Friday, February 19, 2010

Brian Crockett, The Play of Paradox; Stage and Sermon in Renaissance England

Bryan Crockett, The Play of Paradox; Stage and Sermon in Renaissance England. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1995.

It would be a mistake to assume, for example, that playwrights responded to King James’s 1606 act outlawing theatrical references to controversial religious topics by suddenly becoming “secular”; the term is an anachronism for most of the period’s discourse. [See Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), p. 45, and Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religious Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1984), p. 25] (2)

Since the Renaissance stage play and the Reformation sermon perform the same work—helping audiences adjust to and control the peculiar ambiguities of the early modern period—the two modes can be evaluated in the same terms. (3)

If the medieval cruciform churches were designed to encourage contemplation of and participation in an action (the atoning, sacrificial martyrdom, re-enacted at every mass), the centrally planned churches [circle churches] were designed to foster contemplation of perfection, to lift the worshipper out of the conflicted world of history and into a state of serene transcendence. As Rudolph Wittkower has said, in the architectural move from the medieval cross to the Renaissance circle, “Christ as the essence of perfection superseded Him who had suffered on the Cross for humanity; the Pantocrator replaced the Man of Sorrows” (30). / [Martin] Bucer and the Platonists are alike in rejecting the theatre, the spectacle, of enacted sacrifice. They agree that there is something suspect in all that seems “theatrical” about the Catholic mass—the visual display, the mediating role of the priest, the performance of a sacrifice, the processions, the elevation of the Host, the very shape of the building. But Bucer’s design would accommodate theater of another sort. His round church would be an auditorium, an arena where the air would be filled with sound. The theatrical activity of the mass would be replaced not by the Platonists’ serene transcendence but by the action of the word. In this sense it was closer to Shakespeare’s “wooden O” than to the centrally planned Italian churches. (4-5)

Rather than beholding a profusion of visually alluring icons and then taking part in a communal act of sacrifice, all of which could be denounced as “theatrical”, the worshipper in Bucer’s church would watch and listen as the preacher performed. Paradoxically, then, the Reformation insistence on the centrality of the spoken word reintroduced an element of theatre into the liturgy… (6)

The modulations of sound through the course of an auditory performance—whether a sermon or a symphony—immerse the audience in a sequential experience: one that works through time to present change, conflict, resolution. … These habits of aural synthesis conceive of a world in flux: a dynamic, dramatic, threatening world compared with the relatively static world a visually-centered synthesis constructs. (6)

There is little doubt that Reformation preaching styles influenced dramatists, just as there is little doubt that Renaissance stage plays influence preachers. The substantial audience overlap between the two modes meant that preachers could assume a high degree of receptivity to oral performance, as the playwrights could assume their audiences’ tendency to cast their experiences in religious terms [Martha Tuck Rozett, The Doctrine of Election and the Emergence of Elizabethan Tragedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1984), pp. 15-25. J W Blench remarked more than thirty years ago that the influence of preaching on the dramatists of sixteenth-century England “is more pervasive and powerful than has been generally recognized,” Preaching in England in the Late Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (Oxford: Basil Blackweel, 1964), p. 349.]. Henry Smith, dubbed by Thomas Nashe the “silver-tongued” preacher of Elizabethan England, demonstrates the ease with which the language of the pulpit could mix with that of the stage: / How many years of pleasure thou hast taken, so many years of pain: how many drams of delight, so many pounds of dolor: when iniquity hath played her part, vengeance leaps upon the stage: the comedy is short but the tragedy is longer. [“Silver tongu’d Smith, whose well tun’d style hath made thy death the general tears of the Muses, quaintly couldst thou devise heavenly ditties to Apollo’s lute, and teach stately verse to trip it as smoothly as if Ovid and thou had but one soul,” Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penilesse his Supplication to the Divell, 1:137-245 in Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow, 5 vol. (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1910), pp. 192-93; Henry Smith, The Trumpet of the Soule, Sounding to Judgement (London, 1592), sig. A8v-BIr.] (7)

