); Barry Coward's and Julian Davies's The Caroline Captivity of the Church (1992); Richard Hardin's Civil Idolatry: Desacralizing and Monarchy in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton (1992); Laura Knoppers's Historicizing Milton: Spectacle, Power, and Poetry in Restoration England (1994); and William Lamont's Godly Rule: Politics and Religion 1603-1660 (1969).

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