The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642

The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642

The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642

The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642

Synopsis

John Cox tells the intriguing story of stage devils from their earliest appearance in English plays to the closing of the theaters by parliamentary order in 1642. The book spans both medieval and Renaissance drama and includes the medieval Mystery cycles on the one hand, through to plays by Greene, Marlowe, Shakespeare (Henry VI Parts 1 and 2), Jonson, Middleton and Davenant.

Excerpt

Histories of the devil abound, and I do not claim to be familiar with more than a fraction of them. Histories of stage devils in English drama, however, are more manageable. The earliest are nineteenth-century dissertations in German, which is the model adopted by the first study of the subject in English, L. W. Cushman's The Devil and the Vice in the English Dramatic Literature before Shakespeare. Cushman's book in fact originated as a doctoral dissertation at Goettingen in 1899 and was published the following year by Max Niemeyer in Halle, when Cushman was teaching English at the University of Nevada. I have of ten wondered Cushman's going from Goettingen to Reno in 1900 was not, perhaps, a little like meeting the subject of his book in person.

In any case, previous histories of the devil in English drama were swept aside by the magisterial work of E. K. Chambers'The Medieval Stage, published in 1903. Chambers read Cushman and dismissed him. What Chambers of fered for the first time was a narrative so coherent and persuasive that it continues to influence critical thinking about early English drama, even though Chambers' assumptions have long since been recognized and dismissed in their own turn. One task present book is to retell the story of English stage devils for the first time since Chambers but with different assumptions. The first chapter explains what those assumptions are and how they affect the interpretation of stage devils, but the issue is important throughout and accounts for this study's engagement with other critics of early drama who have been influenced in one way or another by Chambers, even when they set out to revise his work.

Chambers began with an oppositional scheme that interpreted stage devils in a narrative of teleological secularization. In this scheme, enlightened secularity was bound to flourish in the long run in its opposition to benighted superstition. Chambers saw the introduction of devils into vernacular drama in the fifteenth century as early evidence of . . .

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