…some of the leading English reformers, including John Foxe, were also playwrights. These preacher/playwrights objected not so much to the theater as institution as to the theatricality of Roman Catholism. Foxe, for example, refers to the typical medieval pope as a “remarkable actor,” / that wholly theatrical contriver, [who] descended into the orchestra for the purpose of dancing his drama. While the other actors were driven off the stage little by little, he wished to keep the stage alone and to keep up all of the roles of everyone. / Yet Fox himself wrote the plays Titus et Gesippus (1544) and Christus Triumphans (1556). Politically influential English who were both Puritan third and fourth earls of Pembroke, Cromwell’s chaplain Peter Sterry, and Milton. … Nor was Calvin himself antitheatrical; he allowed the production of a play in Geneva, and in his Institutes he repeatedly refers to the world as a glorious theater in which angels behold human actions. … we are heir to the style of preaching that emerged in the eighteenth century, a style that valued analytics over theatrics. [G. N. Clark remarks that Restoration sermons differed from those of the Renaissance, which were considered divinely inspired and therefore authoritative in a way that later ones were not, and which were rhetorically more innovative and effective than later ones. As such, Clark claims, late Tudor and early Stuart sermons compose a significant branch of literature, The Later Stuarts: 1660-1714 (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1949) pp. 347-48]. (7-8)

In a mid-century preaching manual that John Ludham translated into English in 1577, the Marburg theologian Andreas Hyperius says, / They that teach no otherwise in the temple than professors are accustomed in the schools, it cannot be that they should be the authors of any great spiritual fruits, and very few or none are seen to be induced with such sermons to repentance and amendment of life. [Andreas Hyperius, The Practise of preaching, otherwise Called the Pathway to the Pulpet, trans. John Ludham (London, 1577), p. 41r.] / In a remark to his congregation, John Donne is more concise: “We are not upon a lecture but a sermon.” [Quoted in Gale H. Carrithers, Jr., Donne at Sermons: A Christian Existential World (Albany: SUNY Press, 1972), p. 3] (8)

[Stephen] Gosson makes a clear distinction between the minister in his ordinary human capacity and in his divinely inspired role in the pulpit, calling it the devil’s work to confuse the two offices. [Stephen Gosson, sig. E7r. The Trumpet of Warre. A Sermon preached at Paules Crosse the seventh of Maie 1598 (London, 1598)] In his manual for preachers The Art of Prophecying, the popular theologian William Perkins also distinguishes two offices, both proper to the prophet: “And every Prophet is partly the voice of God, to wit, in preaching: and partly the voice of the people, in the act of praying.” [William Perkins, The Art of Prophecying, in The Workes of that Famous and Worthie Minister of Christ, in the University of Cambridge, M. William Perkins, 3 vols. (London, 1609), 2:731] (9)

Hyperius… Practice of Preaching. (11)

Perkins: …If any man think that by this means barbarism should be brought into the pulpits, he must understand that the Minister may, yea and must privately use at his liberty the arts, philosophy, and variety or reading, whilst he is in framing his sermon: but he ought in public to conceal all these from the people. (759) / The paradox is that while the impulse behind concealing eloquence is to avoid deceptive ostentation, the deliberate concealment amounts to an artful, dramatic deception. (12)

In the twentieth century such instructions might appear disingenuous—the combination of moral earnestness and deliberate deception impossible to maintain… (12)

In The Country Parson Herbert advises preachers to compose themselves properly in order to make their performances effective: / When [the country parson] preacheth, he procures attention by all possible art, both by earnestness of speech, it being natural to men to think, that where is much earnestness, there is somewhat worth hearing; and by a diligent, and busy cast of his eye on his auditors, with letting them know, that he observes who marks, and who not. [George Herbert, The Country Parson, The Temple, ed. John N. Wall, Jr. (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), p. 62] (12)

