The Catholic Imaginary and the Cults of Elizabeth I, 1558-1582

By Doran, Susan | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Catholic Imaginary and the Cults of Elizabeth I, 1558-1582


Doran, Susan, The Catholic Historical Review


The Catholic Imaginary and the Cults of Elizabeth I, 1558-1582. By Stephen Hamrick. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2009. Pp. viii, 232. $99-95. ISBN 978-0-754-66588-5.)

Stephen Hamrick explains that his objectives in this study are to demonstrate the influences of Catholic worldviews on English "shorter poetry" and to trace how different poets employed representations of Catholicism within the Petrarchan cults of Elizabeth during the first half of her reign. From this, it is evident that his study is a work of literary criticism that (as he readily admits) is deeply indebted to Louis Montrose. Like Montrose, Hamrick takes a historicist approach in re-situating Petrarchan literatures within their original religious and cultural contexts.Also like Montrose, Hamrick accepts the existence of cults of Elizabeth that, although unstable and potentially contradictory, were nonetheless part of the ideology operated by the political nation. The novelty of Hamrick's study is that he is looking at lesser-known texts of the early-Elizabethan period. At the same time, he is employing the theoretical apparatus of cultural-anthropologists to a much greater extent than do others.

Although Hamrick's interdisciplinary approach is laudable, it also creates some problems for readers who are historians. His use of literary or anthropological jargon sometimes obfuscates and often jars: to take one example, when discussing the impact of Elizabeth Fs famous walk-out during the Christmas Mass of 1558, Hamrick concludes that "the cognitive dissonance created by her actions achieved much the same type of defamiliarization and symbolic or structural disaggregation characteristic of liminal rituals" (p. 24). Another problem is that in his hands, historical events sometimes take on meanings that were unlikely to have been understood or appreciated by contemporaries. When describing the same incident, he calls Elizabeth's action her appropriation of the Mass, in that she became "a kind of invisible presenee which her subjects take into their thoughts for contemplation rather than contemplation of Christ in the Host" (p. 23). By talking about her behavior, Elizabeth's subjects were, moreover, metaphorically taking Elizabeth into their mouths as they would consume the sacrament (p.

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