Crossing disciplines: recent contributions of literary scholarship to early modern English history. (Review Essay).
David Gay, James G. Randall, and Arlette Zinck. Awakening Words: John Bunyan and the Language of Community. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2000. 223 PP. $39.50. ISBN: 0-87413-702-0.
Crawford Gribben. The Puritan Millennium: Literature and Theology, 15501682. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000. 224 Pp. $55. ISBN: 1-85 182-577-0.
Jameela Lares. Milton and the Preaching Arts. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 2001. xvi + 352 pp. $58. ISBN: 0-8207-0318-4.
Kristen Poole. Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton: Figures of Nonconformity in Early Modern England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xiii + 272 PP. $59.95. ISBN: 0-521-64104-7.
Ramie Targoff. Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. xiii + 162 PP. $40 (cl), $17 (pbk). ISBN: 0-226-78968-3 (cI), 0-226-78969-1 (pbk).
The convergence in recent decades of literary, historical, and religious studies has led, in the field of early modern England, to more cross-disciplinary boldness on the part of literary scholars than from historians, who tend to remain anchored in their harbors while their colleagues make encroachments and generally enjoy -- as they always have -- greater maneuverability on the hermeneutical seas. The re-historicization of literary studies, as well as the historiographical awareness of literary scholars, has not been met by the equivalent effort on the part of historians, who make relatively fewer forays into poetry literature, or theory; while some historians of England have been influenced by the kind of close textual readings mastered by their counterparts, they nevertheless remain tethered by the peculiar contextualizing demands of their profession, and most for this reason would feel queasy about citing, say, Stephen Greenblatt as a source. This is as it should be, perhaps -- these differences maintain , for better or worse, the boundaries of disciplinarity. Yet it would do historians well to consider the books under review, all by literary scholars, and all of which make bold and often convincing attempts to redefine the terminology; paradigms, and assumptions of the religious, literary, and historical landscape of early modern England. While a historian (such as this one) cannot presume to comment upon the more theoretical and literary aspects of these works, the questions and implications they raise resonate far beyond their immediate concerns, and promise to influence the field, for historians and everyone else, in the years to come.
It should be pointed out, at the risk of contradicting what was stated above, that for all their relative obliviousness to developments among literary scholars, historians have in fact been at the forefront in studies of the book and print culture, and in the exploration of particular texts, or rather shifting and unsteady texts; one refers here to John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, which has witnessed a surge of interest in recent years, though it was historians -- namely, Patrick Collinson, Tom Freeman, and Susan Wabuda -- who first explored the text's instability and multiple authorship (or editor-ship) as it moved across editions in Foxe's lifetime and after. A result of these fruitful discoveries has been the John Foxe Project directed by David Loades, who has overseen the release of a new edition of the Acts and Monuments on CD-ROM, while also editing two separate volumes of essays on the subject of Foxe. Meanwhile, in this country a 2001 NEH summer seminar conducted under the aegis of John N. King and Jam es Bracken also explored Foxe from a number of interdisciplinary perspectives, utilizing Ohio State University's rich collection of Foxe editions to approach the author within the context of a larger print culture.
Historians such as Tessa Watt have also explored minor or previously overlooked texts, but literary scholars are now moving deeper into the material, and emerging with insights that have tended to be bypassed or downplayed. Religious narratives (including Foxe's), sermons (in addition to the well-studied sermons of John Donne or Lancelet Andrewes), satiric pamphlets, liturgical verse (as opposed to the widely-mined devotional poetry) -- all are now being opened to a reinvigorated literary investigation. The result is not simply a resurrection of previously forgotten or obscure texts, but an entire reconsideration and overturning of existing assumptions concerning representations of the "puritan," for example, or notions of "millennialism;" not only texts but the traditions they represent also receive attention, as in the neo-Latin writings that emerged from the religious and court culture of James, or the homiletic tradition that infuses, according to Jameela Lares, the poetry of Milton.