The number of complaints about over-done gestures indicates that preachers frequently got carried away with gestures indicates that preachers frequently got carried away with their theatrics. Hyperius says, “By reason of their undiscreet and unseemly gesture, some are made the common talking stock and public pastime of the people” (177v). (13)

Hamlet also pleads with the players not to allow any ad-libbing: “and let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them…” (3.2.38-40). As Hieron points out, the same objection is often raised against preachers. … In Hieron’s exchange Nymphas, the ignorant character, voices a common objection to the practice of delivering sermons extemporaneously rather than reading from a carefully prepared text: … Preacher’s Plea, 102… In Epaphras’s view “sound preachers” should not only be allowed but should be encouraged to speak extemporaneously, to move from merely reading a prepared text to using the text as only a set of notes for a live performance (117). … more powerful, more piercing, more majestical, more awaking to the conscience” than mere reading (123). … Even a theologian like Richard Hooker, who is troubled by the onetime “speech event” of the extemporaneous sermon, is unsatisfied with sermons that are merely read. In Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker objects on the one hand to those who insist that original sermons are the only means of salvation. … [Richard Hooker, The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker, 6 vols. ed. W. Speed Hill (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977-93), 5.21.2] …On the other hand, it is not the preacher’s animated style of delivery that bothers Hooker; he notes universal recognition of the lively sermon’s rhetorical effectiveness. It was difficult for the preacher who merely read his sermons from the official Book of Homilies to match the performative force of the preacher who composed a sermon for the occasion. (14-15)

Just as Tudor/Stuart plays were subject to censorship, Elizabeth and James attempted to exercise control over the pulpits. In 1559 Elizabeth revised and reissued the first Book of Homilies (1547), of which Cranmer had been one of the principal authors, and in 1563 she issued an expanded version. A few preachers were licensed to compose their own sermons, but the vast majority were required to read their from the Homilies. As Elizabeth attempted to control the well-attended sermons at Paul’s Cross in London, she tried to use the Homilies to control the parish clergy throughout England [See Ronald B Bond’s introduction to Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and a Homily against Disobedience and Rebellion (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), p.9]. It is noteworthy that the one sermon added to the Second Book of Homilies during Elizabeth’s reign was the 1570 Homily against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion. James similarly attempted to keep wayward clergy in check with both the Homilies and his own Instructions regarding Preaching (1622) [Horton Davies, Like Angels from a Cloud: The English Metaphysical Preachers, 1588-1645 (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1986), p. 175]. The magistrates’ relentless efforts to control the preaching clergy, as well as the numbers of preachers brought before the ecclesiastical courts (where playwrights also made occasional appearances), testify to the rhetorical power of the pulpit. (15)

Their very profession as role players carries the threat of instability, the threat of Proteus. Writing in 1630, the theologian and poet Richard James makes a similar argument about preachers. (16)

Elizabeth …instructed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Grindal, both to reduce the number of licensed preachers and to suppress the prophesyings. Grindal refused. In 1576 he wrote a letter to the Queen, arguing that reading from the official Homilies was a poor substitute for pulpit performance: / The godly preacher… can apply his speech according to the diversity of times, places, and hearers, which cannot be done in homilies: exhortations, reprehensions, and persuasions, are uttered with more affection, to the moving of the hearers, in sermons than in homilies. Besides, homilies were devised by the godly bishops in your brother’s time, only to supply necessity, for want of preachers; and are by the stature not to be preferred, but to give place to sermons, whensoever they may be had. (Grindal, 382) / Other passages in the letter attest to the extent of Grindal’s willingness to play the prophet. He not only says, “I cannot marvel enough how this strange opinion should once enter into your mind, that it should good for the church to have few preachers”; he goes on to say, “Remember, Madam, that you are a mortal creature” (378, 389). The letter effectively ended Grindal’s career. (16-17)

Despite the risk involved in preaching one’s own sermons rather than simply reading from the Book of Homilies, the number of original sermons increased dramatically during the last half of the sixteenth century. Martha Tuck Rozett reports that the number of regular parish clergy who preached rose from 27 percent in 1561 to 88 percent in 1601 to 113 during the 1580s (Rozett, 19-20). (17)

