Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Cantabrigiensis: Proceedings of the Eleventh International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies, Cambridge, 30 July-5 August 2000

By Rhoda Schnur | Go to book overview

Exorcism and the Interstices of Language:
Ruggle's Ignoramus and the Demonization of
Renaissance English Neo-Latin1

HILAIRE KALLENDORF

Renaissance Neo-Latin is demonized in George Ruggle's 1615 play Ignoramus. Like other plays of the early seventeenth century which include episodes of exorcism, this play focuses on some of the symptoms of demonic possession. Demonic polyglossia, the devil's dark parody of the early Christian experience of speaking in tongues, was one of these symptoms. However, the fact that Neo-Latin is singled out for parody amidst other linguistic registers normally associated with demonic possession makes this play stand apart from other dramas about exorcism written during this period.

Its university setting— the play was performed before King James I at Cambridge in March 1615 — and its satire of the legal profession explain the play's focus on Latin instead of Greek, "Chaldean" or other "demonic" languages. But why did the playwright choose exorcism to satirize Latin instead of limiting the play's scope to mere ridicule of pedants and lawyers?

The answer is that exorcism, while itself a "hot topic" at this time in England, also provided a battleground for various competing languages and jargons. It was the perfect arena for the struggle over who understood Latin and who did not, and who possessed cultural power and who did not. Exorcism provided liminal spaces or interstices between languages at a time when a whole culture was in linguistic transition. As an extreme case of the linguistic anxiety felt in the culture as a whole, exorcism provided a forum for discussing issues of linguistic competence and authority.

1 The author wishes to thank the Folger Institute for the opportunity to participate in its
Symposium, "British Political Thought in Early Modern Europe: Mapping Networks and Practices
of Political Exchange in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," held at the Folger Shakespeare
Library in Washington, DC, in May 2000. The Symposium provided a forum for testing the seeds
of some of the ideas which were later incorporated into this paper.

-303-

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