Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook

By John N. King | Go to book overview

5.3. Philip Stubbes, from
The Anatomy of Abuses (1583)

Philip Stubbes (c. 1555-c. 1610) lacks the confidence concerning the usefulness of drama for purposes of moral edification expressed by members of an earlier generation, who included John Bale, Martin Bucer, and Lewis Wager. Published during the reign of Elizabeth I, The Anatomy of Abuses (1583) is cast in the form of a dialogue between Spudeus (“zealous one”) and Philoponus (“lover of toil”), in which the latter condemns all forms of theater including religious drama because of his conviction that play-going supplants attendance at sermons and encourages adherence to Roman Catholicism, idleness, whoredom, and sodomy. (Nevertheless, a preface unique to the first edition acknowledges the validity of moralistic plays.) Stubbes’s prose is notable for colorful catalogs of vices that are filled with vivid doublets and alliterative language.

SOURCE: STC 23376, L5r–v, L7r–M1v.


Of Stage-Plays and Interludes, With Their Wickedness

Philoponus. All stage-plays, interludes, and comedies are either of divine or profane matter. If they be of divine matter, then are they most intolerable, or rather sacrilegious, for that the blessed Word of God, is to be handled, reverently, gravely, and sagely, with veneration to the glorious majesty of God, which shineth therein, and not scoffingly, floutingly, gibingly, as it is upon stages in plays and interludes, without any reverence, worship, or veneration to the same. The Word of our salvation, the price of Christ his blood, and the merits of his Passion were not given to be derided, and jested at as they be in these filthy plays and interludes on stages and scaffolds, or to be mixed and interlaced with bawdry, wanton shows and uncomely gestures as is used (every man knoweth) in these plays and interludes…. They are no fit exercises for a Christian man to follow. But if there were no evil in them save this, namely, that the arguments of tragedies are anger, wrath, immunity, cruelty, injury, incest, murder, and suchlike. The persons or actors are gods, goddesses, furies, fiends, hags, kings, queens, or potentates. Of comedies, the matter and ground is love, bawdry, cozening, flattery, whoredom, adultery. The persons or agents whores, queens, bawds, scullions, knaves, courtesans, lecherous old men, amorous young men, with suchlike of infinite variety. If I say there were nothing else but this, it were sufficient to withdraw a good Christian from the using of them. For so often as they go to those houses where players frequent, they go to Venus’s palace1 and Satan’s synagogue2 to worship devils and betray Christ Jesus.

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