Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Devil Theatre: Demonic Possession and Exorcism in English Renaissance Drama, 1556-1642

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Devil Theatre: Demonic Possession and Exorcism in English Renaissance Drama, 1556-1642

Article excerpt

Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen, Devil Theatre: Demonic Possession and Exorcism in English Renaissance Drama, 1556-1642, Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 2007, pp. 220, hb. £50, ISBN: 9781843841142

This work investigates how possession and the expulsion of spirits were portrayed on the stage during the Renaissance, by reading the portrayal of these events in relation to contemporary demonological and other related treatises on the subjects. Of particular interest here is the question of what happened to these beliefs when they were ' transferred from one cultural zone to another' (p. 5), i.e. when transposed from treatises or sermons to the stage. Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen suggests that rather than simply reflecting the beliefs contained in published texts, the stage generated new meanings about the nature of possession. He suggests there are three areas within which this chiefly occurs: the nature of the self; religious politics; and the nature of the theatre.

However, van Dijkhuizen's use of the terms 'exorcism' and 'dispossession' interchangeably is not without certain difficulties. Linguistically each word was associated with a number of cultural significations which distinguished the two. As far as the Puritans such as Darrell were concerned 'exorcism' was a Popish practice, with connotations of magic, whereas 'dispossession' was a biblically sanctioned act relying on prayer and fasting. In equating the two terms van Dijkhuizen risks aligning himself with Bancroft, Harsnett, and those churchmen who did purposefully associate the two words in order to draw parallels between Catholics and Puritans. However, the reason he takes this approach is that he is trying to locate Elizabethan practices in the light of pre-Reformation traditions and show that exorcism/dispossession was evidence of the limited success of the English Reformation.

While he raises a valid point about the ambivalent status of exorcism and belief in demonic possession, I would suggest that the terms should be regarded as far more problematic. Certainly, unease about expelling spirits from the possessed among ministers of the established Church 'can partly be explained by the fact that the ritual [sic] was practised both by Catholic priests and radical Puritan ministers' (p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.