One of the more dramatic reformulations can be found in Ramie Targoff's Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England, which examines the ways in which liturgical material -- and the Book of Common Prayer most particularly -- "[introduced] a single paradigm for devotional language," and by doing so not only "standardized devotional practice" but created a series of "premeditated texts, whose very formalization ensured, in the view of the established churchmen, a devotional efficacy that could nor be attained with spontaneous and original prayers" (4). In drawing up the prayer book, Thomas Cranmer thus "sought to create a liturgical practice that did not accommodate personal deviation," and in fact implied that "the Augustinian model of praying privately and quietly" -- which had been presumed to be the superior model -- was "an inferior manifestation of faith" (8-9). The result was that "by controlling the worshippers' attention and supplying their prayers... [the] church liturgy [bec ame] the best mechanism to subsume personal and idiosyncratic worship within a collective devotional practice" (16). According to Targoff, it was actually Catholics, not protestants (or established-church English protestants), who were given more leeway to absorb themselves in devotional introspection and private prayer, when the priest, for example, was silently reciting the Secreta and going about his business, with back turned to the congregants, of the mass; only when the sacring bell rang out were worshippers called to leave their inner devotions behind and return their attention to the consecration and elevation of the host, and the realm of common devotion (22-23).
It is still an often-accepted trope that in the wake of the Reformation protestants represented a drive toward individualized worship and religious interiority, while Catholics (or non-mystical Catholics) remained ensconced in a kind of well-scripted and standardized collectivity of worship. Targoff inverts these claims entirely -- and altogether convincingly - to the point where one wonders why they haven't really been noticed, at least in a devotional context, to such an extent before. Part of the answer is that most attention to the Book of Common Prayer, by historians and others, has been focused on its theological (and specifically eucharistic) as well as political aspects; while others have pointed out the changes in devotional language between the 1549 and the 1552 versions of the book -- when pronouns noticeably shifted and "O Lord, open thou my lips" became "O Lord, open thou our lips" -- few writers have really explored, as Targoff does, the full implications these words held in transforming the emp hasis in devotional practices from a private to a public or congregational sphere of worship (28-30).
Not everyone agreed with these attempts to relegate worship to a corporate and scripted realm, however. For Milton most noticeably, Targoff writes, "the practice of common prayer, like the rule of an unlawful monarch, violently restrict[ed] the individual's capacity to express the inward self'; indeed, "To worship according to the 'outward dictates of men' [over] the inward 'sanctifying spirit' [meant] to prefer humanly authored texts to divine ordination -- to commit an act of idolatry" (36-37). Puritans also protested Cranmer's model for the reason that the nature of their service privileged the preaching minister and his sermon, which evaded the boundaries and formalized texts proscribed by the established churchmen. To establishment figures such as John Whitgift, however, preacherly deviation from the liturgical script represented not only theological mayhem, but it also reduced the congregation's role and even made it unclear what arbitrary preacherly emission that congregation was always saying 'Amen" t o. By thus lessening the worshippers' participatory role and generally increasing the distance between the congregation and the preacher, Targoff argues, puritans were in fact closer to Catholics than they were to the established church, which -- according to its best defender, Richard Hooker -- "remain[ed] invulnerable to the performative aberrations of either the minister or the congregation" (55).
The second half of Targoff's book will perhaps be of less interest to historians and religious scholars, though it is fascinating in tracing the influence of the new liturgy and the language of common prayer on the production of devotional poetry. On the one hand the Prayer Book's vernacular mode elevated English into "a sacred tongue deemed worthy of communicating formal petitions to God" (5); but its new rendering of the Lord's Prayer and other devotions to dense prose forms -- from their previous mnemonic position as verse -- placed the relationship of poetry to devotion in a somewhat ambiguous position. It was the metrical psalms that would prove to be the channel by which prayer and poetry would move forward in newly fused configurations, and Philip Sidney in his Apology for Poetry (as well as the translations he made with his sister, the Countess of Pembroke) who would redefine the relationship between original poems and those liturgical psalmic forms (75). George Herbert would carry the integration to its most advanced fruition, but even more important was Herbert's adaptation of his poetry to forms of common prayer. According to Targoff, the goal of such devotional poets was to "[intertwine] the singular land the collective we," and display "absolute preference for formalized voice" of the established church (87). Contrary to most assumptions, seventeenth-century devotional poets did not seek to convey themselves through a "private, spontaneous, and highly individuated voice"; the fact that Donne, for example, did so only marked him as a failure in this regard, with "his consistently idiosyncratic and complex formulations for devotional relief. . . entirely incompatible with the utterances of public worship" (93).
