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Love's Pilgrimage: The Holy Journey in English Renaissance Literature.

Grace Tiffany. Love's Pilgrimage: The Holy Journey in English Renaissance Literature.

Cranbury: University of Delaware Press, 2006. 218 pp. index. bibl. $43.50. ISBN: 0-87413-948-1.

Grace Tiffany's Love's Pilgrimage appears at a moment of renewed scholarly interest in the complicated relationship between early modern Catholic and Protestant devotion, and the degree to which the English Reformation retained or revised earlier forms of Christian worship. Examining representations of Christian pilgrimage in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature, Tiffany traces a particular instance of the "creative results of iconoclasm" (37).

Tiffany's first chapter considers the death of pilgrimage at the Reformation, suggesting that this death, or at least its violence and decisiveness, has been greatly exaggerated. She points out, first, that late medieval writers had anticipated the Protestant critique of the practice of visiting holy shrines as a pretext for "erotic, military, or commercial adventure" (43). And yet, she argues, Protestantism also emphasized another, quite contrary notion of pilgrimage as metaphor, indicating the inward progress of the soul toward God. Thus, in Tiffany's argument, early modern English Protestants kept in play two opposed meanings of pilgrimage: a physical journey conducted for secular (amatory, exploratory, or remunerative) purposes, or a spiritual journey wholly independent from the body's movement. In five chapters and a coda, Tiffany discusses the ways in which Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton explored the tension between these competing definitions.

Chapter 2 centers on book 1 of the Faerie Queene, which figures pilgrimage both as a sign of unholy superstition (Archimago in the guise of "the Pilgrim"), and as a model for Redcrosse's journey toward the ideal city of Cleopolis, itself modeled on Elizabeth's court. Having registered this ambivalence in Spenser, Tiffany stresses the difficult marriage of spiritual (inward) and imperial (outward) pilgrimage in Redcrosse's simultaneously allegorical and political journey. This political interest carries over into chapter 3, the first of two chapters on Shakespeare. Here, Tiffany argues that Henry V and Henry VIII stage kingship with reference to saints' shrines recently desacralized by the English Reformation. This is a provocative juxtaposition, which could imply a parallel demystification of kingship itself, although Tiffany concludes simply "that England's dismantled shrines and desacralized pilgrimages provide rich materials for dramatic play" (86). Chapter 4 reads the plots of All's Well, Cymbeline, and Othello as demystified versions of one pilgrimage in particular, to the Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela, a journey with a reputation as a "sexy expedition" often undertaken by illicit lovers (89). Tiffany thankfully avoids the still-contentious issue of Shakespeare's religious identity. Instead, again with some reticence, she concludes that Shakespeare "so transformed those traditions [of pilgrimage] that their representations were no longer ... religious at all" (109), but merely and exclusively amatory.

Consideration of the nexus of the erotic and religious leads inevitably to Donne. Tiffany begins chapter 5 with the familiar idea that Donne uses sacred images and tropes to depict earthly love (and vice-versa). Her focus on pilgrimage in particular, however, helps to unite some of Donne's signal preoccupations: geography, God, and sex. It also leads to a surprising conclusion: that if his erotic poems often rely on images of pilgrimage, Donne's religious poems do not, instead figuring "Christ as the annihilator of geographies, and travel as something God halts in order to unite himself to the sinner" (129). Tiffany thus would seem to return to the strand of Protestant theology that resacralizes pilgrimage precisely by turning its movement inward. In her final chapter, however, she argues that Milton rejected a purely interior journey, instead stressing each Christian's responsibility for reforming the world in preparation for the millennium. Tiffany identifies Milton's creation of what she calls a "pilgrim reader" (159), whose strenuous journey through sacred texts encourages earthly holiness.

While this book contains a number of interesting readings, its larger thesis can at times seem frustratingly impressionistic. Tiffany admits, in a coda, that "if anything collective can be said about the pilgrimages proposed in the work of Renaissance English authors, it is that these adventures' radical variance shows the liberty Reformed authors enjoyed with respect to the holy journey's depictions" (162). In other words, pilgrimage could mean anything and everything to early modern minds--including, finally, the desire "not to travel, but to go home" (171). One wonders, finally, what pilgrimage wasn't able to signify in the Renaissance. Perhaps, though, this is Tiffany's point: Love's Pilgrimage offers a suggestive account of how a pre-Reformation devotional practice could persist precisely because of its capacity for endless reimagining.


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Author:Murray, Molly
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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