Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Such Cures as Heaven Hath Lent Me": Tending to Broken Bodies in Philip Massinger's the Renegado

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Such Cures as Heaven Hath Lent Me": Tending to Broken Bodies in Philip Massinger's the Renegado

Article excerpt

"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."

-1 Corinthians 12:12'

Out of a wanton, irreligious madness,

[Our captain] ran to the holy man

As he was doing the work of grace,

And, snatching from his hands the sanctified means,

Dashed it upon the pavement.


-Philip Massinger, The Renegado2

Baptist Goodall's poem The Tryall ofTravell (1630) cautions his seventeenthcentury English readers against associating with renegades in no uncertain terms:

No Jew or Turk can prove more ruinous

Then will a Christian once apostulate thus.

Avoid as death a reconciled foe,

Nor ever with him reconciled go.

The sore smooth'd up not cured out will fly,

And soon'st infect a careless stander by.

Man of a cross religion do not trust,

He hath evasion t'be with thee unjust.3

In The Tryall of Travell, apostasy is couched firmly in the language of the bodily. Daniel Vitkus points out that Goodall connects the metaphorical "sore" of conversion-and, relatedly, even the physical sore of the convert's circumcision-to the transmission of a disease "that may recede and go into remission," but may never be healed. He argues that the stigma of apostasy is an incurable, syphilitic-like contaminant, one always with the latent potential to "fly" the individual apostate body and eventually infect the body politic when unwitting persons come into contact with the externally "cured" former renegade. Any attempts to reintegrate the convert into the communal body were doomed to fail.4 By 1630, however, Goodall's verses were promulgating an already-popular English rhetoric of bodily disease, mutilation, and wounding deployed by writers interested in navigating the religious and sociopolitical stakes associated with the temptation of apostasy. The notion of renegades as "disease-bearing threats to the health of the community" is also expressed in Robert Daborne's stage play A Christian Turned Turk (1612), for example.5 Daborne's use of the analogy of disease, though-in which a French sea captain declares that English pirates like John Ward "have lain / Upon their country's stomach like a surfeit; / Whence, being vomited, they strive with poisonous breath / To infect the general air"-imagines that the very purgation of the English communal body ultimately desired by Goodall will, in fact, disease the "general air" of the whole Mediterranean maritime, mercantile sphere (2.44-47).6 If the social reconciliation of the convert will likely poison the body politic and his expulsion from the community will infect the wider commercial body of overseas ventures, how is such a dangerous bodily rift to be healed?

It is often suggested that Philip Massinger's The Renegado (1624) offers an antidote to the dilemma of incorporation posited by Goodall or Daborne as Massinger's text constructs a comic rewriting (and re-righting) of the bodily destruction and social anxiety that permeates the action of a play like A Christian Turned Turk. In Daborne's play, not only is Ward's personal and physical body allegedly wounded via the rite of circumcision and his soul diseased to the point of despair (and finally suicide) by his apostasy, the English sociopolitical body is broken by Ward's acts of piracy. By contrast, claims Vitkus, The Renegado allows both of its converts to escape from Tunis "with bodies and souls intact."7 Anxieties about the inclusion of new and/or returning converts into the Christian communal body are simply soothed away as Donusa, the Muslim princess, unproblematically forsakes Islam through her marriage to a Venetian gentleman, Vitelli. Grimaldi, the titular renegade, is "[r]estored to Christian virtue" when his "unruly masculinity is recuperated for the service of Christendom, and he aids in the escape plot that concludes the play."8 In Vitkus' estimation, Massinger's The Renegado reverses the outcome of Daborne's tragedy "by affirming the power of Christianity to 'redeem' and recover both Muslims and renegades. …

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