The Antichrist's Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists & Players in Post-Reformation England

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PETER LAKE WITH MICHAEL QUESTIER The Antichrist's Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists & Players in Post-Reformation England. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2002. Pp. xxxiv +731, illustrations, index. $45.00.

Over the past forty years or so, competing contemporary understandings of early modem religious culture have often been as polemical and fractured as the views of the early modem antagonists who are ostensibly the object of historical study. Certainly this could be seen as a nicely ironic conflation of methodology and history. But as methodological positions have become entrenched and vigorously defended, often scholarly differences have been emphasized to the detriment of genuine advancements in research. Certainly Peter Lake's study The Antichrist's Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England is not above the occasional polemical aside, and it is none the worse for that. However, by and large this ambitious, thoroughly researched, and, it had to be said, mammoth book wishes to, if not eschew then certainly re-define, the entrenched methodological positions that have characterized so much scholarship in the field. As such it represents a fine contribution to our ongoing understanding of the complexities of early modem religious culture.

In the first place, Lake is at pains throughout the study to emphasize a contingent and heterogeneous religious and cultural landscape, one that cannot be divided up into neat confessional categories. As he writes, his is not

a story of gradual, seamless protestantisation, the piecemeal rise to cultural hegemony of a consensual, both popular and elite, plebeian and godly, "religion of protestants" nor...a story of "protestant" failure and "catholic" resistance and continuity; nor yet...a story of the brave triumph of doggedly moderate yet pious English folk over the attempts of rigorist intellectuals and busybodies to tell them what to think and whom to hate. Still less do I want to imply a narrative of secularisation, with either a sceptical, stoically distanced humanist self-fashioning or a self-consciously secular or profane commercial theatre at its core. (713)

Instead, the author prefers to stress what he calls "a certain cultural and religious indeterminacy and instability" (713) across early modern England. It could be argued that this kind of methodological formulation owes something to the insights of certain strands of post-structuralist thought. For these reasons, it is interesting that at the beginning of the book, Lake professes himself to be "allergic" to "Theory" (xix). In the light of his persuasively indeterminate theoretical conception of the period, this remark is perhaps a touch disingenuous. To take a further example, it is noteworthy that although the work of Mikhail Bakhtin is fruitfully drawn upon in a number of places, his name does not figure in the book's index, a curious omission. …