The Defence of Religious Orthodoxy in John Heywood's the Pardoner and the Frere

By Caputo, Nicoletta | Yearbook of English Studies, January-July 2008 | Go to article overview

The Defence of Religious Orthodoxy in John Heywood's the Pardoner and the Frere


Caputo, Nicoletta, Yearbook of English Studies


In The Pardoner and the Frere an attack on religious abuses is combined with a positive belief in the Church and a defence of the Catholic faith. Corrupt churchmen are satirized and the need for religious reform is stressed, an issue in which King Henry VIII is called upon for support in a way that, on closer examination, appears ambiguous and not without a hint of criticism. Thus the interlude is not only 'an exercise in persuasion', but, in keeping with the dynamics of Tudor household drama, it is also 'a vehicle for persuasion', and its various, subtle, persuasive strategies arise from the dramatist's desire to see the abuses in the ecclesiastical institution amended.

**********

John Heywood was undoubtedly an exceptional entertainer at the court of Henry VIII, and, as one of his epigrams testifies, he wished to be remembered as 'Heywood with the mad merry wit'. (1) In this chapter, however, I want to focus on Heywood's 'serious' side, that is, on the political implications of one of his 'many mad plaies'. In the 1520s Heywood devoted a number of witty interludes to serious religious, political, and social issues. It was not unusual for Tudor dramatists to join in the political and religious debates taking place at court; they assumed an audience open to persuasion and, in pursuing their goals, felt free to offer counsel that was not entirely devoid of criticism or reproach. (2)

The Pardoner and the Frere is a perfect example of such an attitude, although critics have often considered it as mere entertainment. Robert W. Bolwell, for example, in 1921 declared that in The Pardoner and the Frere Heywood's 'purpose was to entertain, to make fun, not to denounce' and that 'the purpose of the play is entertainment, not edification'. (3) In 1964 T. W. Craik still felt that 'Heywood seems to have written this play wholly for the sake of its straightforward amusing situation'. (4) And in the following decade Joel B. Altman, in his classic study The Tudor Play of Mind (1978), ranked The Pardoner and the Frere with Johan Johan and argued that the two plays, 'though highly entertaining and nondidactic, are essentially irreverent farces'. (5) In the present discussion, however, I shall explore how The Pardoner and the Frere, though farcical, combines an attack on religious abuses with a positive belief in the Church and a defence of the Catholic faith: corrupt churchmen are satirized; the need for religious reform is stressed; and King Henry VIII is called upon for support in a way that, on closer examination, appears ambiguous and potentially critical.

The necessity for reform to put an end to the moral decay of the Church without trespassing on the limits of religious orthodoxy was a central commitment for the Christian humanists belonging to the so-called 'More circle'. Sir Thomas More, John Colet, and Desiderius Erasmus (who spent three extended periods in England, becoming a lifelong friend of More and Colet) (6) relentlessly attacked ecclesiastical abuses in their writings, on occasion with the resources of irony and satire. In his works and in his letters More repeatedly inveighed against clerical superstition and ignorance, and friars seemed to be his favourite target; (7) whereas Erasmus's Moriae encomium is a perfect example of how the satirical method could be usefully employed to censure the perversions of the evangelical message the author found in contemporary religious institutions. (8)

However, even if their criticism could sometimes sound harsh, for both More and Erasmus the condemnation of abuses was inseparable from, or rather took its origin in, an unwavering devotion to the Catholic Church. Their attacks were invariably directed at the abuse of respected institutions, not at the institutions themselves: as More asserted in The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer (1532), it is 'lawful to any man to mislike the misuse of every good thing'. (9) How a bitter, even irreverent, criticism of its abuses need not challenge loyalty to the ecclesiastical institution was explained by More in his defence of Erasmus's Moriae encomium:

For god be thanked, I never had that mind in my life to have holy saints, images or their holy relics out of reverence [. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Defence of Religious Orthodoxy in John Heywood's the Pardoner and the Frere
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.