…the rector at Stratford-upon-Avon—the man who may well have preached before the young Shakespeare—was described as “learned, zealous and godly, and fit for the ministry; a happy age if our Church were fraught with many such” [Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), pp. 280-81.]. (17)

On the other hand is John Donne, who employs irony of a different sort. In 1622 Donne was called on to defend at Paul’s Cross both the King’s attempt to regulate preaching and, as John Chamberlain reported at the time, to defend the King’s “constancy in the true reformed religion, which the people (as should seem) began to suspect.” [John Chamberlain, The Letters of John Chamberlain, 2 vols., ed. Norman Egbert McClure (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939), 2:451.] In a tactic reminiscent of Marc Antony’s funeral oration in Julius Caesar, Donne let it be known through the manner of his delivery that he himself had doubts. (18)

If, as Steven Mullaney, Louis Montrose, and others have argued, Shakespeare’s theatre performs a vital social function in helping the audience adjust to and control the ambiguities arising out of the epistemological crisis of early modern England, the same can be said of the Reformation sermon. [Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago: Univ of Ch Press, 1988), and Louis A. Montrose, “The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology” Helios 7 (1980): 51-74, p. 64. …As Davies says of the late sixteenth century, “this was a period of great turbulence and transition in England: from Catholicism to Protestantism; from an international to a national Church; from the Petrine pope to the paper pope of the Bible; from a geocentric to a heliocentric universe, in which the heavens had grown very far off; from a position where religion had once been a widely accepted tradition, and was now a matter of acute controversy,” Like Angels from a Cloud, p. 123.] (32)

‘To an articulate part of [the religious] elite [the theatre] appeared religiously atavistic, dangerously so, and able to appeal to sensibilities that should properly have atrophied in the reform of religion. The popularity of the London theaters testifies to the survival of those sensibilities, even as the reform was successful in eliminating them from worship. Theater was not worship, but as a cultural institution, its roots lay deep in the centuries in which it had performed a religious function. Its status was ambiguous in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries—not religious in the same sense it had been, and yet, in terms by the which the culture defined it, not secular either.’ [Michael O’Connell, “The Idolatrous Eye: Iconoclasm, Anti-Theatricalism, and the Image of the Elizabethan Theatre,” ELH 52 (1985): 279-310, p. 307.] / O’Connel is quite right that the theatre as aesthetic and secular is a post-Renaissance phenomenon, and he argues compellingly that some of the theatrically of Roman Catholicism was displaced onto the Renaissance stage. What is missing from O’Connell’s analysis, though, is an account of the ways in which the Protestant movement itself incorporated and transformed Roman Catholic ritual. As I have suggested, the preachers of Reformation England took on an authoritative role as mediators of sacred mystery—the role that the priests of the old order had performed not as much by celebrating the sacrificial mass and administering the other sacraments. (33)

The Reformation sermon, like the Renaissance play, is not merely a static reflection of ideology, nor is it merely a manipulative didactic device. While both modes of course have ideological import and didactic elements, the ritualistic dimension of both goes beyond the reflection and inculcation of established dogma. (33)

Both principles can be found in Shakespeare. While most of his plays tend toward irenic rhetoric (think of the way, say, King Lear or The Winter’s Tale resist any sort of ideologically definitive response), a play like Henry V is a notorious for its divisive effect on audiences; commentators on the play are divided into two well-defined camps. It seems that Henry is either an ideal monarch or a ruthless hypocrite, and it is nearly impossible to reconcile these two views in a single vision. / On the theological side, a good example of the split between irenic and polemic rhetoric is the exchange between Erasmus and Luther on free will. … Luther’s divisive style found a reader in the early sixteenth century than did Erasmus’s conciliatory approach. This preference for polemics is reflected not only in the period’s theology but also in its drama. In fact the stage and the pulpit are mutually influential forces both in nurturing a receptivity polemic discourse and in providing performative resolutions to deep-seated ambiguities of early modern culture. If Shaksepeare’s Henry V and Luther’s De servo arbitrio dare the individual to choose between the two opposing camps, the dare is an endemic cultural principle. (36)

