Exorcism and Its Texts: Subjectivity in Early Modern Literature of England and Spain

By Sharpe, James | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Exorcism and Its Texts: Subjectivity in Early Modern Literature of England and Spain


Sharpe, James, The Catholic Historical Review


Exorcism and Its Texts: Subjectivity in Early Modern Literature of England and Spain. By Hilaire Kallendorf. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2003. Pp. xxi, 327. $65.00.)

Over the last two decades there has been an explosion of scholarly research and publication on witchcraft, a process which has engendered interest on a number of related historical issues. Among the most important of which are the related phenomena of demonic possession and exorcism. Hilaire Kallendorf's Exorcism and Its Texts is, therefore, a timely addition to our knowledge on what is a growing area of study among both historians and literary scholars.

Although aware of some of the wider recent historical writing on the subject, Kallendorf's main interest is with exorcism and possession in the literature of England and Spain. After a brief introduction examining various theoretical positions, a series of chapters are devoted to specific topics. In a chapter on demoniacs and the drama the author demonstrates how exorcism on stage can be interpreted as a metaphor for a purificatory act of exorcizing the body politic. In another chapter, dealing with the picaresque, satirical poetry, and satire, Kallendorf argues the importance of the experience of demonic possession, whether genuine or simulated, as a source of knowledge. The author then turns to how the interlude and hagiographical drama leads to the humanization of possession and exorcism, how tragedy in the drama can be seen as the absence or failure of exorcism, and also examines an important and unexpected theme in a chapter dealing with self-exorcism and the rise of the novel. There is then a final, brief, epilogue, in which the category of "demonic possession" is problematized, and it is argued that it could be interpreted in various ways by early modern observers, and hence that modern scholars should be wary of oversimplifying it. Although there may be much to argue with in Kallendorf's interpretations, there is no doubt that a powerful and informed scholarly imagination is being brought to bear on a disparate body of literary materials. …

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