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Andrew Gordon and Thomas Rist (eds), The Arts of Remembrance in Early Modern England: Memorial Cultures of the Post Reformation.

Andrew Gordon and Thomas Rist (eds), The Arts of Remembrance in Early Modern England: Memorial Cultures of the Post Reformation, Ashgate, 2013, pp. ix + 259, 65.00 [pounds sterling].

Taking its title from Jeremy Taylor's Rule and Exercise of Holy Dying (1651), this volume of essays explores different aspects of the importance and resonance of memory and memorialising in the early modern period, stressing their active, subjective, often partisan nature and their function as 'social performances'. This study emerges within a field already well stocked with earlier investigations, including books by David Cressy (Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar [1989] and Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England [1997]) as well as more recent studies by Peter Sherlock (Monuments and Memory in Early Modern England [2008]) and Alexandra Walsham (The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland [2011]). But the editors and contributors to this collection--seven of them English Literature specialists, four historians and one drama scholar--move in some distinctly new directions while covering some familiar ground. Some of the authors, such as Robert Tittler and Tara Hamiling, use the opportunity to extend and illustrate their own previously published book-length studies. The essays are clustered into three main sections --'Materials of Remembrance', 'Textual Rites' and 'Theatres of Remembrance. The index advertises in its short compass the astonishingly broad and diverse nature of the subject matter covered in the text. Memorialisation is a topic that spills out in so many directions.

In a period dominated by the impact of the Reformation, it is unsurprising that religion figures prominently in this book, especially in the first two sections. Lucy Wooding launches the collection with her careful study of the implications of the rejection of the medieval doctrine of Purgatory and the belief in the efficacy of prayers for the dead. She also covers the shift from the celebration of the Eucharist in burial services to its celebration in funeral sermons. Robert Tittler's essay on portraiture and memory--one of the very best in the whole volume--makes clear that the flourishing of this art form was both utilitarian and iconic and roused fears in some quarters that such portraits for Roman Catholics might well function as substitute relics. (There is a defiantly Catholic message to the group portrait of 'The Towneley Family at Prayer' [1593].) The physical positioning of such portraits in the household was obviously important: placing them over the principal mantelpiece proclaimed the loudest message of status and genealogy. The artistic quality of the mainly provincial portraits considered here obviously varied enormously--sometimes the results could be exceedingly crude (see pp. 56-7). And multiple portraits of the same individual--like those commissioned to honour the memory of the benefactor Sir Thomas White in various towns and cities around the country--could be strikingly different. Tara Hamling's essay shows how furnishings and fittings in the domestic context functioned effectively as quasi-religious memorials, all the more potent in their impact due to their play on first-hand familial knowledge and on their physical immediacy. Izaac Walton's ornately carved cupboard (commemorating his own marriage), the ornate triptych-style chimneypiece at Speke Hall and the elaborately embroidered, Biblically-themed headboard and valance that adorned Lady Dorothy Davenport's bed are three of the examples she offers. Even more eloquent, perhaps, is the carved wooden panel memorialising Humphrey Beckham, warden of a Wiltshire Joiners' Company, originally intended for display in a private home but in fact installed in St Thomas's Church, Salisbury. The overlaps in this period between the secular and the religious and the domestic and the ecclesiastical are neatly brought home. Oliver D. Harris, in the remaining essay in this section, moves out in a different direction and shows convincingly how invented or adapted genealogies were resorted to in funerary monuments and heraldic records.

Four essays also comprise the second, expressly literary, section of this collection and all, once again, underline the centrality of religious motivations and imperatives in the post-Reformation period. Thomas Rist's quotation-laden contribution ponderously celebrates George Herbert as the pre-eminent poet of church monument remembrance. Tom Healy revisits the Protestant didacticism and apocalyptic vision embedded in John Foxe's Actes and Monuments (1563), which rehearsed the sufferings of those martyred in the reign of Mary Tudor. Gerard Kilroy systematically analyses how the memorialisation of the trial and execution of Edmund Campion became a battleground for Roman Catholics and Protestants intensely nervous about the prospect of Elizabeth I's entering into a Roman Catholic marriage. Pride of place in this section, however, belongs to Marie-Louise Coolahan's revealing examination of the literary memorialisation of four female authors--Anne Southwell, Elizabeth Egerton, Anne Ley and Elizabeth Walker--by their widower husbands. In two cases, the women's writings were posthumously collected together in manuscript volumes. In the third--Anne Ley's--the woman's writings were positioned alongside those of her husband, a London curate. In the fourth, the husband included his wife's writings in his published biography of his deceased spouse. Coolahan makes it clear that all of these cases involved a particular kind of actively pursued memorialisation: these husband editors were not simply commemorating their dead wives but co-opting them in different ways for their own projects. Anthony Walker's biography, for instance, which first came into print in 1690, patently makes use of Elizabeth's example to promote the ideal of the Christian housewife for others to imitate.

A number of the essays already considered make reference in different ways to 'theatres of remembrance'. Section Three of the book, which amongst others foregrounds specific performances of William Shakespeare's Richard III and Henry VIII and John Webster's hard-hitting staging of remembrance in The Duchess of Malfi, makes this concept the central organising principle. Janette Dillon explores the functioning of theatrical memory in an age that preceded permanent professional theatres with a continuous repertoire. Andrew Gordon, one of the editors of this volume, in the final essay examines how the death of the celebrated Elizabethan clown Richard Tarlton in September 1588 'cast a long shadow over the comic culture of the era' (p. 231).

Not all the essays here, especially those in the final section, remain consistently in focus and self-evidently connected to the book's overarching themes concerned with the prevalence, rich flowering of and heavy investment in early modern memorialisation. The editors in their introduction are evidently hard pressed at times to bind all the contributions together. Indeed they freely admit that this volume is more notable for its specifics than for its grand narratives. For this reason, success tends to be more conspicuous in individual chapters than across the book as a whole. The illustrations, with only occasional exceptions, are very badly reproduced and inevitably undermine arguments that expressly depend on their being plain to see.


R. C. Richardson

University of Winchester
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Author:Richardson, R.C.
Publication:Literature & History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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