As I argued in the introductory chapter, Renaissance sermons and plays are closely related, especially in their facility for providing performative resolutions to paradox. The readiness on the part of both preachers and playwrights to address paradoxical issues is particularly acute in late sixteenth-century England in part because the age is simultaneously informed by two impulses: the insistence on maintaining the tension of Christian paradox and the slackening of that tension by reducing Christian paradox to one of its constituent contraries. The failure of attempts to reconcile these two opposing impulses eventually signals the abandonment of the world: the secular self-assertion characteristic of the modern age. (37)

…the open-air sermons at Paul’s Cross, where the most famous preachers in England were invited to perform before audience of as many as six thousand. [William Laud, The Works of the Most Reverend Father in God, William Laud, D. D…, 9 vols (Oxford: Parker, 1847-1860), 7:47] As the sermons at Paul’s Cross typically lasted for two hours, twice the usual length of Elizabethan sermons, the preacher had to do everything in his power to hold the attention of an audience that tended to be unruly—so much so that the royally appointed authors of the 1552 Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum were obliged to include the following proviso not just for the Paul’s Cross sermons but also for ordinary church services: / If there are any people of such rudeness that, while the preachers is still speaking from a pulpit, they wish to raise an outcry, or interrupt him or rail at him in some manner, they are to be separated from the Church and separated from communion with it until they openly acknowledge the crime and have returned to their sense. In the same way, whoever either by aimlessly walking about, or by inopportunely chattering, or by walking out of the sacred assemblage in such a way that contempt of the sermon or of the preacher can be detected or who knowingly and willingly turns the people’s attention away from the sermon in any way whatsoever or disturbs them, will pay the merited penalties for this kind of wicked frivolity. [The Reformation of the Ecclesiastical Laws of England, 1552, ed. And trans. James C. Spalding, Vol. XIX, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studied (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal, 1992), p. 90. See also Millar MacLure, The Paul’s Cross Sermons (Univ. of Toronto Press, 1958), pp. 3-17, and Rozett, pp. 41-42. ] / Francis Marbury also complains of this “wicked frivolity” : / And it were to be wished that some even of those which resort to Paul’s Cross and will not come at their own church, and when they are here delude the law with walking and talking, were better ordered. [Francis Marbury, A Sermon Preached at Paules Cross the 13. of June, 1602 (London, 1602), sig. E3r.] / The audiences at sermons, it seems, were sometimes as disruptive as the crowds at the playhouses. (39)

The Paul’s Cross sermons served a function simultaneously religious and theatrical: expounding Christian doctrine and practice by engaging the audience in an individual’s dramatic predicament. (39)

…pervasive tendency in the late Tudor/ early Stuart period to use the Paul’s Cross stage to launch verbal attacks. Thus, Rozett notes, even when the focus was not on an act of public penance, the sermons served the polemic, dramatic function of denouncing an enemy—an “other”—albeit an enemy absent from the stage (41). And frequently even the enemies got a chance to defend themselves; since preachers of virtually every theological persuasion were invited by the ecclesiastical authorities (who were themselves a varied group) to speak at Paul’s Cross, a good many of the sermons were counterattacks on previous ones. As MacLure says of the long series of accusations, replies, and confutations, “No summary of arguments, no collection of excerpts, can convey the insistence, the overwhelmingly tedious energy of these tirades from the Paul’s Cross pulpit” (65). (40)

…explain their popularity. In an age that confronts a new epistemology, a whole new human orientation in the world, one should expect a ready appetite for polemic performances; the need for order, for ideological definition, is insistent in a time of epistemic change. (40)

