Religion and Drama in Early Modern England

The Performance of Religion on the Renaissance Stage

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  • Edited by Jane Hwang Degenhardt, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, USA; Elizabeth Williamson, The Evergreen State College, USA.
  • Series: Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama
  • Offering fuller understandings of both dramatic representations and the complexities of religious culture, this collection reveals the ways in which religion and performance were inextricably linked in early modern England. Its readings extend beyond the interpretation of straightforward religious allusions and suggest new avenues for theorizing the dynamic relationship between religious representations and dramatic ones. By addressing the particular ways in which commercial drama adapted the sensory aspects of religious experience to its own symbolic systems, the volume enacts a methodological shift towards a more nuanced semiotics of theatrical performance.

    Covering plays by a wide range of dramatists, including Shakespeare, individual essays explore the material conditions of performance, the intricate resonances between dramatic performance and religious ceremonies, and the multiple valences of religious references in early modern plays. Additionally, Religion and Drama in Early Modern England reveals the theater's broad interpretation of post-Reformation Christian practice, as well as its engagement with the religions of Islam, Judaism and paganism.
  • Contents: Introduction, Jane Hwang Degenhardt and Elizabeth Williamson; Part I Theatrical Materiality and Religious Effects: The idolatrous nose: incense on the early modern stage, Holly Crawford Pickett; Singing a new song in The Shoemaker's Holiday, Jacqueline Wylde; 'Looking Jewish' on the early modern stage, Peter Berek; Muslim conversion and circumcision as theater, Dennis Britton. Part II Intersections of Popular Theater and Religious Culture: Popular worship and visual paradigms in Love's Labor's Lost, Erica T. Lin; 'It is requir'd you do awake your faith': belief in Shakespeare's theater, Susannah Brietz Monta; Archbishop Whitgift and the plague in Thomas Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament, Paul Whitfield White; 'Handling religion in the style of the stage': performing the Marprelate controversy, Joseph L. Black. Part III Beyond Allusion and Ideology: Martyr acts: playing with Foxe's martyrs on the public stage, Musa Gurnis-Farrell; 'The juice of Egypt's grape': Plutarch, syncretism, and Antony and Cleopatra, Michael O'Connell; Paul Shakespeare: exegetical exercises, Julia Reinhard Lupton. Coda: Claudius at prayer, Anthony B. Dawson; Bibliography; Index.
  • About the Editor: Jane Hwang Degenhardt is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of Islamic Conversion and Christian Resistance on the Early Modern Stage (2010). Elizabeth Williamson is Associate Professor of English at the Evergreen State College and the author of The Materiality of Religion in Early Modern English Drama (2009).
  • Reviews: 'This is a well-crafted and timely book; its editors have rightly recognized that the discussion of religion and early modern drama must reach beyond allusion and citation to consider the materials of the stage. The elegant and thoughtful essays collected here explore in fascinating and variegated ways the objects, artifacts, sensations and figurations that worked to activate religious habits of thought. In the process, they reveal a theater of surprising faith and wonder.'
    Patricia Badir, University of British Columbia, Canada

    'The fourteen intriguing chapters in Religion and Early Modern Drama in England, plus the provocative Introduction by the editors, constitute a timely re-examination of the place of religion and its depiction in the drama of the period.' Theatre Research International

    'The editors are right in claiming that the volume does important work toward “re-theoriz[ing] what it means for the drama to engage with religious culture” (3).' Shakespeare Bulletin

    'Degenhardt and Williamson should be credited with composing a volume of great breadth. Scholars of early modern theatre, literature, and history alike will find within it much to inspire and fuel further work.' Notes and Queries