Puritanism and Its Discontents

Puritanism and Its Discontents

Puritanism and Its Discontents

Puritanism and Its Discontents

Synopsis

"This volume works to restore both a radical edge and a new specificity to the much-debated definitions of Puritans and Puritanism. Ranging from the 1622 election of a new master at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to Oliver Cromwell's self-fashioning, to uses of the Turk in anti-Puritan polemic, to Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian crisis, the ten essays offer a detailed account of the intersection of religion, politics, and culture in England and America in the seventeenth century and beyond. Each essay shows how a dynamic and shifting Puritanism is constructed in and through conflict, and how a radical impulse to discontent is part of Puritan self-identity. Such work also counters the long-standing and still popular notion of Puritanism as, like Freud's civilization, a repressive and monolithic entity, obsessed with guilt and generating neuroses. Rather, the essays show that discontents are not simply a response to Puritans but an integral part of the definition of Puritanism itself. Focusing on new topics in cultural history - discursive constructions, institutions, and community - contributors to this volume explore how discontents shape a complex Puritanism in England and America. The collection expands the boundaries of the study of Puritanism to include lay experience, women, popular print, and questions of class structure, ethnicity, and gender. By tracing core discontents, the essays restore the anxiety-ridden radical nature of Puritanism, helping to account for its force in the seventeenth century and the popular and scholarly interest that it continues to evoke. Innovative and challenging in scope and argument, the volume should be of interest to scholars of early modern British and American history, literature, culture, and religion." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more
cakes and ale?

—Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

In shakespeare's twelfth night, sir toby belch's pointed rebuff only begins the trouble for the meddling steward Malvolio, who, as a “kind of puritan,” a “time-pleaser,” and an “affectioned ass,” has attempted to stop Sir Toby's late-night revelry. Gulled by the thwarted party-goers (and his own vanity) into believing that his mistress is in love with him, Malvolio appears smiling, yellow-stockinged, and cross-gartered only to find himself imprisoned as a madman. His apparent piety revealed as self-serving ambition, Malvolio remains apart from the comic resolution of the play, vowing: “I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you.”

Malvolio stands in a long line of literary and dramatic Puritans as repressive killjoys and prurient meddlers, many of whom get their comeuppance from their fictional counterparts or from the laughter of the audience. From Ben Jonson's Tribulation Wholesome to Samuel Butler's Sir Hudibras to Thomas Morton's Captain Shrimp, literary Puritans variously spoil the party, “fight for religion as for punk,” brand sinners, and ax down maypoles; they in turn find themselves cozened, cudgeled, and otherwise humiliated. Puritans—like Freud's civilization—seem repressive and obsessed with guilt, generating neuroses and discontents.

Yet several decades of historical work have countered the literary stereotype of the interfering Puritan, offering, rather, an image of early modern Puritans as conservative, moderate, and apolitical, negotiating a place within the mainstream of the English church and society until pushed into reaction. in his wide-ranging and magisterial work on the Elizabethan church, Patrick Collinson largely defines Puritanism as a movement for reform within the Church of England. Peter Lake distinguishes Puritans from their . . .

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