Despite its ambitions, Targoff's book is too short, and it could have been divided into separate books, each containing further insights and analysis into lesser-known texts (Targoff might have benefited as well from the recent work on the Book of Common Prayer conducted by Sharon L. Arnoult). There are also some weaknesses, at least from the historical end: while Targoff is nuanced in her reading of the sources, there is less subtlety in the way she tends to gather together individuals -- Richard Hooker and John Whitgift; the Marprelate authors and everyone else deemed "puritan" -- who would have actually chafed at the contact. There are also a few misnomers that would make a historian (and, one would assume, a literary scholar) blanche the poet "George Harvey" was actually Christopher Harvey, and the bishop of Gloucester was John Hooper, not "Edmund Hooper." Still, Targoff has written an important and bold book, and one that historians should read and cite in the future.
For a better picture of puritans -- or rather, representations of puritans -- one should turn to Kristen Poole's Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton: Figures of Nonconformity in Early Modern England, which offers equally dramatic and even startling reassessments concerning meanings and portrayals centering around those vehement though ambiguous figures. The word is of course much contested, and was even at the rime "capacious, unsettled, and indicative of subversive impulses"; all this led to a certain "classificatory impotence," which continues to this day. Poole then adds a crucial point which some historians have implicitly recognized, though not to the same clarifying extent:
The aim of the historian, to speak broadly, is to give shape and narrative to a synchronic and diachronic field of events. Historians thus require a terminology for expressing the period's diverse devotional practices, reformist impulses, ecclesiastical agendas, and spiritual desires; "puritan" has been stretched and contracted to serve as a useful label for categorizing various individuals and ideologies. By contrast, the aim of many early modern authors was to express a profound sense of shapelessness, to convey the chaos of transforming and disintegrating communal categories, to paint a muddled world picture. The historian's need for "puritan" as a useful category jars, therefore, with the seventeenth-century author's need to represent taxonomic crisis (4).
Despite the vagaries in which the word "puritan" is shrouded, associations of repressiveness, sobriety and asceticism generally continue to attach themselves to the persona. But this is a "flattened" image, Poole writes; in reality, the puritan's sanctimoniousness coexisted as a counterpart or hypocritical cover in hostile representations that painted him as actually lusty, drunken, gluttonous, grotesque, and generally transgressive -- not the "killjoy" Malvolio but Bartholomew Fair's Zeal-of the-Land Busy (12). And this would appear to make sense, if one were to examine puritans, as Poole does, through their opponents lens: "Religious radicalism -- with its emphasis on the individual conscience and its arguments for voluntary religion," she writes, "threatened conceptual social foundations" such as family, church, and state, and thus led to carnivalesque and exaggerated portrayals (13). To overlook this aspect of the puritan, Poole continues, is thus to not only risk making anachronistic assumptions, but "to lose sight of an important vehicle through which English men and women envisioned, explored, and confronted the social, theological, and discursive issues raised by radical Protestantism" (12).