The danger of preaching persisted into the early decade of the seventeenth century. A 1633 letter from Archbishop William Laud to Richard Sterne illustrates the degree of official control (including a reduction of the allotted time for the sermon) that had come to seem necessary: / You shall understand that you are appointed to preach at St. Paul’s Cross on Sunday, the seventeenth day of November next ensuing, by discreet performance whereof you shall do good service to God, the King’s Majesty, and the Church. These are therefore to require and charge you, not to fail of your day appointed, and to send notice of your acceptance in writing…, to bring a copy of your sermon with you, and not to exceed an hour and a half in both sermon and prayer… And hereof fail not, as you will answer to the contrary at your peril. [William Laud, The Works of the Most Reverend Father in God, William Laud, D. D… 9 vols. (Oxford: Parker, 1847-1860), 7:47] / Despite Laud’s efforts at control, ten years later zealous reformers physically dismantled the Paul’s Cross pulpit. In the year before the demolition, and for similar reasons, the theatres had been closed. (41)

…a theologian enormously influential in Elizabethan Englad: Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at Geneva. Beza defends the doctrine of predestination against what he calls a “slander of the papists”—that is, the slanderous accusation that Calvinists make the following claim: “God in the bare and alone determination of his will hath created the greatest part of the world to perdition.” According to Beza, the accusation is slanderous not because it claims that God predestinated most souls to damnation—an idea Beza readily accepts—but because it uses the phrases “bare and alone determination” rather than “just and alone and determination” (10) … Beza is making a distinction that can have meant little to most theologians, let alone ordinary believers, and yet he is using the distinction to judge between true and false believers, … (47)

Thomas Playfere’s 1595 sermon The Meane in Mourning brought his audience to tears. So moving was the performance that two pirated editions of the sermon appeared before Playfere could issue a carefully edited version. Among the most popular of the “metaphysical” preachers of Shakespeare’s day (at which time their style was called “witty” or, interestingly, “spiritual”), Playfere shows a particular fondness for verbal pyrotechnics, especially for rhetorical figures that frustrate the categories of rational thought. [See Knott, The Sword of the Spirit, p. 42] The paradox is among his favorites. In expounding on Luke 23:28, for example, Playfere confronts his audience with a dizzying set of paradoxes: / Weep not too much saith [Christ], for my death, which is the death of death. Not too much for my death, which is the death of the devil. Not too little for your own life, which is the life of the devil. Not too much for my death, which is my life. Not too little for your own life, which is your death. Not too much for my death, which is the life of man. Not too little for your own life, which is the death of Christ. (67) (p. 51).

Interestingly, Andreas Hyperious defends both simplicity and the use of rhetorical conceits. … The defenders of metaphysical preaching as well as the detractors use the language of trickery and seduction—of cozenage, enticements, and allurement. The question seems to be not whether cozenage takes place, but whether there can be such a thing as “holy cozenage.” [Jasper Mayne, prefatory ecomiastic poem to William Cartwright, Comedies, Tragi-Comedies, with other Peoms (London, 1651] (51)

If the question was not resolved in the sixteenth century, neither has it been settled in the twentieth. On the one hand are almost wholly sympathetic studies of metaphysical preaching such as Horton Davies’s Like Angels from a Cloud; on the other hand are judgments like the one in W. Fraser Mitchell’s English Pulpit Oratory: / [It is] the verdict of contemporaries and posterity alike, that the components of “metaphysical” preaching were not such as were in themselves intrinsically valuable, that the use of which they wre put by the “witty” preachers was not consonant with the great ends of Christian oratory, and, that both the material and methods employed rendered impossible the cultivation of a prose style suited either to delivery in the pulpit or to give to religious discourses in their printed form the dignity of literature. On two counts, therefore, both for what it was, and for what it could not become, “witty” preaching stands condemned. [Mitchell, English Pulpit Oratory, p. 194] / Alexander Whyte echoes Mitchell’s sentiment, commenting that he is “bewildered and confused” by Lancelot Andrewes’ metaphysical sermons: “What a pity it is…that anything of Andrewes’s has been preserved besides his Devotions.” [Lancelot Andrewes, Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Deovtions: A Bigography, a Transcript, and an Intrepretation, ed. Alexander Whyte, 2nd ed. (London: Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1896), pp. 16, 19] / Some of Andrews’s contemporaries register a similar uneasiness about extravagant pulpit performance. Samuel Hieron, for example, warms of eloquence that functions merely as “a mist before a man’s speeches, to cause him to be the more hardly understood.” [Samuel Hieron, The Preachers Plea, pp. 195-196] (52)

