The Drama of Reform: Theology and Theatricality, 1461-1553

By Smith, Helen | Times Higher Education, January 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Drama of Reform: Theology and Theatricality, 1461-1553


Smith, Helen, Times Higher Education


The Drama of Reform: Theology and Theatricality, 1461-1553. By Tamara Atkin Brepols, 198pp, Pounds 59.50. ISBN 9782503546513. Published 31 July 2013

Whereas the drama of the English Renaissance is celebrated, frequently performed and a staple of school and university curricula, the plays of the English Reformation (or rather the multiple, incremental and partial reformations of the four British nations) are neglected with almost equal enthusiasm. In part, this can be explained by their unfortunate chronological position, wedged awkwardly, in stylistic as well as temporal terms, between the medieval and early modern. In part, it comes down to our lack of knowledge about where and why many of these plays were performed, despite some diligent detective work. Ultimately, though, the lack of widespread zeal for the plays may be a result of their own passionate espousal of the religious arguments that transformed personal and national identities in the middle years of the 16th century.

The Drama of Reform follows the lead of recent scholarship in embracing the complexities of reformist drama, from the polemical plays of John Bale to the likes of Jacke Jugeler, which claims to be only a "merie" reworking of Plautus, but is centrally concerned with debates concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Tamara Atkin's book concentrates on four plays, dedicating a chapter to each and identifying telling, and often precise, links between their contents and the proponents of reform. What we get rather less of, however, is a sense of how representative these plays are and how they fit alongside more traditional, orthodox drama.

Given that these plays are not widely read, Atkin's account is necessarily rather descriptive, although we are offered intriguing glimpses of how different authors took on and transformed theatrical tradition. In particular, the book showcases the rewards that come from paying attention to paratexts - the prologues, cast lists and dedications that frame these dramas in print. …

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