Poole's sources, like Targoff's, are more well-known, though her paradigmatic reconfigurations lead her to glean different and surprising conclusions from the texts. From an examination of the Martin Marprelate tracts -- or rather, the anti-Marprelate tracts they inspired -- Poole describes the way in which the already ribald prose of the Martin authors was heightened and subverted by opponents, who "atrack[ed] the puritan 'Hipocrites"' by mocking them on their own rhetorical and stylistic turf, and by "'imitating...that merry man Rablays"' (26). In texts and performances, anti-Marprelate polemicists utilized this strategy to viciously lampoon "Martin"-"the Ape, the dronke, and the madde" (26) -- though their efforts could backfire and create audience sympathy for this Bakhtinian "lord of misrule" (28-31). The resulting caricature "would remain a vivid cultural figure for the next fifty years... [with] religious nonconformity... portrayed primarily through the images and language of the grotesque" (32). One m anifestation of this influence, Poole argues, was the figure of Falstaff, who was not simply a reincarnation of John Oldcastle -- as many scholars now contend -- but rather a man who "in all of his sack-swilling glory... both catalyzed and epitomized the early modern representation of the stage puritan" (21). Poole's Falstaff-as-puritan argument, as well as the possible influence of the Marprelate tracts on Shakespeare's play, deserves to be debated with more knowledge than a historian can bring to the discussion (though historians and religious scholars would have some problems with Poole's placing Oldcastle and Lollardy along the same continuum as puritanism -- as if one was the natural predecessor of the other). Still, though the influences on Shakespeare would seem to extend well beyond the Marprelate tracts, Falstaff/"Oldcasrle" does seem to carry more than a passing resem blance to the kind of gorging, uncontained figure of Martin (or the enemy's Martin), embodying as he does "the removal of social, hie rarchical, boundaries" of a "community which can, through jest, ingest its leaders" (40).
Poole continues in the following chapters to make the case for other characters shaped by this anti-puritan tradition, including the aforementioned Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, a "Puritan bellygod" who is not a hypocrite so much as a figure who represents wildly vacillating and conflicting impulses, "contain [ed] simultaneously," and "[whose] attempts to segregate and to integrate himself at the fair, his endeavors to fast and to feast, position him as the social nexus of the play" (55). A different kind of condemnation was brought into the depiction of the much-maligned Family of Love, a sect more imagined than real (at least in the seventeenth century), and one whose association with sexual licentiousness and radically idiosyncratic and individualistic readings of scripture stirred up yet more variations on the representation, most notably in Thomas Middleton's eponymous play.
It is difficult to do justice to the extensive analysis that Poole brings to her exploration of puritan representations, which she proceeds to examine in other works such as the anti-prelatical tracts of Milton, as well as Paradise Lost. Even Thomas Edwards' Gangraena receives a treatment, as it attempts to create a catalogue of sects and to thereby impose order on the swarming horde of competing religions, or "diversified, often illogical compositions" (115). While historians should read Poole for her contribution to the history of representations and for providing a more variegated picture of the puritan, one must nevertheless question her own lapses into classificatory vagueness: can Familists really be considered "puritan," for example, in the same way that the authors of the Martin Marprelate tracts were "puritan"? Can the literature of the 1640s be fully equated with the literature of the 1610s, as if nothing much evolved or happened in the intervening years (which are relatively neglected)? And what of puritans' own relationship to these discourses, especially when they began to really identify themselves as such -- as puritans -- in the 1620s?
"Puritan" takes on a very different form in Crawford Gribben's The Puritan Millennium: Literature and Theology, 1550-1682, a work that successfully pushes literature, theology, and history into ever-closer configurations. The puritans examined by Gribben are defined more traditionally as those who sought reform within the established church; all of them, however, from James Ussher to George Gillespie to John Milton, departed in some way or another from accepted puritan tenets, such as opposition to prelacy or an affiliation with Calvinism. Gribben, like many others before him, examines, the apocalyptic notions that infused the writings of these figures, but unlike his predecessors, he is more careful with defining and delineating forms of apocalypticism, and specifically millennialism in its a-, post-, and pre- varieties -- in other words, and respectively: belief in no future millennium, belief in a millennium to come with Christ appearing at the beginning, or belief in a millennium perhaps already in existe nce, with Christ appearing at the end (16). By thus examining millennialism with greater theological nuance, Gribben not only succeeds in uncovering the complexities of puritan apocalyptic texts, but also in clarifying the subject of millennialism as a whole.