As Gifford recognized, the strangeness of the style is calculated to bring the hearer into a state of “wonderful.” Gifford sees this condition as mere bafflement, a stultifying dead end. Clearly the metaphysical preachers themselves see it as a desideratum. Why? … Stephen Gosson points out that the unprecedented exposure to the simple message of the gospel during the Elizabethan period paradoxically made the people deaf to it. There may be more than mere nostalgia in Gosson’s 1598 sermon The Trumpet of Warre: … [Gosson, The Trumpet of Warre, sig. E6r] (52)

The metaphysical preachers, then, could have neen doing what poets always do: finding fresh ways to combine words to reinvigorate language that has become deadened from overuse. (53)

It would seem that an aversion for one mode implies an aversion for the other, that the denigration of metaphysical preaching is perhaps one component in the antitheatrical prejudice that Jonas Barish sees operating widely in Western culture. (53)

As one of the most prolific of the preachers, Ralph Brownrig, says, “Property is a religion for the eye; ours for the ear.” [Ralph Brownrig, fifth Transfiguration sermon, Sixty Five Sermons by the Right Reverend Father in God, Ralph Brownrig, Late Bishop of Exceter, (London, 1674), p.83] … Even those Protestants who do not wholly impugn the power of sight tend to subordinate the eye to the ear. John Donne, for example, says, / … [Sermons, 6:10.459-68. Cf. Donne’s statement, “The organ that God hath given the natural man is the eye; he sees God in the creature. The organ that God hath given the Christian is the ear; he hears God in the Word” (2:3:114)] (53)

Or, to put an even finer point on Diehl’s argument, one might say that the Protestants object either to images and ceremonies divorced from words or to images and ceremonies accompanied by misinterpreted words. … Christ’s “this is my body” … Becon’s objection is not only to the Catholic priest’s misunderstanding of the word but also to the popular belief that the mere sight of the elevated Host is salvific: (54)

…bearing in mind the qualification that Protestants do not wholly impugn the power of sight, accept the argument that in the sixteenth century a Protestant “logolatry” supplants the idolatry of which the reformers accuse Catholicism. (55)

O’Connell is quite right, then, that early Protestantism tended towards logocentricity, but it shold be remembered that there was still considerable reisistance in sixteenth-century England to a merely textual understanding of the faith. To be sure, print culture was playing its part in ushering in a new epistemology, but Elizabethan England was also the great age of the performance: it is arguable that along with the song and the stage play, the sermon reached the height of its rhetorical effectiveness toward the end of the sixteenth century. An index of the power of the sermon in Renaissance England is the complaint of John Howson, no mean preacher himself, that the houses of prayer, the oratoria, have become auditoria. Royalist Henry Hammond expresses a similar uneasiness, explicitly relating the liturgy to the theater… If Protestants writing a century earlier spent their efforts attacking Roman Catholicism’s idolatrous cult of the eye, Hammond is worried about a similarly dangerous cult of the ear. …the late sixteenth century’s enhanced receptivity to the nuances of oral performance is in part indebted to the Protestant reverence for the spoke word, combined with the Reformation’s rejection of visual allure and the humanists’ revival of classical rhetoric. … [56] the work’s generally irenic tone, which may account for its poor sales in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. [The first four books were published in 1594 and the fifth in 1597—all to meager sales. The sixth, seventh, and eighth books were not published until 1648, 1662, and 1651 respectively. See H. C. Porter, ed., Puritanism in Tudor England (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1971, p. 244] (57)


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