Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage: Protestantism and Popular Theater in Early Modern England

By Huston Diehl | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Rehearsing the Eucharistic Controversies: The Revenge Tragedies

Whereas it was forbidden, in the old law, that any man should eat or drink blood, the apostles, notwithstanding, took the cup at Christ's hands and drank of it; and never staggered, or shrank at the matter: whereby it may be gathered, that they took it for a mystery, for a token and a remembrance, far otherwise than it hath of late been taken. Again, when the sacrament was dealt, none of them all crouched down, and took it for his God forgetting him that sat there present before their eyes, but took it, and ate it, knowing that it was a sacrament and remembrance of Christ's body.

-- John Foxe, Actes and Monuments


Observing The Lord's Supper and the Lord Chamberlain's Men

In a provocative essay, "The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology," Louis Adrian Montrose explores the relation between the London commercial stage and the suppression of late medieval religious rituals during the Reformation. Noting how easily the distinction between drama and ritual can become blurred in performance, he argues that the drama appropriates and transforms the forbidden Roman Catholic rituals, rituals he associates with "the material efficacy of magic."1 He thus sees the theater of Elizabethan England as an institution that preserved and perpetuated the magic of the traditional Church. Emphasizing the antitheatrical biases and iconoclastic impulses of early English Protestantism, Montrose constructs the reformed religion as essentially hostile to the stage. The drama that emerged soon after Elizabeth reestabli-

____________________
1
Louis Adrian Montrose, "The Purpose of Playing" ( 1980), p. 62.

-94-

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