Millennialism, which differs from a simple belief in the end days or the end of the world, was forged, along with its attendant notions of AntiChrist, on the critical text of Revelations 20; but interpretation was everything, and "one's reading of it regularly determined one's ecclesiastical affiliation" (29). Apocalyptic time clocks, the figurative or literal notion of what was meant by "resurrection," variations on the readings of that other crucial text, the Book of Daniel: all rendered seventeenth-century apocalyptic beliefs in a state of "flux." As Gribben writes, "It is never enough simply to claim of an individual that he or she was a member of a particular eschatological party. There was a great deal of latitude both between and within each apocalyptic discourse" (32). The beginnings of this diffuse tradition are traced by Gribben (and others) to the Marian exiles, whose communities "became the laboratories of a new ideology" (57). Prominent among the figures in this "intensely literary" culture was J ohn Foxe, whose Acts and Monuments, beginning with the second edition of 1570, would postulate the millennium from within the scheme of a "five-fold division of providence" (60). While Gribben might have discussed the influence of John Bale more at length here, and although his analysis would have benefited generally from the recent work on the evolution of the editions by Freeman and others, his examination of the Geneva Bible (or Bibles, for there were four versions produced by the exiles) is instructive in demonstrating the manner in which they reflect, especially in their commentary, "the evolution of puritan thought" from within the Reformation's "hermeneutical ferment" (68). What resulted, Gribben writes, was not simply the gradual development of an "infallible book" -- God's book -- but one that "became, in the hands of the reader, an object of incarnation in itself, straddling the contexts of heaven, first-century Patmos, and sixteenth-century England" (73).
In subsequent chapters, Gribben discusses the further permutations of a puritan eschatology during the following century. In a fascinating chapter on James Ussher, the archbishop of Armagh whose fame rests above all on his biblical chronology entitled Gravissimae quaestionis, Gribben describes the way in which the legacy of the Marian exiles was continued or abandoned, depending on changing historical, theological, and geographical conditions. For Ussher, Foxe's notions of a "faithful remnant" surviving through the persecutory ages took on special and altogether more urgent resonance, in a land -- Ireland -- where Antichrist hovered ever more closely and dangerously; but where Foxe limited himself to one millennium, Ussher postulated two, and located the second in the future. This placement of the millennium in the future was a revolutionary development in the century, and while Thomas Brightman, Joseph Mede, and Johann Alstead are most associated with the idea, Gribben deepens the context by describing how U ssher "was quick to capitalize on Brightman's novel exegesis," and thus created a treatise "[that] should be recognized as one of the most important in the puritan apocalyptic tradition" (88).
Much of this millennialism was later repudiated by Ussher, though he did protest the "phenomenal paradigm shift" represented by Laud and his acolytes, who discarded the Genevan idea of the faithful remnant and the Antichrist "in order to align themselves with a more visible succession of church unity through the unreformed church in the middle ages to the church fathers." (After all, "Antichrist could nor be the Pope when the English hierarchy wanted to trace their roots through the Pope's church" ). Worsening matters was a king -- Charles I -- whose court was flirting with Antichrist's presence, and the general result was that "[the] exiles' puritan consensus was undermined when its principle and foundational ideology -- its sense of history as the fulfillment of a very literal apocalypse -- unraveled beneath its feet... [and] could not withstand the stress of a changing political paradigm" (100).
Circumstances were different in Scotland with its "alternative eschatological heritage" (103), though connections with English puritans were strong and Scots were invited to contribute to the Westminster Assembly in 1643. After a chapter discussing the role played at the assembly by the presbyterian defender, George Gillespie, Gribben then uses the strong rebuttal made to the Assembly's presbyterian claims by John Milton in his Areopagitica, to explore Milton's own eschatology and all-consuming war with Antichrist (129). Further chapters are devoted to the eschatology of John Rogers -- the English Independent transplant to Ireland who recorded his experiences in Dublin -- as well as John Bunyan, whose own millennialism is also examined in a good essay by WR. Owens, in Awakening Words. Gribben thus covers a great deal of territory, and his discussions of Ireland and Scotland are to be welcomed by historians who have moved beyond a simple anglocentric perspective and expanded their examinations to the larger Br itish Isles. While the notion of a puritan apocalyptic tradition remains as unwieldy and even indeterminate at the end of his book as at the beginning, his study is nevertheless an important contribution that should be read alongside the works of Christopher Hill, Bernard Capp, Peter Toon, and others.
Like Gribben's work, James Doelman's King James I and the Religious Culture of England also blurs the distinctions between literature and history at the same time that it re-examines texts which have been underused or neglected by literary scholars (and, Doelman might have added, historians). Jacobean religious culture has in general been less explored than that which existed under the reign that followed -- an oversight due in part, Doelman believes, to "James' emphasis on the written word, rather than visual symbolism, and the neo-Latin vehicle of so much of this written culture" (5). Seeking to redress this literary and historiographical imbalance, Doelman proceeds to examine not simply James' own religious and political views (which were inseparable), but their dissemination through patronage mechanisms into the culture at large.
The roots of James' understanding of his own role as king, and of kingship in general, have been long delineated by historians, though in a jarring omission, Doelman does not really explore James' divinely-infused absolutism. What Doelman does add to the discussion, however, is an understanding of the ways in which these ideas manifested themselves in the form and content of the religious poetry that he brought with him from Scotland, and that underwent transformations upon his accession to the English throne. According to Doelman, great optimism greeted the "scholarking" (who was also himself a poet) upon his arrival in England; while religious poetry had certainly existed under Elizabeth, it had not been inspired by her court, and nor had it been consistently dedicated to her. With James, on the other hand, writers such as Nicholas Breton "had a new 'north star' to guide them, as they were likely to put it, and from 1603 works of religious verse were most often dedicated to him" (24). James Harington also n ot only greeted James' accession with a shift in style, Doelman argues, but he "[pointed] toward a new subject matter," and a different kind of "monarchical and religious language" more appropriate to the king (33, 35). Though the king's interests immediately began to shift after he assumed the English throne, however -- and "poetry as a cultural field" became "not particularly important" to him (38) -- other poetic modes did continue, including those in which the poet adapted a more prophetic role in relation to the crown. This is not to say that such a role was necessarily critical or castigatory, as it was traditionally meant to be, and as it would become during the civil war and interregnum. Still, writers such as George Wither and Andrew Melville experienced "a constant tension between being a court poet and being an oppositional prophet," as they "vacillated between the hope that James might be the godly king chosen by God to overthrow the pope, and despair at the failure of James to fulfill his role" ( 46).
Melville, the Scottish poet-scholar (or, as he saw it, prophet-preacher), is further examined in a separate chapter, especially in relation to his specialty at composing neo-Latin epigrams, and his increasing alienation from the policies of James. Melville's career, Doelman writes, "represents an inversion of the usual: rather than turning from satire and invective in his younger days to panegyric and loftier genres in his later days, [Melville] went the other way, as his circumstances separated him from the usual positions of power and influence a scholar of his status would normally have enjoyed" (72). Thus did Melville become known for "intransigent Presbyterian[ism]," as his epigrams inspired counter-epigrams in defense of the king, giving birth to a veritable sub-genre of its own. Conflicting expectations and projections of James also resonated through the iconography of the period, which presented James as a peace-making Solomon, until events of 1623 and 1624 resulted in a shift "proclaiming the necessi ty of war" (98). After examining such imagery, which adopted biblical rather than classical models, Doelman continues in subsequent chapters to discuss James' "personal interest" in bringing on conversions by encouraging the production of particular texts and sermons -- an interest that was also joined with his endeavor to create a "unifying element in all the British churches" (139) by his ultimately somewhat fruitless effort to translate the Psalms.
Doelman does not delve into his texts in great depth, and since a significant amount of historical context is missing, the result is a work that fuses literary and historical scholarship into an uncertain and somewhat incomplete hybridity. In this sense, perhaps it is better at times to maintain the firewalls between historical and literary scholarship, since combinations could also portend disciplinary dilution, from both ends. Jameela Lares' Milton and the Preaching Arts, on the other hand, is part intellectual history but mostly literary scholarship, and it holds a great deal of pertinence for historians who wish to understand the evolution of influence, as well as learn from their literary colleagues' ability to dissect and interpret texts closely. While this historian dares not wade into the perilous waters of Milton scholarship, it is clear that Lares' knowledge of homiletic traditions is deep, as she proceeds to argue that Milton's poetic program was informed by the preaching arts, or more specifically by the "formal methods of sermon construction" (7). The age's dominant discursive form of preaching could not have helped but directly shape the poet's works, Lares writes; and while Milton had abandoned his own earlier ministerial training -- of which rhetoric and the verbal arts were an intense part -- the abandonment came late, thus insuring that "the idea of the ministry continued to play a role in his imagination and poetics" (28).
Lares' discussion of Milton's educational experience at Christ's College, Cambridge, while not new, will nevertheless be of value to historians who wish to further understand the role of homiletic theory and rhetoric in the curriculum, as well as the general development of reformation preaching and the dissemination in England of such sermon theorists as Andreas Hyperius. Milton's own choice of sermon type -- for Lares, a combination of consolation and correction -- was itself unusual (80-83), and Lares proceeds to uncover manifestations of these preaching modes in Milton's publications, including his own combative additions to the Smectymnuan controversy. The "impress of the pulpit" (140) is also, and perhaps above all, evident in Paradise Lost, whose last two books, she writes, hold to a model that "[is] neither pedagogy nor typology [as assumed], but rather one that the criticism has virtually overlooked: the sermon" (143). Even Raphael and Michael are presented, elsewhere, as literal angel-preachers, thou gh the former "speaks a prelapsarian sermon . . . almost impossible for humans now to imagine," while Michael's speech "is far more recognizably homiletic" (158). The result of all this is that the end of Paradise Lost constitutes "not one sermon, but many sermons, all produced from the exegesis of a single text" (167).
Like Milton, John Bunyan also serves as a rich entry point into larger contextual investigations, though he seems particularly ripe for interdisciplinary collaborations. In Awakening Words: John Bunyan and the Language of Community, twelve historians and literary scholars contribute essays that explore, according to Richard Greaves, "some facet of Bunyan's use of and fascination with words, the vehicle of his message, whether [they are] couched in fiction or biblical exposition, spiritual autobiography or polemic tract, prose or poetry" (11). As Greaves writes, however, "[the] motive force of Bunyan's awakening words can only be grasped against a background of the historical circumstances in which he wrote" (13). While one could say this of anyone, perhaps, with Bunyan the man and his context are especially symbiotic -- a fact which becomes clear in a range of studies that touch on Bunyan's stance toward millennialism, radical religion, predestination, allegory, and misogyny as they appeared in his works and in society. The collection is also noteworthy in containing essays by two of the foremost practitioners of the literary-historical integration: in "'Till one greater man / Restore us. . .': Restoration Images in Bunyan and Milton," Neil Keeble joins together two very disparate writers whose one commonality is that "each ... fashions himself as an embattled individual at odds with his age;" by doing so, "[b]oth join their readers in a community of suffering" (35).
John Knott adds his own contribution with "Bunyan and the Cry of Blood," which seeks to understand the ambiguous and multifaceted manner in which violence and violent imagery informs Bunyan's works, especially as they relate to notions of sin, mercy persecution, and the trials endured by the elect.
While Knott, Keeble and the other authors under review unite disciplinary perspectives with varying degrees of success, the integration must nevertheless be approached cautiously. Mixing historical and literary ingredients can lead to richer insights into the past and its texts, but the blend can also strip the resulting concoction of all those ingredients' -- or disciplines' -- defining flavors. The relationship between literature and history, text and context, is of course complex and ongoing, though it has been examined in greater detail by literary theorists than by historians in recent years; some historians would even argue that the contemplation of such theories is irrelevant to the practice of history, as it follows its own theoretical, methodological, and autonomous channels of inquiry. But as these books demonstrate, the offering up of new paradigms abounds, from what to historians of early modern England would appear to be unexpected places; though disciplinarity and the claims of turf will ultimat ely intrude, literary scholars and historians can only stand to benefit from what each side has to offer, across a demarcating line that grows ever-more imperceptible.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2002|
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